Saturday, July 30, 2011

The large-scale solar gold rush draws to an end

UK's largest single company solar photovoltaic installation on the HQ of the Body Shop: 3,840 modules over 6,355 sq meters
The installed capacity of photovoltaic solar power in the UK doubled in the three months to June in the rush to complete projects before the reduction in Feed-on Tariffs by Monday August 1.

The tariff will drop from 29.3p per kWh to 8.5p per kWh on Monday and solar plant developers have just the rest of this weekend to complete large projects in order to benefit from higher tariffs.

Statistics released by DECC show that there was a 56% rise to 121.6 megawatts (MW) between March and June and 18 times more capacity than a year previously.

Installed capacity for anaerobic digestion also jumped in the second quarter of this year, nearly trebling to 177 kW

But this is expected to increase rather than fall, as Feed-In Tariffs for this technology, which composts organic matter to produce fertiliser and methane that can be burnt to generate electricity, will rise from August 1, by around 2 pence per kilowatt-hour for plants up to 250kW.

The largest single solar installation to meet the deadline is on the Body Shop's head office site in Watersmead, Sussex.

It consists of 3,840 solar modules over 6,355 sq meters (roughly the size of 24 tennis courts) estimated to generate approximately 900,000 kWh of electricity a year - 25% of the site’s energy. It is about equivalent to powering the needs of 250 houses.

The Body Shop says it took just nine weeks to install, cost £2.8 million and has a payback of 7-8 years with the higher tariff rate.

Paul McGreevy, The Body Shop International Director of Values, said that “while we understand the need to prevent commercial exploitation of the Feed-In Tariffs, we are disappointed that large, self-funded scale installations like The Body Shop's, entirely in keeping with the original intention of the initiative, have now reduced considerably in size, postponed or abandoned due to the increased investment."

Hw said he hoped the government would look at the situation again and extend the current Tariff, "or at least consider different methodologies to assess the installations to make it more viable" in order to help bring down the cost of solar modules.

Two other large projects to meet the deadline are in the sunniest part of the UK: Cornwall.

Lightsource Renewable Energy and Solarcentury have helped to build a 1.4 MW solar plant near Truro on a disused tin mine, the first of many renewable projects planned at the site.

"While it's been disappointing the government has decided not to support the large-scale solar sector going forward, the solar farms developed this summer will play a critical role in the supply of green energy in the UK," said Conor McGuigan, head of planning at Lightsource.

Another 1.35 MW plant nearby, that cost around £4m, was erected in just six weeks and is expected to attract up to £1bn to the Cornwall area.

The tariff reduction has not stopped a Cornish charity from yesterday launching a £20 million fund sourced from local PV installers to help community buildings, academy schools, churches, charities and farmers generate their own renewable energy from roof-mounted PV modules.

Community Energy Plus' ‘Solar Communities 2011’ was launched at the Cornwall Renewable Energy Show.

The installations will crucially be under 50 kW, so continuing to attract the highest tariff, but unlike other ‘rent a roof schemes’ will also receive an income from any electricity not used within the building that is exported to the National Grid.

If the maximum 50kW were to be installed, this would mean that building owners could save up to £7,000 a year on bills by using all of the electricity, or receive up to £2,400 a year for exporting it all to the National Grid.

Over 300 local organisations are expected to take up the offer before the deadline of the 1st April 2012.

Cornish Social Enterprises like this one are experiencing a boom. The Royal Bank of Scotland’s new list of the top 100 fastest growing Social Enterprises in the UK contains several from the region, including ReZolve and the Cornwall Sustainable Tourism Project.

The RBS SE100 Index is produced by the Royal Bank of Scotland and Social Enterprise to build intelligence and monitor performances of social enterprises in the UK.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Government must end this crazy split over financing the low carbon revolution - or it will fail

DECC has just released figures showing that renewable sources generated just 6.8% of UK electricity in 2010, an increase of only 0.3% on the previous year.

The amount of installed electrical generating capacity from renewable sources did rise by 15% in 2010, mainly as a result of a 42% increase in offshore wind capacity, a 16% increase in onshore wind capacity and a 9% increase in the capacity of sites fuelled by biomass and wastes.

Despite low wind speeds during 2010 generation from wind increased by 9.6%, due to this increased capacity; however the lowest rainfall since 2003 reduced hydro generation by 31.5%. Generation from all forms of biomass was 12.4% higher.

But the good news masks a deep problem.

Under the targets set by the Renewable Energy Directive, the UK must, by 2020, supply 15% of final energy consumption – calculated on a net calorific basis, and with a cap on fuel used for air transport – from renewable sources.

In 2010, however, just 3.3% of final energy consumption was from renewable sources; this is up from 3.0% in 2009, and 2.4% in 2008.
UK will miss its renewable energy targets at this rate
At this rate of increase we will not even achieve half of the target by 2020 (see graph).

Although the UK is beginning to accelerate the installation of renewables, big questions remain over the reliability and steadfastness of government policy in this area.

DECC is currently fast-tracking yet another consultation on solar Feed-in Tariffs to deal with an overlooked consequence of its last widely-criticised fast-track consultation.

It didn't notice at the time that under sections 15 and 16 of the ‘Feed-in Tariffs (Specified Maximum Capacity and Functions) Order 2010’ document, developers are currently able to install a system over the microgeneration amount (50kW) before the August 1 deadline – thereby receiving the higher FiT rate – and then install an extended capacity within 12 months, which would also benefit from the higher rate.

The closing date for responses this time is 31 August.

Coming on top of the reduction of up to 70% in Feed-in Tariffs for large solar installations completed after 1st August, this is causing dismay to those who had been relying on the extension mechanism and despair amongst the solar PV industry generally.

The dark hand of the Treasury is detected here.

As a result of the Spending Review, the Treasury has control over DECC’s spending. But DECC creates many of the policies.

This schizophrenic chaos is the result of the drastic measures which George Osborne's Treasury is employing to bring down the budget deficit.

It is threatening the UK's progress to move towards a low-carbon economy and meet its international obligations, as well as creating an increased risk of electricity supply failures for industry and domestic consumers.

Many of the recent electricity market reform White Paper's proposals, that are intended to stimulate new investment in low carbon generation and maintain security of electricity supply, are dependent on subsidies and financial incentives determined by Government.

These include carbon taxes, a new Feed-in Tariffs system for nuclear and large-scale renewable energy generation, and capacity payments to finance reserve plant which is held back to generate at times of peak demand.

Sudden changes in existing incentive schemes which reduce payments has the effect of undermining confidence in the whole electricity market reform project, even if some of these are ultimately financed through energy bills, not general taxation.

The Treasury's own proposal, the Carbon Price Floor system, is estimated to be going to provide a £1 billion windfall for nuclear power developers and renewable energy development up to 2020.

This will be financed by the climate change levy and fuel duty being levied on all fossil fuels used in the UK to generate electricity.

The proceeds of the Levy were originally intended to be returned to the participants in the scheme who performed the best for them to invest in further energy and fuel-bill saving and carbon-reducing measures.

Now it will go to increase supply rather than reduce demand. This was another policy shift announced by Osborne which was received with much dismay at the time.

The fuel duty will be raised by extending the Levy to the fossil fuels used to generate electricity. In another badly-thought out policy move, this includes those fuels burnt in CHP stations "regardless of their rating through the CHP Quality Assurance (CHPQA) programme", which is a kick in the backside to highly efficient gas-powered CHP.

Any person who supplies gas, solid fuels or LPG will need to register with HMRC for CCL and account for the levy.

It's good if green taxes are directly channeled into further reductions in carbon emissions. But energy efficiency should be prioritised, and those making an effort to reduce emissions should be directly rewarded.

DECC itself should be permitted to control these mechanisms, not the Treasury, especially when they are not directly related to the cutting the original budget deficit but instead are channeling funds from new increases on everyone's electricity bills.

This arrangement, where one Department is responsible for developing and implementing policy, but another, with very different priorities and objectives, has control over the level of cost to the public, is over-complicated, open to abuse in relation to its policy intentions, and does not inspire confidence.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The new, concise national planning framework puts sustainable development first. Or does it?

The government has published its draft National Planning Policy Framework - which streamlines national policy from over 1,000 pages to just 52 pages, and is inviting comments in a 12-week consultation.

This will affect not just energy and community energy infrastructure but the future of the entire UK environment. Already, battle lines are being drawn up between business and environmentalists as conservative as the National Trust.

Defra and the Communities and Local Government Department insist that the draft Framework delivers on the Government's commitment in the Natural Environment White Paper to allow communities to earmark important local green spaces for special protection - whether its value is in its natural beauty, its historical resonances, its recreational value, its tranquillity or its richness in wildlife.

Greg Clark said it affords "protections for communities to safeguard the natural and historic environment". It "maintains the Government's commitment to protecting the green belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Sites of Special Scientific Interest; facilitates a new generation of renewable energy projects; paves the way for green transport of the future - the electric car; re-affirms protections for our nation's historic and cultural heritage, and for our wildlife and bio-diversity, including new protection for peat bogs; and helps tackle the light pollution affecting the beauty of the night sky."

A presumption in favour of sustainable development means that proposals should be approved promptly unless they would compromise the key sustainable development principles set out in the draft Framework.

Clark praised the conciseness of the new national planning policy and said it made "clearer the importance of planning to safeguarding our extraordinary environment and meeting the needs of communities, now and in the future."

Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said it "will give local communities the power to protect green spaces that mean so much to them, while still giving the highest protection to our treasured landscapes such as national parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty."

And Business Secretary Vince Cable's perspective is: "The new approach to planning will be a significant step forward in creating the right conditions for businesses to start up, invest, grow and create jobs" and "Strong, sustainable growth is the Government's top priority".

What is sustainable development?

It is this use of the 'S' word that worries environment groups like Friends of the Earth - who called it a "developers’ charter which puts the interests of business ahead of people and the environment", because interpretations of 'sustainable development' are going to be crucial in making planning decisions.

Critics of the Localism Bill and draft planning documents up to now have complained that the term remains undefined.

There are undeniable limits to growth and therefore many maintain that to couple 'sustainable' with 'growth' not only tends to the oxymoronic but has the propensity to become self-deceiving and confusing.

'Sustainable development' as defined by the 1987 UN Brundtland Report, and adopted by the UK government in the past, means making sure that people can satisfy their basic needs now, without preventing future generations from also having the same quality of life.

It rests on three ‘pillars’ – economics, society and the environment, known in business as the 'triple bottom line' - coupled with the concept of social justice.

Almost the same definition is on the Defra website, but with no mention of justice and equality.

However, the NPPF does offer the following: sustainable development means that "all people should be able to satisfy their basic needs and enjoy a better quality of life, both now and in the future". The inclusion of that crucial word 'all', should imply the notion of social justice.

The presumption to say 'yes'

With this in mind, the stipulation is that local authorities will give thumbs up to developers unless there are good reasons not to. They should "look for solutions rather than problems so that applications can be approved wherever it is practical to do so".

They should also "attach significant weight to the benefits of economic and housing growth" and "enable the delivery of sustainable development proposals".

Equally interesting is the mandate to "promote the vitality and viability of town centres, and meet the needs of consumers for high quality and accessible retail services"; and "raise the quality of life and the environment in rural areas by promoting thriving, inclusive and locally distinctive rural economies".

On the often contentious issue of mining, the NPPF says planners should "encourage the recycling of suitable materials to minimise the requirement for new primary extraction".

The document hopes more housing will be built, and stipulates the preservation of Green Belts with certain exceptions.

Adaptation to climate change and mitigation are also supported. For example: "the planning system should aim to secure ... radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, through the appropriate location and layout of new development, and active support for energy efficiency improvements to existing buildings and the delivery of renewable and low-carbon energy infrastructure". Planners should also "avoid inappropriate development in areas at risk of flooding".

Planning authorities are also asked to "set out a strategic approach in their Local Plans, planning positively for the creation, protection, enhancement and management of networks of biodiversity and green infrastructure".

There is also support for sustainable transport, electric charging stations for vehicles and the continuing use of Travel Plans.

The debate will continue

The Environmental Services Association (ESA) welcomed the "presumption in favour of sustainable development and on local authorities responding to the development needs of business" but criticised the document for failing to include "any meaningful reference to the role of waste management infrastructure", referring instead to the yet-to-be-published National Waste Management Plan (NWMP).

But the National Trust is not convinced by all the fine words in the document, saying the proposed reforms "could lead to unchecked and damaging development on a scale not seen since the industrial revolution".

The 'presumption in favour of sustainable development' has been welcomed by the housing sector, such as The National Housing Federation, as a boost for new affordable homes.

It's quite possible already to see where the battle lines will be drawn in planning offices up and down the land, and the courts.

No one from either the business and industry or the sustainability side of the fence will argue with this statement: "However, we remain concerned that the effectiveness of the NPPF will depend on how it is interpreted in practice by local planning authorities and others involved in planning."

But some will certainly find alarming the rest of the speaker's comment:
"There is still much scope for those opposing development to claim that proposed projects aren't sustainable and use restrictive interpretations" - "technical and academic interpretations of sustainability" - "to subvert the positive, pro-growth policy".

The speaker is Robin Shepherd, a partner with the developer Barton Willmore.

World's first national electric vehicle charging network launched

Ecotricity charging point at a Welcome Break motorway services
Ecotricity and Welcome Break have today launched the first of a national network of free electric car charging points situated at motorway services and powered by the renewable electricity company's wind turbines.

Dubbed the Electric Highway, the network will, when completed in three months, allow EV drivers to travel from Exeter to Edinburgh via London without fear of running out of juice.
Electric Highway network
Further connections are planned for the next 18 months.

Both businesses expect to benefit from a unique synergy, where Welcome Break sees an opportunity to attract more custom to its motorway service stations, and Ecotricity is keen to find new markets in an emerging and potentially huge area.

Together, they hope to open up low-carbon transport routes to the whole of the UK - not just within cities.

Dale Vince, Ecotricity's founder, said: “Until now, charging posts have all been in city centres like London, but statistics show that it’s not in towns and cities where electric cars need to recharge, but on longer journeys between cities – and that means motorways."

The first ‘top-up zone’ is being installed this month at Welcome Break’s South Mimms services (at the Junction of the M1 and M25), and the first phase of the network spread across 12 motorway services will be completed by September.

Each post will be located outside the main entrance, with two sockets that can be accessed by registering for a free swipecard at the website

Within 18 months all 27 Welcome Break motorway services will have charging points.

The partnership claims that electric cars will be able to top-up in just 20 minutes using rapid recharge points (32A supply) or fully charge in two hours; while those using the slower (13A supply) will be able to recharge fully if staying overnight in adjoining hotels.

“We’re creating the infrastructure to get Britain’s electric car revolution moving," added Vince. "This marks the beginning of the end for the old combustion engine. With world oil prices going through the roof, you’ll now be able to get around Britain using only the power of the wind. It costs 1p a mile in an electric vehicle, compared with 10p in a petrol car (at today’s oil prices)."

A driver travelling a year’s typical 12,000 miles could save almost £2000 in petrol costs at today’s prices, and around 2500kg in CO2 emissions.

Rod McKie, CEO of Welcome Break, spoke of his excitement at the project, and affirmed that the company "wants to be at the forefront" of the coming change in motoring habits: "as hybrid and electric cars become part of everyday life, Welcome Break will have the facility to fast-charge these cars, giving electric car drivers the opportunity to travel the length and breadth of the UK".

Ecotricity has also installed a charging post at its windmill next to the M4 motorway in Reading. It is the first charging post to be powered directly from a wind turbine.

Video production: Tim Walter Associates

In November 2010, Ecotricity launched the Nemesis, a wind-powered sports car that can reach 0-100mph in 8.5 seconds and with a top speed of 170mph. The first electric "supercar" to be designed and built in Britain, the Nemesis was created by an A-team of ex-Formula 1 engineers with the brief to “blow the socks off Jeremy Clarkson” and show that electric cars can be sexy, fast and fun to drive.

It will be the first electric car to drive from Land’s End to John O’ Groats this summer.

This year, major manufacturers are launching all-electric mass-market models including the Nissan Leaf, Mitsubishi MIEV and Peugeot iOn. Ford will also launch an all-electric version of its Ford Focus, on sale in 2013.

Could wind power replace the combustion engine?

Dale Vince, long an evangelist for renewable electricity, asserts that "with 10,000 of today’s wind turbines, or just 5,000 of tomorrow’s” we could replace all of the "25 million barrels of oil" that we consume in the UK to travel "the 250 billion miles we drive every year."

His company has calculated that if all 30 million vehicles on the roads were replaced by EVs, which typically do 5,000 miles on one MWh of electricity, then the UK would need 13% - or 50TWh - more electricity to power those journeys than is currently generated.

Total UK grid demand was 378TWh in 2009, and a 13% increase in output is equal to just four years of annual demand growth, and to the output from 10,000 wind turbines (assuming their current design) - which would save 69 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.

However, as most EV charging is expected to happen overnight, when grid demand is traditionally lowest, this may not translate directly to a corresponding 13% increase in capacity.

But the revolution, if it is to happen, will take around a decade. There are currently only about 2,000 pure electric vehicles in the UK; on top of that there are a few hundred plug-in electric hybrids.

The 30,000 petrol hybrids on the roads that have a battery fitted cannot plug them into a socket; their charge either comes from the petrol engine or from energy stored during braking.

There are now around 400 charging points in cities around the UK, most of which - around 250 - are in London. But most charging is expected to happen overnight at home, with some to be offered at the workplace.

Dale Vince founded Ecotricity 15 years ago. A ‘not for dividend’ company with no shareholders, it now powers 50,000 homes and businesses in the UK from its fleet of 52 wind turbines, and invests more per capita in building new sources of green energy than any other UK electricity company. It is the only energy supplier supported by Oxfam and the Soil Association.

Welcome Break's 27 service areas house the firm's own brands alongside high-street names such as Burger King, KFC, WHSmith and Days Inn. Recently Waitrose and Starbucks have also been added.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Over budget and over schedule - EDF's nuclear chaos

EDF's construction of a prototype European Pressurised Water nuclear reactor (EPR) plant in Flamanville, Normandy, France is four years behind schedule and currently estimated to cost twice as much as the original price tag.

In a serious understatement, EDF's Hervé Machenaud, Group Senior Executive in charge of Production and Engineering, called the project "a major challenge" for the industrial expertise of the nuclear industry. It has suffered two fatal accidents and is undergoing restructuring.

As a result, Centrica has been advised by investors Evolution Securities and Citigroup not to partner with Electricité de France (EDF) to build new nuclear power stations in the UK.

Centrica is due to join with EDF in the £4bn joint enterprise, but the company is "a minority holder in a technology in which it has no institutional understanding, and where, as emphasised by Flamanville, construction risk is notorious," said Evolution's utilities analyst Lakis Athanasiou.

The British CEO of EDF, Vincent de Rivaz, has admitted the schedule for opening new plants in the UK by 2018 is slipping but attributes this to the company just "taking stock".

The Government is hoping for eight new nuclear plants to be operational by that year. Based on the new delays and price overruns, according to Jim Watson, professor of energy policy at the university of Sussex, the price of such electricity would be 33% and 45% higher than that in the Government's figures which rate it as the cheapest form of low carbon electricity - although the figures exclude interest during construction and decommissioning costs.

Watson now puts new nuclear costs on a par with offshore wind.

Moreover, as pointed out here, for less than half cost of replacing one nuclear plant we could retrofit 1.6m homes for efficiency - eliminating the need for the plant!

Support the spreading of intelligence - key to the success of the low carbon revolution

The Intelligent Energy Europe programme of the European Union is due to be abolished in the coming budget round. But its valuable work must somehow be allowed to continue.

Buried away on page 18 of a dry-seeming document published by the European Parliament three weeks ago - Pro posal for a Council decision on the system of own resources of the European Union - is the following sentence: "The Commission proposes to establish a dedicated 'Competitiveness and SMEs Programme' as a successor to the non-innovation part of the current "Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme" (CIP)."

The document in question is part of the EU's budget proposals for 2014-2020, the Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF).

The sentence proposes that a new Common Strategic Framework for Research and Innovation (CSF) will merge together three funding strands that are familiar to, if not even dear to, many readers' hearts, because they have helped fund many innovative projects: the 7th Framework Programme (FP7); the innovation part of the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP); and the European Institute for Innovation and Technology (EIT).

In one sense this merger is a Good Thing, in that it will simplify the over-complex system of hoops through which applicants for funding have to squeeze their projects.

But it has one unfortunate consequence. The loss of the Intelligent Energy Europe programme (IEE), which has been and will be worth worth a total of € 730 million for the period 2007-2013 and which so far has delivered exceptional value for money by harnessing the enthusiasm of dedicated experts to spread their knowledge and inspire others.

Over the years, the IEE Programme has supported the creation of hundreds of local and regional energy agencies, co-financed hundreds of local innovative projects, supported initiatives like ManagEnergy, European Sustainable Energy Week and the Covenant of Mayors - to which 30 UK cities belong - and been party to finance streams like ELENA-EIB that has unlocked €1.6 billion in investment.

One British organisation which has recently received a grant from this is the Severn Wye Energy Agency Ltd. Its Bio-methane Regions project is designed to promote anaerobic digestion (AD) and biogas upgrading technology, along with the vital development of markets for the resulting biomethane - for grid injection and vehicle usage - and for the fertiliser outputs.

Another beneficiary is the ECO Stars project that is currently being implemented in Devon. This rewards car fleets for being 'green' and replicates a similar successful scheme that was run in South Yorkshire and which supported more than 30 operators with over 5,500 vehicles. It trains fleet owners in things like fuel management, driver skills, vehicle specification and maintenance, use of IT support systems and performance monitoring, all of which reduce fuel use and carbon emissions.

Cardiff University is another recipient of funding, for a programme to inspect HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air-Conditioning) systems through continuous monitoring and benchmarking. And the Town and Country Planning Association has received funding for training people in leadership for energy action and planning.

All in all, this year across Europe, 44 projects are receiving a share of nearly €58 million in similar, humble, detailed and sector-specific projects on energy efficiency that don't make headlines but are just the sort of methodical skill-spreading initiatives that are essential if we are to embed the low carbon revolution into everyday business life.

Yet, the IEE is to be abolished - and replaced not with anything similar, but with something called the 'LIFE+ Climate Sub-programme'. This is intended to support "the exchange of best practices, capacity building and pilot projects focused on climate change mitigation and adaptation and governance" in SMEs.

But intelligent energy is not a subset of climate action. It is an essential activity in its own right that is precisely focussed in ways that mitigation and adaptation are not.

If the IEE is abolished, it will be left to European Member States acting alone to finance IEE-like programmes at national level.

According to the network Energy Cities, which includes as members four UK cities - Newcastle, Leicester, Milton Keynes and Sutton - intelligent energy is "a self-contained issue of utmost importance, especially in a time when the energy debate is re-launched in Europe and will require very innovative solutions".

Energy Cities believes that even if European states decide to implement such programmes, the "added value of networking and exchange of experiences" at a pan-European level and the knock-on benefits of such concrete kinds of energy efficiency awareness-raising in the lives of trainee workers would disappear.

As they put it: "No more inspiration coming from another country, no more exchange of ideas – the Member States would start again ‘reinventing the wheel’!"

Energy Cities, which is to publish a paper on the EU Multi-annual Financial Framework in a few weeks, is calling for the IEE to be maintained and revamped to support "innovative and new solutions" in the field of energy efficiency and renewables at the sectoral level in Europe.

I have seen a similar 'rationalisation' process in the past in the UK lose the value of vital, very particular, experience at grass-roots industrial level before. This was when the Carbon Trust was set up and assimilated the previous work of the Action Energy programme and the Energy Efficiency Best Practice Programme.

These were Defra-supported activities that Energy and Environmental Magazine regularly reported on in the '90s and early 'noughties. Representatives of these programmes sat on our editorial board and the magazine spread awareness of the best practice activities in hundreds of extremely specific business and industrial applications.

The Carbon Trust was not interested in such minute interventions. Instead its focus was on corporate boards. All the EEBPP's accumulated work was archived and gradually faded into obsolescence.

We all know the truisms "the devil is in the detail", and "if you look after the pennies, the pounds look after themselves". In energy terms, 'watts' = 'pennies' and 'megawatts' = 'pounds'.

It would be an own goal if Europe lost the Intelligent Energy Europe programme and its valuable experience. It needs to find a way to continue its useful, if modest, work.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Did Huhne really compare climate change to Hitler?

DECC minister Chris Huhne has compared world leaders who obstruct a global deal to tackle climate change to politicians who tried to appease Adolf Hitler before World War Two.

Does this make climate change a threat akin to the Nazis, who plunged the world into war?

The Energy and Climate Change Minister was at Chatham House, endeavouring to inject new urgency into climate change negotiations.

Huhne evoked the memory of Winston Churchill and the fight against Nazi Germany.

"This is our Munich moment," he said, in a reference to the 1938 Munich Agreement that gave Hitler part of the former Czechoslovakia in a doomed attempt to persuade him to abandon further territorial ambitions. He quoted Churchill - who was both a Liberal and Conservative MP, kind of a Coalition in one - who "once said that 'an appeaser is someone that feeds a crocodile, hoping that it will eat him last'."

But just as a crocodile will eat anyone if it's hungry enough, so climate change affects everyone - but it is the poor who stand to suffer the most.

Many developing nations seek to extend the Kyoto principles, but richer countries - Japan, Russia and Canada - want a different sort of agreement.

Poor countries say rich nations have emitted most of the greenhouse gases since the Industrial Revolution and so must give them more help before they can be expected to sign up to making cuts themselves.

But Huhne said "We cannot wait for every country to become equal, because that would mean waiting for an eternity. At some point, we must draw a line and say: this starts now. This starts here."

He said that it was vital that governments redouble their efforts to find a successor to the United Nations Kyoto Protocol, which controls greenhouse gas emissions only in developed countries and expires at the end of 2012.

However, he feels that it is now unlikely that a breakthrough will be made at the main annual conference beginning late November in Durban, South Africa because of “a damaging rhythm" into which "the annual cycle of UNFCCC meetings is in danger of slipping".

"Although the scientific evidence continues to grow, climate change is getting less political attention now than it did two years ago. There is a vacuum, and the forces of low ambition are looking to fill it," he said. "Giving in to the forces of low ambition would be an act of climate appeasement.

In an attempt to persuade his audience he quoted the Association of British Insurers who said, in 2009, "our assessment of climate change convinces us that the threat is real and is with us now" and he referenced the letter written to the European Union by more than 70 European companies, including Ikea and Coca Cola, asked them to aim for more ambitious carbon cuts.

"This is the last Parliament with a chance to avoid catastrophic climate change," he said. “It will end in 2015. If we have not achieved a global deal by then, we will struggle to peak emissions by 2020. It will be more expensive, more divisive, and more difficult."

He said that the political tactics must include “using soft diplomacy to shift the politics and build coalitions" and "explaining the case for action...on economic and security grounds", and using “targeted financial and practical support to help developing countries build cleaner, more climate resilient economies."

He said temperatures must be kept within 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) of pre-industrial levels to avoid the worst effects of climate change. They have already risen by 0.8 degrees Celsius and even if all emissions were stopped today, they would rise by a further 0.5 of a degree, he said.

"Sticking to our 2 degree limit means global emissions must peak by 2020 at the latest," Huhne said.

"From 2013, there will be new political leadership in the world's major economies. We hope to have put the global recession behind us. The stars may be more closely aligned in favour of a binding legal deal," he said.

£15m renewable heat trial scheme gives grants to off-gas-grid householders

A ‘Renewable Heat Premium Payment’ scheme has been announced by DECC that makes available £15m of support for up to 25,000 renewable heat installations in homes, with a review to take place as the £10m limit is approached.

It will target the 4 million or so households in Great Britain not heated by mains gas, who have to rely on heating such as coal, oil and electric fires, which tend to be more expensive and emit more carbon emissions.

It is open to householders in England, Scotland and Wales, who will be able to apply for grants of up to £1,250 to install systems such as biomass boilers, air and ground source heat pumps and solar thermal panels from 1st August 2011. It will operate on a first-come-first-served basis, and will close on 31st March 2012.

Part of the purpose of the scheme is to obtain further information on the behaviour of the technologies prior to the full commencement of the Renewable Heat Initiative (RHI). Therefore installations will be monitored and any metering equipment will be provided free of charge.

Participants will be required to complete surveys and provide feedback on their experiences.

“Today starts a new era in home heating," announced Climate Change Minister Greg Barker, “because we’re making it more economical for people to go green by providing discounts off the cost of eco heaters. This should be great news for people who are reliant on expensive oil or electric heating as the Premium Payment scheme is really aimed at them.

“Getting money off an eco heater will not just cut carbon emissions, it will also help create a market in developing, selling and installing kit like solar thermal panels or heat pumps.”

The Premium Payment scheme is to be administered by the Energy Saving Trust, which has set up an information line, 0800 512 012 and a website.

Dwellings will have to have in place basic energy efficiency measures before householders can apply. The following technologies are eligible:
  • Ground Source Heat Pumps - £1250 grant (for homes without mains gas heating)
  • Biomass boilers - £950 grant (for homes without mains gas heating)
  • Air source heat pumps - £850 grant (for homes without mains gas heating)
  • Solar thermal hot water panels - £300 grant (available to all households regardless of the type of heating system used).

£3m of the £15m will be set aside for registered social landlords to improve their housing stock.

DECC will announce details of how to apply for these funds at a later date.

The Renewable Heat Incentive

The Renewable Heat Incentive is split into two tranches. The first, for industry, business and communities will be open for applications on 30th September, subject to State Aids Approval. The tariffs will be paid for 20 years to eligible technologies that have been installed since 15th July 2009 with payments made for each kWh of renewable heat produced.

Households will be able to apply a year later. The Government has confirmed that renewable heat installations installed in homes since 15th July 2009 could receive the Renewable Heat Incentive once it comes in, provided they meet the eligibility criteria.

They have also confirmed that this could include those who receive support under the RHPP scheme. The Government has not yet published its proposals for how the RHI will work in the domestic sector, including eligibility criteria.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Electric vehicle charging in Portugal

A network of public charging stations for electric vehicles has been installed across Portugal by Oracle and Portuguese not-for-profit company Inteli, as the transport industry gears up for anticipated public enthusiasm for electric cars across the world.

Meanwhile, in the UK, buyers of low carbon vehicles, can get £5000 towards their cost, and trials are proceeding apace on various types of Ultra Low Carbon Vehicles.

But how efficient are they really? Do drivers like them? And will they take off in a big way?

The Portuguese charge up

The Portuguese project, known as MOBI.E, will help Portugal increase its use of renewable energy and become less reliant on fossil fuels. It has seen 1,300 slow charging stations and 50 fast charging stations built as part of the government’s MOBI-E vehicle electrification project.

Portugal already produces 43% of its electricity from renewable sources such as wind and hydropower, so by encouraging drivers to switch to electricity the country will grow even less reliant on fossil fuels and in turn, reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The country will also host one of Renault-Nissan’s battery plants, which will support the rollout of electric vehicles across Europe.

The MOBI-E platform incorporates Oracle's Customer Care and Billing service, enabling monthly flat rate and time-of-day rating of electricity consumption, network usage and/or additional charging such as parking, roaming between Electric Vehicle (EV) operators and energy retailers.

The power equipment, charging infrastructure and Energy Management Software are all integrated with Oracle software.

“Portugal is leading the charge in making an electric vehicle future a reality,” said Bastian Fischer, Vice President, Oracle Utilities, EMEA. "With motor vehicles being a major contributor to carbon dioxide emissions and with an estimated 800 million motor vehicles on the road worldwide, e-mobility solutions are crucial if we are to meet the European Union’s 20-20-20 targets – to reduce carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2020. We look forward to introducing similar models in other countries."

Charging in the UK

UK advisory group the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership (LowCVP) predicts there will be a million non-fossil fuel vehicles on UK roads by 2020. This means more vehicles powered by alternative fuels such as biodiesel, biogas, hydrogen, fuel cells, electricity.

Last month, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond launched the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) vision for developing the UK’s recharging infrastructure.

The report, ‘Making the Connection: the Plug-In Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy’ maps out the route that Government - as part of its £400m programme to support ultra-low emission vehicles - and industry, will take to support the development of infrastructure that is targeted, convenient and safe.

It's expected that most recharging will be done at home, at night, encouraged by cheap tariffs that use a significant proportion of nuclear and wind power, supplemented by charging at the workplace by commuters and fleets, and ‘a targeted amount of public infrastructure’.

There are now ten vehicles eligible for the Plug-in Car Grant, worth up to £5,000 for buyers of a pure electric or plug-in hybrid car.

Philip Hammond said: “The ability to recharge is a key part of the jigsaw in supporting the growth of the electric vehicle market. It is crucial, therefore, that we make the process as simple as possible.

“Public chargepoints are part of the answer, but putting a chargepoint on every corner is not the right approach. It is most convenient for drivers and best for the energy system for the majority of charging to happen at home.

“Electric cars mean getting out of the mentality of needing to travel to a petrol station and into the habit of refuelling when a vehicle is not being used."

It could mean, then, that in the future there will be fewer petrol stations, and that those remaining will offer a greater variety of fuels and services.

How efficient are they?

A recent trial, run by the motoring organisation RAC - the Future Car Challenge - compared the fuel consumption of three types of vehicle: pure electric; hybrids, including plug-ins and hydrogen fuel cells; and internal combustion engines emitting no more than 110 gCO2/km and found electrics the cheapest to run.

Top came electric vehicles at 0.61MJ/km (megajoules per kilometre), followed by petrol vehicle at 0.91 MJ/km, hybrids, at 1.16 MJ/km, then the only hydrogen fuel cell vehicle at 1.23 MJ/km, and finally diesels at 1.74 MJ/km.

This makes electrics are twice as efficient as the fuel cell vehicle and almost three times more so than diesel.

If you were to translate the performance into miles per gallon (petrol equivalent) the results equate to 147 mpg for electric cars, 83 mpg for hybrids, 65 mpg for diesels, 95 mpg for the sole petrol car and 71 mpg for the hydrogen vehicle.

However, this figure, of course, doesn't take into account the efficiency losses from the point of generation of the electricity to the vehicle's battery, which the vehicle's driver doesn't see.

Looked at from this angle, petrol internal combustion engines used for this particular trial in this location are currently the most efficient, emitting 81 gCO2/km, then hybrids, emitting 103gCO2/km (grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre), closely followed by electric vehicles at 105gCO2/km, then hydrogen fuel cell vehicles with 112 gCO2/km, and lastly diesel internal combustion engines at 147 gCO2/km.

The figures are strongly affected by when charging takes place - there's more low carbon electricity in the mix at night.

They will also vary on a country-by-country basis, depending on the mix of generation.

The drive to develop low carbon vehicles is in anticipation of the future, by around 2020 and beyond, when the proportion of low carbon electricity on the grid will increase as more renewable and/or nuclear power replaces polluting coal and gas powered generation.

But would you want to drive an electric car?

The latest data, from a year long study 25 Mitsubishi i-MiEVs and 20 smart 'fortwo' electric drives, shows that initial scepticism about their capability was overcome by drivers who mainly only use their vehicles for urban transportation.

Most journeys undertaken (77%) lasted less than 20 minutes and only 2% used more than half of the battery's charge. This meant that in most cases a return journey could be made without needing to recharge.

After a while, drivers tended to make longer journeys as they grew more confidence and less worry about running out of charge.

Users didn't feel they had to recharge the battery every time it reached a particular point of depletion. Rather, they be charged it when convenient.

Most of the vehicles were parked for almost all the time - all put 23 hours and 10 min every day on average - so there was plenty of opportunity for them to be plugged in.

Brian Price from Aston University said the data showed that the battery range of electric vehicles more than covers most users’ needs, with most drivers finishing their daily journeys still with over 40% charge remaining. Typical users only need to recharge every 2-3 days and choose the convenience of a home charge overnight or at their place of work over 85% of the time.

Most people started charging when the battery had 81 - 87% of its charge remaining, which matched the fact that most journeys used only around 12% of the batteries charge.

The average charge time was between two and three hours, which costs about the same as a single laundry cycle - 60-80p on a conventional tariff. The smartest participants in the trial used timers to take advantage of off-peak tariffs during the night.

Head of E-Mobility R&D at E.ON Charles Bradshaw-Smith explains: “Meters installed at each user’s home are giving us invaluable information on charging behaviour. The most popular time to charge a vehicle is, rightly, overnight. But as most journeys are relatively short (with five average journeys per charge) this allows scope for exactly when the car is charged each night to minimise cost and maximise carbon savings.

“The ultimate goal is to allow drivers to take advantage of low cost power due to EVs both drawing and feeding into the grid to smooth demand peaks and save carbon."

The data comes from the largest of eight public trials taking part in The Technology Strategy Board’s £25m Ultra Low Carbon Vehicle Demonstrator programme's project CABLED.

Project Leader Neil Butcher from co-ordinating CABLED partner Arup, said: “It’s already clear that EVs offer a viable, practical urban transport solution. We must now consider how our homes, offices and public spaces will need to evolve in order to cater to both users’ needs and the rapidly developing technologies powering these vehicles.”

Mitsubishi Motors’ UK managing director, Lance Bradley is confident these vehicles will catch on quickly: "This clearly backs up our own experience and studies in Japan that people adapt very quickly to driving a pure-EV, such as the Mitsubishi i-MiEV.

"To know that people complete up to five normal journeys per charge, and at such a low cost, underlines the fact that EVs are here to stay and can find mass-market appeal.

“Mitsubishi's new range of plug-in hybrid vehicles and our on-going development of pure-EVs will also help establish electric powertrains in the broader UK market, and go a long way to reducing automotive CO2 emissions."

“Public charging points provided as part of the trial are popular, but less necessary than originally thought," Brian Price added. "The trial has shown that the current generation of low carbon vehicles are as capable as conventional diesel and petrol engines for performance and ease of use, whilst having significantly lower emissions and operating costs.”

However, when you choose to buy a car, you want one that will suit all your purposes - long journeys across country as well as short runs.

Research is underway to develop lead-acid batteries that will charge in much, much shorter times, and to create country-wide networks of charging points.

Until then, unless drivers are confident that they can use one car for all purposes, it's not likely that ELVs will become mainstream.

Motoring organisation the AA recently said, however, that prices of EVs will have to come down before more people will buy them.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The nuclear industry must come clean and get clean before we build more plants

Rossing open cast mine, Namibia, Picture taken by D.H. Trampé, 2010. Picture used in the report with kind permission of the photographer
The nuclear industry has to clean up its supply chain, be as ethical, accountable and transparent as possible, and come clean on its true carbon impact, if it is to earn our trust.

The UK is considering supporting the building of a new generation of nuclear plants, and the Treasury's Carbon Price Support mechanism could result in nuclear companies receiving £1bn of the public's money via increased electricity bills.

Yet the basis for and consequence of this step are shrouded in mystery due to the opacity of the industry. What we do know, however, based on two reports which I discuss below, leaves significant grounds for concern.

In this piece I will discuss firstly uranium mining and then the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the nuclear power life cycle before asking – if this industry has nothing to hide – why isn't it more transparent?

The scourge of uranium mining

Uranium mining around the world has increased greatly in the recent years. In particular, many African countries have been receiving much attention from the mining industry: in Niger, Mauritania, Zambia, Malawi, Gabon, Tanzania, South Africa, Namibia, the Central African Republic, and elsewhere, uranium exploration and/or exploitation projects are currently in development.

These and other countries in the developing world are keen to deal with the multinational mining companies because of their desire for economic development. In turn, the lack of strict mining and environmental laws, and the very limited regulatory and enforcement regimes present there are all factors that help to make these countries more attractive to the mining companies.

A new report - Uranium from Africa. Mitigation of uranium mining impacts on society and environment by industry and governments, by the Dutch research organisations WISE and SOMO - compares today's practices in the mining sector in Africa, with those carried out in Australia and Canada, although even there - despite good laws, a strong judicial system, powerful NGOs, and democratic governments - uranium mining practices still threaten indigenous societies and natural protected areas in Canada and Australia.

Specifically, it examines mines in only three countries, taking them to be representative of the rest: Namibia, South Africa and the Central African Republic.

The companies involved in these mines include Rio Tinto, Paladin, Areva - which has interests in building new plants in the UK - First Uranium, and AngloGold Ashanti.

The survey found the following catalogue of failures:
  • environmental pollution uncontrolled at many sites

  • citizens and workers remaining uninformed about their radiation exposure

  • radiation control only carried out by the mining company

  • local communities not having a voice in far-stretching decisions about their land and health

  • high-impact mining operations located in sensitive desert regions and natural protected areas

  • payments not being reported

  • documents and contracts remaining unpublished

  • agreements known only by companies and government

  • Environmental Impact Assessments being released after the date of final comments by the public and riddled with inaccuracies

  • abandoned mining sites remaining unmanaged.

While some companies are developing serious corporate social and environmental responsibilities programmes, others seem not to ignore these issues completely, or simply make a slight effort to greenwash their operations.

The African governments and institutions all seem to be lacking the necessary knowledge and resources to govern issues as hazardous as uranium mining.

Alarming reports from NGOs, international and national, in all the African states the researchers visited, showed that mitigation of uranium mining impacts is insufficient.

They saw no evidence that tailings will be rehabilitated in such a way that their enduring polluting effects, which last for tens of thousands of years, will not occur.

Namibia, after decades of mining, lacks proper laws, and fails to protect its people and environment.

South Africa's National Nuclear Regulator, which is supposed to issue licenses and is responsible for radiation control as an additional task, is, the researchers found, too small, too ineffective, and has too many tasks to be a reliable institution for radiation control.

The Central African Republic - unstable, unequipped, undeveloped - tells its population not to worry, but was unable to provide evidence of being in control of the consequences of uranium mining, and in many cases mitigation measures do not even exist.

It is because it is cheaper and easier to mine in a situation like this, that companies which supply uranium to developed countries choose these developing countries in which to operate.

Lack of information, transparency and accountability prevail throughout the industry. These are crucial factors that prevent a population in a country from properly profiting from their natural resources.

There is even evidence of alleged corruption in some instances, although this cannot always be proven because of the complete lack of transparency.

Dealing with a type of mining so hazardous, and with very specific and extremely long-term effects, requires at the least excellent laws, excellent law enforcement, disciplined, knowledgeable and dedicated governments and institutions, a strong civil society, and a healthy civil society. All of these factors are lacking in all three African countries.

The report does congratulate Rio Tinto and Anglo Gold Ashanti for beginning to develop extensive Corporate Social and Environmental Responsibility programmes.

AREVA, though, is still highly centralised and is giving little attention to local issues such as stakeholder communication and public participation.

It seemed to be only lightly engaged in mitigation measures, which seems surprising for a large nuclear energy company partly owned by the French government.

The other companies perform very poorly.

Even in Canada and Australia there is insufficient research to find out whether individual deaths can be attributed to having worked in a uranium mine. Hardly any work has been done in this area. This means that governments and mining companies can deny responsibility with little difficulty.

In the UK, much of our uranium actually originates in Kazakhstan. On March 23 this year, the BBC Radio 4 programme Costing the Earth visited a mine in that country, where it also found the environmental regulations to be almost non-existent, so that the government could reap foreign exchange at minimal financial cost in maintaining environmental safety and the health of its workers and those living near the mines.

Would any of this be tolerated if uranium mining was happening in this country? And shouldn't we be be legislating to make our own industry behave as if it were?

If we compare this behaviour to the degree of environmental care and public consultation demanded of, say, a power plant or mining operation in the UK, we can see that it is only because it is kept out of our sight that we are led to tolerate it.

Apart from the moral argument that it is our duty to look after other human beings who produce resources that make our lives comfortable, and the environment which sustains them, there is an economic argument for improving performance in the uranium supply chain.

In Germany and South Africa the cost of rehabilitating polluted areas is high. In Australia such attempts have failed. Mining companies will, if pressed, only foot the bill for a few decades of rehabilitation and monitoring at most. Yet the damage can last for hundreds of thousands of years.

Companies involved in nuclear power in this country must be made to publish in their annual reports the origins of the fuels which they use in their power stations, so that the public - not to mention shareholders - can hold them to account and be sure that they are taking their responsibilities seriously.

The carbon impact of nuclear power

The main argument behind the nuclear renaissance is that nuclear power is low carbon.

If this were so, you would expect there to be comprehensive data to back up this claim. Unfortunately, this, too, seems to be lacking.

There is but one reliable study which has examined all of the existing studies on the life-cycle carbon impact of nuclear power stations. This is a paper from August 2008 by B.K. Sovacool, Valuing the greenhouse gas emissions for nuclear power: A critical survey, published in Energy Policy, Volume 36, Issue 8, pp. 2950-2963.

It shows that compared to the renewable energy sources, nuclear electricity generation performs worse in terms of carbon emissions (see table below).

Sovacool examined 103 lifecycle studies, but found that 81% had methodological shortcomings.

Of the remaining 19% of studies that were relatively up to date, accessible, and methodologically explicit, they varied greatly in their comprehensiveness, and so are not comparable.

Studies differed in whether they assessed future emissions for a few individual reactors or past emissions for the global nuclear fleet; assumed existing technologies or those under development; and presumed whether the electricity needed for mining and enrichment came from fossil fuels, other nuclear plants, renewable energy technologies, or a combination thereof.

The results varied from a ludicrously low 1.36gCO2e/kWh to a high 255gCO2e/kWh. Sovacool therefore takes a mean value - 66gCO2e/kWh - purely arbitrarily, for the sake of comparison with other technologies. I attach this comparison table at the end for reference - it is very interesting.

Socacool found that there is no identifiable industry standard which provides guidance for utilities and companies operating nuclear facilities about how to report their carbon-equivalent emissions.

Most studies, he found, obscure the complexity and variation inherent in the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the nuclear lifecycle rather than explaining it. This is especially true of those on both sides of the nuclear debate attempting to make nuclear energy look cleaner - or dirtier - than it really is.

My conclusion is the same as Sovacool's: that regulators, utilities, and operators must develop formal standardisation and reporting criteria for the greenhouse gas emissions associated with nuclear lifecycles similar to those already in existence - that provide general guidance for environmental management and lifecycle assessment, such as ISO 14040 and 14044 - but adapted exclusively to the nuclear industry.

These are just two examples of abysmal corporate behaviour. I have not even touched upon the poor track record of the actual cost of nuclear plants – whether construction only, or lifetime – being radically underestimated beforehand.

We are about to embark on a huge gamble by investing billions in the construction of new nuclear power stations.

Surely it is crucial, before we do so, to make sure that such a vital decision is based on truly objective and reliable information, and that we have in place effective monitoring to determine that the expected benefits actually occur, with minimal cost to society, to the environment and to human health?

Below: a comparison of emissions from various electricity generators, from Sovacool (2008). Please note that this table is based on the mean calculated emissions from 19 studies on greenhouse gas emissions from nuclear plants.

TechnologyCapacity/configuration/fuelEstimate (gCO2e/kWh)
Wind2.5MW, offshore9
Hydroelectric3.1MW, reservoir10
Wind1.5MW, onshore10
BiogasAnaerobic digestion11
Hydroelectric300 kW, run-of-river13
Solar thermal80MW, parabolic trough13
BiomassForest wood Co-combustion with hard coal14
BiomassForest wood steam turbine22
BiomassShort rotation forestry Co-combustion with hard coal23
BiomassFOREST WOOD reciprocating engine27
BiomassWaste wood steam turbine31
Solar PVPolycrystalline silicone32
BiomassShort rotation forestry steam turbine35
Geothermal80MW, hot dry rock38
BiomassShort rotation forestry reciprocating engine41
NuclearVarious reactor types66
Natural gasVarious combined cycle turbines443
Fuel cellHydrogen from gas reforming664
DieselVarious generator and turbine types778
Heavy oilVarious generator and turbine types778
CoalVarious generator types with scrubbing960
CoalVarious generator types without scrubbing1050

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A new dash for gas is on the way

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

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

The dash for gas revisited

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

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

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

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

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

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

What's the point of carbon capture and storage?

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

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

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

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

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

Marine power will match nuclear and offshore wind for cost in 14 years

Marine Current Turbines (MCT)'s first-generation tidal device, currently being tested in Strangford Lough
The best marine energy sites could be cost-competitive with nuclear and onshore wind by 2025 with accelerated and targeted innovation, according to a new report from the Carbon Trust.

The report is based on an evaluation of the Carbon Trust's £3.5 million Marine Energy Accelerator (MEA) programme of support for technology innovation.

It calculates that there is enough practically harvestable marine energy to provide for around 20% of the UK’s electricity consumption in 2025.

With sufficient effort on innovation, costs of will come down to around 28p/KWh for wave and 16p/kWh for tidal stream by the time the industry is half way through developing its most energetic sites.

These costs, particularly of wave power, could fall even faster if other countries install significant capacity as they are planning.

The report analyses the latest evidence on the practical marine energy resource and puts the wave resource at 50 tera-watt-hours per year (TWh/yr) and tidal (stream and flow) at 20.6 TWh/yr. This is broadly the same as previous studies.

Costs are very site-specific, though; for example energy would be cheapest at Pentland Firth Deep - the biggest and the most energetic site - with over 6 TWh/yr of potential.

Estimating the future costs is also complex because of the many competing different emerging technologies with many components, such as cables, moorings and turbine blades, very few of which have been proven over significant periods of time in these harsh environments.

However, the first generation machines that have been tested in real conditions under the MEA do provide sufficient experience to give a reasonable estimate.

The report makes recommendations about what should happen over the first, second and third generations of implemented plants, each generation representing about five years of development.

It finds that installation costs can be lowered, as can the ability to tackle deeper sites. Marine Current Turbines (MCT)'s first-generation tidal device, currently being tested in Strangford Lough, is only suitable for shallow and relatively low wave sites.

But future iterations of the device will be able to deploy many more rotors in a single operation and access depths of over 40 metres and a more extreme tidal range. Significantly, version two will have a 20% lower capital cost per megawatt.

By the 2020s, third generation tidal flow machines will be able to generate electricity economically from sites with velocities too low to have been included in the main resource study.

As technology companies move towards 5MW projects - likely to require investments in the region of £30m-£50m - they will be working with developers to find equity investments in projects while also looking for continued investment at the company level. It is anticipated that it is utilities and project developers who will take the biggest stakes in marine energy farms.

A number of consortia have already formed with a view to developing commercial farms sites in the Orkney Waters Strategic Area identified by The Crown Estate.

These companies will have to install pre-commercial farms of around 5MW at these sites before technology is sufficiently developed for the 100MW+ farms they are planning.

To make this happen the Carbon Trust says that the government needs to create a stable framework for revenue support as well as capital support to enable developers to build the first tens and hundreds of megawatts of early commercial farms.

There also needs to be a clear position on planning for marine energy, with a streamlined consenting process and Strategic Environmental Assessments completed for some regions.

The Crown Estate, as owner of the seabed, must set out a roadmap for the wave and tidal industry.

The industry also needs to make a big push the technology innovation.

The stakes are high, but the rewards are fabulous, not only for the UK but for exporting the technology around the world, because already the UK is a world leader in this field.

Nuclear power's £1bn windfall - the consumer will pay

Consumers will end up footing the bill for the £1 billion windfall that nuclear power companies can expect to get from the government's support for this dangerous technology.

The Carbon Price Floor system that has been proposed by the Treasury is estimated to provide £1 billion each for nuclear power developers and renewable energy development.

Yesterday, after the announcement of the Electricity Market Review in Parliament, Simon Hughes, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, asked fellow-LibDem Climate Change Minister Chris Huhne whether this meant that the taxpayer will be subsidising new nuclear power stations, something which the party pledged not to do before taking office.

Huhne argued that the price floor is not a subsidy for nuclear power: "It is a price guarantee", he said.

This may be a subtle difference to you and I.

It just means that the cost will be passed onto consumers via their electricity bills rather than by tax increases.

Either way, the consumer ends up paying. But it gets the Lib-Dems off the hook.

In a sense, this is no different from the Non-Fossil Fuel Obligation (NFFO) which supported nuclear power in the 1980s, and led to the boycotting by protesters of that 13% of the electricity bill which supported the NFFO.

Huhne argued that as "new nuclear power is at an early stage of technological development as is offshore wind", it should have this kind of support.

I don't think so. Offshore wind needs support because the transmission network and installation chain needs to be made fit for purpose.

Nuclear power does not deserve our support because of the legacy of waste it leaves for tens of thousands of years.

Every household in the UK is already shelling out £1000 for 100 years (£73 billion in total) to deal with the existing radioactive waste.

The finger of Redpoint

The Government bases their calculation on the price of nuclear newbuild largely on two documents - the most frequently referenced one is by energy consultants Redpoint and was produced for the government Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) in 2008: Implementation of EU 2020 Renewable Target in the UK Electricity Sector: Renewable Support Schemes.

There, you will find the phrases: "The impact of renewables on the wholesale electricity price is greater where fuel and carbon prices are high.

"This result suggests that producers with mainly conventional or nuclear plant portfolios would be better off if they collectively did not invest in renewables."

In other words that the policy of investing in renewable energy is likely to discourage investment in renewables.

Conversely, to point out the obvious, if we don't build new nuclear power stations, there will be greater capacity and incentive to build a wide portfolio of different renewable energy generation plant.

Amongst these are up and coming resources like marine power, which the Carbon Trust said two days ago will match nuclear and offshore wind for cost in 14 years and have the potential to generate 20% of the UK's electricity by 2030.

Such a policy also maintains the stranglehold of the Big Six suppliers, responsible for keeping fuel bills high, by effectively making it harder for new companies to enter the market - allegedly an aim of the electricity market reform white paper.

In their report, Redpoint claims that the cost of new nukes will be £1500 per kilowatt in 2008, and £1425 per kilowatt in 2020 (table 31).

But these prices are not the real world prices since they only include all plant and project costs, but exclude interest during construction and decommissioning costs.

If this is taken into account, the cost of new nuclear power stations is at least double this.

Here's the evidence: the flagship EPR project at Olkiluoto in Finland, managed by the largest nuclear builder in the world, AREVA NP, has turned into a financial fiasco.

The project is four years behind schedule and at least 90% over budget, reaching a total cost estimate of £5.7 billion ($8.2 billion) or close to £3,500 ($5,000) per kilowatt.

But who cares? The Government wants nuclear power - and we're going to have to pay for it - unless we protest now.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Electricity market reform unlikely to stimulate sufficient investment

The Electricity Market Reform White Paper is scheduled to be published today, the most radical change to the industry since it was privatised 20 years ago, but business is worried that it still won't provide sufficient certainty to permit the required levels of investment.

The paper is designed to shake up the way the supply industry operates and allow the construction of sufficient renewable energy to help the UK generate 15% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, compared with just 3.3% last year. (Only Cyprus and Malta generate a lower proportion of renewable electricity than the UK in Europe.)

The projected £200bn of investment needed by 2020, according to industry regulator Ofgem, is supposed to be sparked off by a guaranteed price for low carbon electricity, including nuclear, which will be passed on to businesses and households through higher bills.

After British Gas' price hikes - gas up 18% and electricity up 16% - announced last Friday, this announcement is particularly sensitive. But such hikes “demonstrate the problems caused for the UK by our over-reliance on energy from overseas", commented Juliet Davenport, CEO of 100% renewable electricity supplier Good Energy.

Almost 60% of the energy we use is imported and the latest rises in wholesale prices are largely due to events overseas out of our control. The proposed market reforms will help to increase energy and price security, and Chris Huhne insists that they will mean a long-term reduction in bills, also because of other Government measures to reduce household energy consumption.

“Once you take the effect on bills you actually find that we're getting overall bill down in the long-run,” he told the BBC, claiming that the UK has "the lowest energy prices in Europe".

Contracts for Difference

Under the white paper's proposals, a new scheme will come in from 2014, replacing and simplifying the current Renewable Obligation Certificate, where generators of renewable power earn tradable certificates which they then sell to utilities.

This system, called Feed-in-Tariffs with Contracts for Difference, will cut support for onshore wind and favour offshore wind and is intended to provide better value for money.

An agency - yet to be decided if it is a new institution, Ofgem or a government department - will pay a top-up premium for green power above the wholesale electricity price, up to an agreed fixed, or "floor," price.

If the wholesale price were to exceed the floor price, the renewable energy supplier would have to pay back the difference to the agency, under long-term contracts designed to promote certainty for investors.

The exact price, plus the amount of low carbon electricity the agency would buy, will be set nearer the time, but may be set by auction for "mature" technologies if there are enough bidders, as with nuclear power.

Business has warned, however, that too much delay on these crucial details could seriously put off vital decisions on investment.

Existing ROC contracts will be protected from the change. Developers will be able to choose between the ROC and the new scheme from 2014-2017.

There will not be an explicit target for utilities on how much of their electricity must be from renewable sources.

HMRC has worked out that electricity bills for an average energy-intensive business are estimated to increase by 2% and 6% in 2013 and 2016 respectively as a result of the carbon price floor, but by the late 2020s bills will be between 2% and 5% lower than would otherwise have been the case.

Reducing the monopoly of the Big Six

The established energy utility companies supply 97% of the energy consumed in households, and part of the purpose of the market reforms is to reduce their stranglehold.

Tim Yeo, Chair of the ECC Committee, has said that "radical reform" of the wholesale energy market is needed to "stop the Big Six from stitching it up".

Last week, Chris Huhne, who told the BBC, “we have to break the dominance of the big six”, met representatives of small energy supply companies who want to become the big companies of tomorrow. They told him that he had to do more to encourage independent energy generators so that smaller suppliers actually have someone to buy energy from.

They asked him to force the large companies to sell a minimum proportion of their electricity on the wholesale market, which would allow independents to undercut their prices.

Good Energy's Juliet Davenport, fresh from being honoured at the 2011 First Women Awards for the Retail and Consumer sector, told Huhne that the Government "has to balance its aim of simplifying energy tariffs with allowing smaller suppliers to innovate".

She also said there must be "complete transparency around the way Big Six generate and sell energy" to "buffer households and businesses from price hikes".

Mike Benson, of Carlton Power, said that allowing small companies to compete is crucial, because the balance sheets of the large utilities "are not strong enough”. “This really is the last chance,” he said. “If the big six are given a soft run this time round, they will lock themselves in for the next 20 years as the only ones able to play in this market.”

In another effort to support community renewable energy schemes, amongst other things, the Treasury had opened a consultation on the provision of finance for them - Tax-advantaged venture capital schemes - which Chris Huhne says will ensure that "enterprise investment schemes and venture capital trusts that invest in Feed-In-Tariff schemes through community-interest companies, co-ops and community benefit societies, will continue to qualify for improved support, as will those generating electricity from micro-hydro schemes".

Support for nuclear

The Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change warned the Government on 16 May that the long term contracts envisaged by the proposed bill at that point will work for supporting nuclear power, but that "different types of contract are needed for renewables and other clean technologies".

The white paper will reveal whether the Government has listened to this advice.

The proposed market reforms could end up giving a £1 billion windfall to nuclear power developers, who are among the Big Six, helping to consolidate their position.

This is why the ECC Committee warned in its report on the proposed bill that the Government "risks distorting its reform of the electricity market merely to save political face over implicit subsidies for nuclear power, through the use of a Carbon Price Floor Support system". It "will increase costs for consumers", they said.

LibDem MPs have also criticised the subsidy and are likely to vote against it.

The ECC Committee's report said the starting point for market reform should be a "clearly defined objective to reduce the carbon intensity of electricity generation in the UK to 50g of CO2 per kilowatt hour (KWh) by 2030".

Demand management

The report also warned that "it is too early for the Government to design a capacity mechanism given the rapid development of smart meters, interconnectors and storage systems that could remove the need for 'peaking plant'".

Reducing peak demand will reduce the amount of overall generation capacity required. Traditionally, energy planning has been done on the basis of meeting peak demand. But the roll-out of smart meters, the Green Deal and other policies will help reduce these peaks.

Greg Barker told Zac Goldsmith in the House last week that "demand reduction is not like alternative forms of energy generation. We are creating a new model, and different types of indices and accounting will be necessary. We will need a robust system of measurement as well as the market mechanism."

Goodbye to coal

Another effect of the market reforms will be to stop British power stations burning coal to generate power within the next three years, which Chris Huhne insists is also vital to bring stability to household bills.

"We've got to move to low carbon sources," Mr Huhne said. "We've got to get off that oil and gas fuel hook."

Carbon emissions from new coal plants will be limited to 450 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) per kilowatt hour of power production, meaning they must have carbon capture and storage equipment installed.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Solar industry in danger of provoking green backlash

"Cowboy" solar PV companies are undermining consumer confidence in the technology by mis-selling, and the industry is failing to police itself in a competent manner.

The sting operation by consumer magazine Which? and evidence from the small scale renewable industry's own self-regulating bodies shows that consumers are not adequately protected from bad practice.

The sting operation in which mystery shoppers got solar PV installers to estimate for a domestic system funded by Feed-in Tariffs found that three quarters of solar PV companies overestimated how much energy the PV modules would produce, and most underestimated how long it would take for the system to pay for itself.

One company overestimated profit by £4,275 over 25 years and underestimated the payback time by three years, compared to their expert’s calculations.

Seven out of the 12 salespeople even recommended installing solar PV panels on a shaded part of the roof. Eight companies didn’t question customers about how much energy they used.

Hard-sell approaches were being used: one company, Green Sun, gave the customer 24 hours to make a decision. Another, Skyline Solar, said their discounts were on a 'first come first served' basis.

Ten out of twelve companies failed to mention that the inverter would need to be replaced at a cost of around £1000 every ten years.

And half the companies tested, such as Anglian Home Improvements, sent sales people to make a technical assessment to provide the quote.

Unsupervised selling appeared to be the main cause of the mis-selling problem.

Which? advises consumers needing impartial advice to check the Energy Saving Trust website.

The consumer rights body is also calling for installation quotes never to be given on the basis of sales visits alone, always to include a site specific estimate and clear information on the life expectancy of equipment and cost of replacements, and the full cost (including scaffolding) of installation.

Which? did another operation last year on solar water heating companies and found similar levels of poor selling.

The importance of location

The Government’s building assessment rules, the Standard Assessment of Performance (SAP), are used to work out a PV system's energy output by installers. Yet Which? criticises this practice because they do not take into account the location of the property, which can seriously effect the output of the modules.

It therefore suggests revising MCS rules on energy performance prediction.

“It seems extraordinary that the Government’s rules require companies to ignore whether you live in Cornwall or Scotland when working out how long it’ll take to pay for the solar panels," said Richard Lloyd, Which? executive director.

In fact the only place in the country which gets enough sunshine to make the modules work financially without a subsidy is Cornwall.

However, SAP and EIR ratings are supposed to be unaffected by geographical location in order to make it possible to compare buildings throughout the UK.

Yet, given that a large part of a building's performance is based on solar gain - the amount of heat from the sun captured by the building - this is bound to depend on the building's specific location. Therefore there is a strong case for changing SAP requirements to provide a more accurate overall picture of the building's performance.

To determine a PV system's output, rather than relying on a SAP rating, which is laborious to undertake, it is easier to use the latitude of the location together with the amount of shading the site receives throughout the year.

The failure of industry self-regulation

The industry is supposedly already self-policed, firstly by the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS), and secondly by the REAL Assurance Scheme Code, set up by the Renewable Energy Association - a case of the industry policing itself. This is a consumer code for suppliers of renewable and low carbon micro heat and power generators to domestic consumers.

Consumers can only obtain Feed-in Tariffs for systems installed by members of the MCS.

Which? wants MCS and REAL to better monitor and enforce rules, remove rogue traders from the MCS scheme and publish results of enforcement action on an annual basis.

The efficacy of such confidence-boosting measures is crucial because unless the public has confidence in these schemes then there will never be the mass roll-out of energy-saving measures which the Government is hoping for in the future under the Renewable Heat Incentive and the Green Deal.

"We take the allegations in this report very seriously, and they will be thoroughly investigated," Gideon Richards, Interim CEO of the MCS and MCS Steering Group Chair said in response to the Which? report. He has set up a meeting with their investigators to discuss their findings.

The REAL Code is backed by the Office of Fair Trading as part of its self-regulation initiative, the Consumer Codes Approval Scheme, and supposedly specifically bans false or misleading information.

Virginia Graham, Chief Executive of the REAL Assurance Scheme, commented, "It is particularly disappointing to see one of the companies offering a discount to consumers for signing on the day and another offering a discount in return for providing monitoring information. These practices are expressly outlawed in the Consumer Code and we will be referring these two companies to the Non-compliance Panel."

It took a consumer watchdog to do what both of these bodies are supposed to do themselves, but neither did.

A staggering 2,791 companies are now registered with the REAL code to install solar PV.

For this reason, "we have to work hard to ensure 100% compliance with the Code," says the REAL website.

Many of the requirements demanded by Which? are already in the REAL Code. Its self-auditing questionnaire for its members includes the question, 'Are the company’s procedures for calculating its performance estimates, financial savings and payback time correct?'.

REAL claims to employ mystery shoppers to inspect one in ten of its members each year, but on questioning could provide no substantive evidence of how effective this is.

REAL does log customer complaints, which can be lodged and viewed on its website, but without the naming and shaming of specific members.

They received 75 complaints last year and have had 70 so far this year. 48% of this year's complaints are about PV installations, 14% about solar thermal (down from 27% last year) and heat pumps are receiving 35% of complaints - three fifths of which are for ground source and two fifths for air source.

For solar PV, half the complaints are about high pressure sales techniques and a quarter about a delay in refunding a deposit. Other reasons for complaints include making exaggerated payback claims, and falsely claiming to be MCS certified.

Last year there was a similar Which? report on mis-selling by solar heating companies. And 40 websites of such companies were reported for making exaggerated or misleading claims about the financial or environmental performance of solar water heating systems.

At least twelve of these forty solar heating websites were claiming to be run by supposedly REAL Code compliant companies – who displayed the REAL Code logo on their website.

REAL's Consumer Guide urges consumers to use well-established companies and obtain multiple quotes.

Solarcentury, for example, has been in operation since 1999. Its CEO, Derry Newman, attempted to reassure the public by saying, "Currently our network consists of 25 companies, those we consider the highest quality solar installers in the country. Many have been established and working with us for a number of years, otherwise they have all undergone an audit to establish the robustness of their business operations from accounting through to install.”

Barry Johnston, Managing Director of Solar Twin Ltd., also called for revising the MCS rules on energy performance prediction in order to improve the quality of solar PV installations, as well as for solar thermal.

Both companies are calling for the rogue traders to be punished or disqualified so that the rest of the industry does not suffer. "The last thing we want is a backlash," said Newman.