Research published by DECC last month showed that home insulation measures deliver half the savings that are claimed. A study of homeowners installing a package of cavity and loft insulation and a new boiler in 2010 indicated a 19% reduction in energy use, and a likely saving of about £140 at current gas prices. The government’s Energy Saving Trust claims savings from these measures of twice this amount. The smaller than expected reductions in energy use mean that the typical UK householder will lose hundreds of pounds a year from taking out a Green Deal loan. Read the rest of this entry »
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The unrecognised implication of today’s announcement about the strike prices for low-carbon technologies is that the government has cut its ambition for the size of the UK offshore wind industry in 2020. A month ago it said that its delivery plan ‘indicated deployment of up to 16 gigawatts by 2020’. Today (4th December 2013) it says that ‘DECC modelling suggests that 10 gigawatts is achievable’ (My italics). It then backs off further, stating that the 10 GW figure ‘is not a target’ and that ‘actual deployment will depend on technology costs’.
Perhaps as importantly, the government is now talking – albeit in very abstruse language – of reducing the strike prices of ‘mature technologies’ if and when they become too successful. In other words, the strike prices published today for PV and onshore wind are far from guaranteed. If, as I expect, developers put far more PV farms on the ground than DECC is forecasting, the prices paid will be reduced. Read the rest of this entry »
I want to open discussion of a small and eccentric scheme to reduce emissions and household bills while slightly improving the UK’s energy security. My suggestion is that the UK gives every householder a voucher for 10 high efficiency LED lightbulbs. LEDs are now better, more long-lasting providers of light than traditional compact fluorescent bulbs and halogen spotlights. They are still expensive and takeup is quite slow. The payback for the average bulb is probably about four years and for most people this is too long. Free vouchers will change this.
Giving every householder ten free bulbs would reduce bills by at least £20 a year and for some people much more. It would cut UK emissions by about half a percent and, importantly, should shave peak electricity demand by at least double this percentage. I calculate the cost to be about £1.6bn, or slightly more than the much- disliked ECO scheme.
It could be restricted to those in fuel poverty, reducing the cost to a fraction of this amount. The cost per tonne of carbon saved is approximately equivalent to other measures. The scheme is progressive because the benefits can be directed mostly to less well-off people. Read the rest of this entry »
Another UK wind record was broken today. For the first time ever, total output of the major wind farms reached just over 6 gigawatts in the early afternoon. This was about 14% of the country’s total requirement for electricity, much less than it would have been if the storm had passed over the UK during the night. Nevertheless, today’s strong NW winds provided a fascinating little case history for us to look at. Read the rest of this entry »
RWE is at pains to suggest that its withdrawal from the 1.2 GW, £4bn Atlantic Array was largely driven by unexpected technical difficulties. In the Financial Times, the company mentions the ‘deep water’ and ‘adverse seabed conditions’. We can be a little sceptical about whether this was the real reason: the company had been working on the Array since 2008 and submitted a full planning application almost five months ago. It seems implausible that a major European utility had devoted years of effort to the project only to find in late 2013 that the water was quite deep in the Bristol Channel.
We need to look behind the pretence and work out what might be actually happening. Perhaps when they said ‘deep water’ they had a metaphorical meaning in mind. I think RWE’s shift may be more to do with its increasingly perilous financial position and its recent change in corporate strategy. The Germany Energy Transition is marginalising RWE and the other large utilities as increasing levels of PV penetration devastate wholesale electricity prices. RWE is far less profitable than it was and is no longer able to raise the almost unlimited levels of capital necessary to finance the expensive shift away from fossil fuels. As a result, the company intends to make a transition from being the owner of capital-intensive power generation capacity and will move towards such activities as the provision of services for the ‘smart grid’. The consequences for the UK are serious: if the major German players (E.ON and RWE) in the UK electricity industry are unable or unwilling to finance investment in nuclear, wind or solar, who will do it? Read the rest of this entry »
(Simon Daniel of Mioxa – one of the winners of the DECC competition and a company whose understanding of USB technologies I have always much admired - sent me some notes and has kindly allowed me to use them as a comment at the end of this article).
(Second update: John Samuel of REDT, the owner winner, has also contributed comments below the article. See the post at 10.44 on Monday 11th November)
Storing low carbon energy is the most difficult technical challenge we face. Fossil fuel power stations can cheaply vary their output as demand changes. Neither nuclear power nor renewables have the same flexibility. Nuclear plants are so expensive that it makes no sense at all not to run them all day and every day. Renewable technologies generally either suffer from unpredictable variability (wind, solar in high latitudes) or from predictable variations (tidal range and tidal stream). Matching supply with demand is increasingly difficult. Unless we solve the storage problem, we’re facing a future of unplanned power shortages and gluts.
The British government’s response to the storage challenge was to launch a competition to reward promising technologies. We need huge innovations, imaginative leaps and investment in new ideas. What we got from DECC this week was unexpectedly small amounts of money dribbled to two battery companies with standard technologies. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the winning projects: it’s just that they are very small scale and the batteries can never hope to address the huge need for long term storage of energy.
This is so disappointing. When will government understand that handing relatively small amounts of cash to companies – however competently run - that offer marginal improvements on existing technologies actually damages the rate of progress by diverting intellectual energy away from genuine innovation?
Rather than just rail about DECC’s short-sightedness, I thought I’d also briefly write about another company that has just obtained a new round of venture finance. This may be a good way of demonstrating just how mindlessly conventional the UK has been. Contrast Terrajoule in California, with its potentially cheap, resilient and quite low-tech solution that offers local storage using pressurised steam, and the two UK companies sponsored by DECC. Read the rest of this entry »
British Gas needs to stop peddling inaccurate and misleading statements. In its public comments, it continues to contend that recent domestic price rises are driven by the rising wholesale costs of gas and electricity. But its own published information shows that this is not the case. In fact, the wholesale prices it pays are no higher than April 2011 and have actually fallen in the last six months. In contrast its electricity prices have risen by about 29% since 2011. Read the rest of this entry »
Last month’s estimated global temperature and precipitation data has just been released by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Climate data doesn’t get much attention now but it may be worth recording some of the features of the September figures. In particular, I suspect that those who claim global warming has ‘stopped’ will find last month’s data from the Southern Hemisphere, particularly the continent of Australia, quite a challenge to explain.
The news about Hinkley Point is welcome to those of us who believe in the paramount need to avoid climate catastrophe. But the proposed deal isn’t as simple as commentators are suggesting. The full details of the contract are not yet available but the press release gives clues to two unusual features of EdF’s deal. Simply put, these terms are likely to mean that the owner of Hinkley Point is likely to be paid more, perhaps substantially more, than the headline price of £92.50 a megawatt hour. Read the rest of this entry »
George Monbiot’s recent work on ‘rewilding’ has brought attention back to the degraded state of many of Britain’s uplands. Low productivity sheep pastures reduce biodiversity and increase the rate of storm runoff into rivers. Take sheep away and most uplands would quickly revert to woodland, supporting the large carnivores that he so fervently wants back in the UK.
Although the UK is slowly gaining forests, it is still probably the least wooded country in Europe. Monbiot’s rewilding would also approximately double the UK’s capacity to produce wood for energy use. Today’s woodlands can produce enough fuel for about 1 million homes and rebuilding forests on upland pasture might increase this to over 2 million households. It would also increase employment in some of the least wealthy parts of the UK and make energy supply slightly more resilient. It would also reduce carbon emissions. Read the rest of this entry »