One thing we have learnt this week – Hinkley Point C

Hinkley Point C is bad value for money say the National audit office (NAO).  Everyone part from the nuclear industry and possibly the government know this is true but its nice to have it confirmed.

Its criticisms fall into a number of areas.  First the government has only considered the electricity costs up till 2030 when the strike price (guaranteed price for the electricity) is being paid long after.  Second, the strike price is too high.  With improved renewable costs which are constantly falling means power from Hinkley Point C will be too expensive.  Third, they are rightly worried that costs will increase and eventually the taxpayer will have to step in to rescue the project.  Somewhat at odds with this argument they say that the government should have taken a stake in Hinkley Point C as this would have reduced the costs by borrowing costs being lower.  I disagree with this last point.   Whilst they could be right on costs in some ways, the project is so likely to require a bailout that the taxpayer could have been left with a very difficult decision (and may still be).

The Nuclear Industries Association were interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 today this morning.  The head of this organisation said that when the decision was made the costs of renewables and other sources were more expensive.  Possibly true.  This however takes no account of Hinkley Point C cost overruns and the direction of travel with renewables and battery costs falling.  National Grid say they have the largest battery program in the world.  What was most interesting was that the head of this organisation said that all future reactors should be considered on their cost merits.  On this basis its bye bye nuclear.

Neil

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Food waste feast

Food waste feast is a TEARFUND event thFood waste feastat I attended at our church last Friday evening.  Over 30% of global food production is wasted.  Where this proportion of food is wasted depends on where it is produced.  In the developing world it is wasted at the production end.  I saw examples of this myself in SE Asia some years ago.  To remove the husk from rice, women (and it was always women), would stand by the side of the road and sweep rice so that passing traffic ran it over.  Its self evident whilst this method was easy it was also wasteful with much rice going missing.  (As an aside the rice I eat there was of very high quality with no grit in it.)  In the developed world the waste is almost all post production, i.e. shop onwards.

Both types of waste have proved stubbornly resistant to reduction.  TEARFUND’S food waste feast is one recent attempt and is part of TEARFUND’S post Paris campaigns to use the church (as one of the last community organisations left) to tackle this problem.  As this site has blogged previously food production particularly in the developed world is very oil intensive and uses a lot of energy.  Therefore food is a direct cause of greenhouse emissions.  Food is also an indirect cause of carbon emissions since waste food ends up in landfill where it produces methane, a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.  This problem is reducing though as more waste food is collected by councils.  If we could cut this 30% waste it would give us a supply ceiling going forward into the future to cope with population increase.  The last reason not to waste food is its an immoral waste.

The food waste feast involved eating waste food (safely in date) which would have been otherwise threatened with being chucked out.  We started off with knibbles and dips with old stale bread crisped by heating in the oven (above) which was much better than it sounds.

2017-06-16 19.34.28After sitting at the tables we had a short introduction based around the theology of food and in particular the feeding of the 5000.  Food (especially bread) is seen as a mark of God’s salvation and it was pointed out that Jesus commanded that the leftovers should be picked and not wasted (Jn 6v12).  Something I had not noticed before, but it is the case in every one of these stories that the leftovers were collected.

We then got down to eating.  Leftover pasta bake along with courgette and sweet potato loaf (particularly yummy) followed by banana ice cream and bread and butter pudding.  As we were doing this we were given a number of questions to answer.

2017-06-16 19.44.47We finished the food waste feast with teas and coffees with TEARFUND emphasising some of the points I made earlier made through the example of a woman farmer in Malawi.   All in all a good evening with excellent food.  As a final point I would point out that food is one of the easiest ways to cut your carbon emissions especially by cutting down meat consumption as well as waste.  For further details about getting your church involved see this link.

Neil

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One thing we have learnt this week- Happy birthday bicycle

bikes parked in Amsterdam

bikes parked in Amsterdam

Happy birthday bicycle.  Cycling is 200 years old this week and some celebration is taking place.  One Karl Drais invented the forerunner of the bicycle due to a rise in horse feed.  You sat on it and pushed it along with your feet.  It was known as the “dandy horse” and was made of wood.  The bicycle was later helped by the Scotsman John Dunlop’s invention of the pneumatic tyre, which despite attempts has never been bettered.  Also the idea of pedals made it more practical as did brakes!  No more pushing with feet which must have been tiring.

When the programme “History of the World in 100 objects”came out on BBC Radio 4 the programme makers ran a survey of what the listeners thought was the top invention of all time.  The engineering profession were said to be almighty displeased with the choice – the bike. (Number 2 could not have pleased them much more – the solar photovoltaic panel, they were said to have wanted nuclear power as number 1).

However the bicycle was a worthy choice.  Its quiet, eco friendly, requires little space and keeps one fit.  In addition most people can in theory manage to cycle.  Its highly likely to be a significant part of the answer to the current problems of obesity, particulates, pollution and congestion.  I have seen this for myself in the cycling capital of the world – Holland.  Young, old and even disabled cycle there.  Millions cycle worldwide and it has to be one of the most successful inventions ever.  Cycling has been growing in popularity for many years in part due to the rise of modern day horse feed (car costs).  Happy birthday bicycle and here’s to another 200 years of your success and may many more cycle.

Neil

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Big oil is it losing out?

oil wind solar growthBig oil is it losing out on our renewables future?  This is the question that Oil and Gas experts Wood McKenzie are asking in a new report.  Demand for wind and solar are rising much faster than oil demand (see graph).  Several people at my church worked for Wood McKenzie and one of these thought that all the oil majors interest in renewables was greenwash.  Its hard to argue with him since soon after he made that argument BP and Shell to name but two withdrew almost totally from their renewables businesses.  Now really on Statoil and Total are investing in renewables.  Statoil in the new offshore floating wind turbine technology in Scotland and Total in solar.

Wood McKenzie’s argument is that big oil is it losing out financially since oil growth is so low compared to renewables.  Wood McKenzie reckon the oil companies need to spend $350bn by 2035 to get the spending share to that of their oil and gas assets.  They also said that the companies would need to spend 20% of all capital expenditure on renewables beyond this date.  At the moment its hard to see this.   The companies talk a great game on tackling climate change but it still in most cases seems like hot air.

Neil

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One thing we have learnt this week – solar social model

DSCN1669This week I learnt of a solar social model for PV.  One of the problems with PV has been its perceived cost.  The installed cost and hence generation costs have fallen drastically over the last 5 years or so until its becoming cheaper than nuclear and will be cheaper than most other if not all other forms of generation in another 5 years or so.  Despite this for those on low incomes the up front cost the kit is still high.  The problem is of course more acute if you do not own your own roof.  Yet those on low incomes are the most hit by the steep rise in energy costs over the last 10 years and need the most help.

One company thinks its found a solar social model that will allow it to fit housing association properties with solar PV at no cost to the residents.  I do wonder whether it will end being controversial though.  The model involves the company fitting out the property and then selling all the electricity to the tenants at a discount rate.  There is some contradiction here though, their solar social model involves the householder using 80% of the electricity they use but at the same time fitting the properties with LED bulbs to reduce energy use.  They become the general energy supplier saving the tenants about £100/year.

There are two problems with this approach.  First as I know its very difficult to self consume more than about 50% especially with bigger systems.  Second the tenants are locked into a deal which may in time not be the best one.

I’m all for putting PV on social housing but not sure this  solar social model is the best one.

Neil

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Sunny Scotland

954838_204501379701698_1765426126_nMay led to a sunny Scotland according to the WWF.  So much so that they reckon that Renewable energy records were broken here (with the help of windpower).  WWF think that those with PV systems in all the major Scottish cities provided the equivalent of over 100% of their electricity needs and 90% of their hot water needs if they have solar hot water systems.

For those with a PV system this meant average import consumption and a 3kWp PV system.  We have had a very sunny Scotland in May with lots of sun and almost no rain.  But since I have a smaller total installed capacity than above then I cannot claim that my system provided so much of my needs.  I would firmly state that our SHW system did almost all of our hot water needs in May.  One big surprise from this data is how well the PV systems in Lerwick were thought to have done with much higher output than elsewhere.  I can only assume this is because the Shetlands have much longer days at this time of year and the northern Isles are much cooler which makes PV systems much more efficient.  The difference was striking 430kWh versus less than 400kWh in most other places (only Dundee came close with 420kWh).  All in all another positive reason to invest in renewables.  Ironically written on a day when we received 84mm of rain in 48 hours (it rained for this long) which was an entire months worth for June.  (Badly needed the rain though.)  Despite this there were points were we were exporting to the grid.

Neil

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One thing we have learnt this week- negative power prices

negative power prices.jpgThis week we have had negative power prices for the second? time in the UK.  This has been long predicted since the same thing happens in Germany due to vast solar penetration.  Now the UK is catching up.  Negative power prices mean the generators are paying someone to take the electricity, not being paid for it.   At least some commentators think this is unlikely to be a major problem.   However given high solar power installation (higher than thought) and with still expanding offshore wind capacity then this could be a bigger problem than has been believed until know.  At least in summer.

The solutions are increased energy storage and inter-connectors.  The use of inter-connectors assumes of course that wind and solar production is not as high at the other end.    There is another solution in which inverters can be “clipped” limiting their output when grid voltages reach certain levels.  However, this is unlikely to go down too well with small generators it would also require a major effort to go round and reprogramme the inverters.  (I don’t know whether its possible to do this by tweaking smart meters and avoiding the inverters)?  Simply storing the electricity using batteries until after dark seems the best solution but is going to require some form of economics not really present at the moment to make it worthwhile.

 

Neil

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let there be light

let there be lightLet there be light is not only God’s command in Genesis 1v3 but also a TEARFUND campaign to get the UK government to fund small scale renewables and batteries in the developing world.  Its worth reminding ourselves as we read this of how much we take electricity and natural gas for granted.  Millions do without and rely on paraffin lamps etc.  The number of people without access to electricity as the graph shows is falling fast.  Its still over a billion people though.

There are two things people need in the tropics heat for cooking and electricity.  Great strides have been made with low cost stoves and biogas to cook on.  These are used by millions in the developing world cutting both smoke and deforestation.  They and electricity provision are a classic market failure.  There is nothing in it for private companies to provide millions with a solar panel or two and some lithium batteries, much less gas.  (There are parts of Edinburgh not on mains gas due to the people who live there being too poor to make it worthwhile).  However, doing so make people safer allows children’s education to go after dark and stimulates small businesses.  Its a great idea but only governments can do it.  Let there be light.

Neil

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One thing we have learnt this week – the Pope and Trump

The Pope and Trump had a meeting this week and it really didn’t like look like a meeting of minds.  Trump was smiling but the Pope did not look happy.  As I heard someone predict the Pope gave Trump a copy of his encyclical on climate change.  The meeting was short and there was what was described as an “exchange of views”.  Presumably they covered such areas as refugees, walls and the environment.

So far Trump has led to headlines that would have destroyed any candidate much less a sitting president.  Almost everyday you rub your ears in disbelief when you listen to the news and move on.  However, whilst Trump is trashing a lot of environmental protection in the US (drilling in National Parks, huge cuts to the EPA, etc) he has so far baulked at pulling out of the Paris agreement.  There were apparently long discussions about doing so but no decision.  I remain reasonably optimistic that he will not do so, but not totally optimistic.  In the meanwhile all we can do is pray that he doesn’t do so and sees some sense.  His attempts at resurrecting the fossil fuel industry seem doomed to failure as batteries, solar and wind continue to plummet in cost.  These are the industries of the future not fossil fuels.

It seems unlikely that the Pope and Trump will hold any more meetings at least in the short term, but lets hope the Pope has some influence on Trump over issues such as climate change in the longer term…

Neil

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UK energy system post brexit

What is going to happen to the UK energy system post brexit?  There are a number of different areas that could be affected, some more than others.

2013-07-13 19.28.08The first is that of the EU renewable energy targets.  The EU has a renewable energy target of 20% (of all energy) for all its member states.  The national target varies by country.  The UK managed to talk its total down to 15% by 2020.  In 2014 renewable energy made up 7% of UK energy production.   Surprisingly the EU expect the UK to just fall short of the 15% target by 2020 which is good news.  Less good news is we are leaving and the target has pretty much been dumped.  I mean have you heard this talked about since June last year or in the GE2017 campaign?  In addition all the renewable support has been heavily cut with the exception of renewable heat and off shore wind (of more later).  This looks like a casualty of brexit but a lot of the investment is in place and off shore wind is being encouraged for other reasons.  So the irony is we may still make this target (more or less).  As a passing thought, one surprise of looking at the EU data is renewable heat and cooling makes up over 50% of the renewable energy at present in the EU, not electricity.

Nuclear power.  Like most of brexit the full implications were not thought about by anyone and the government is still rushing headlong without pausing towards the exit door.  One probable casualty is Euroatom and with it potentially all nuclear power in the UK (which even UKIP love).  The European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC or Euratom) is a treaty organisation distinct from the EU but made up of its members.  Its something none of us have heard of until recently.  It governs the safe use of nuclear power in Europe and the UK government has announced we are leaving.  There lies a problem.   The treaty covers movement of all nuclear material and the construction of new nuclear reactors and operation of existing ones.  It also covers research into new technologies such as ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) and the experimental reactor at Culham.  According to those in the know all current operating reactors are at risk plus of course Hinkley C and all the research.  As far I am concerned this could be on of the few benefits of brexit.  The government of got less than 2 years to sort this out.  Meanwhile ground works at Hinkley are continuing apace…

Interconnectors.  As noted above off shore wind installation is still powering ahead with plans for controversial off shore wind farms in Scotland sufficient to power 1.4 million homes just legally agreed (after a court case).  A whole heap of inter-connectors have been planned with a view to moving excess power around, with one through the channel tunnel under construction.  Being cynical I think the government is keen on them since it has severe private doubts (justified) about new nuclear build.  The single market makes trading much easier and this includes electricity.  Some remoaners reckon the planned inter-connectors are at risk.  However, it seems likely that if either we or our neighbours want electricity we will find a way of connecting to each other and selling it.

Industrial production.  Access to the EU’s single market has been great for the UK’s economy over the last few decades.  Fact.  Almost 60% of our trade (including 3rd party countries with which the EU has trade agreements) is with the EU.  Siemens is cutting back its investment in its off shore wind turbine production at Hull now only producing for the UK market and not the rest of the EU.  But other areas are at risk such as micro-wind production (where the UK dominates) along with wave and tidal (with much R&D going on here).  We will need access to the single market and customs union for all our industry.

This quick scoot through UK energy system post brexit shows plenty of problems have emerged from brexit.  Whilst I understand why people voted leave I wish they had thought about the full implications.  This is going to be so complicated and take a decade or more to fully sort out.

Neil

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