One thing we have learnt this week – Daylight robbery

Solar PV on my roofI wasn’t going to do a post until after Christmas but occasionally you come across something so annoying and disturbing that it changes your mind.  If what is planned to happen happens it can only be described as daylight robbery.  In the news over recent week has been the news that when the Feed in Tariff (FIT) ends in March then any installations after that date will not get any money at all.  We knew obviously that when the FIT ends new installers would not get generation money but the assumption was that they would at least get money for the electricity they sent to the grid.  This is not to be the case.  In principle they are giving a lot of electricity away to utilities that are generally quite profitable.  All attempts to stop this have failed (the “consultation” responses were about 95% against apparently).  The export revenue is not huge, for my systems it was about £20 in 2017.  But small amounts add and tip the balance on the payback.  Hopefully (and I expect this to happen) some suppliers particularly at the green end will pay something, but they will not be forced to.  This is clearly daylight robbery.  (One rare bit of good news for existing users is that if you install storage on site you will get the export tariff to your battery system.)

If this is not bad enough another form of daylight robbery is planned and this is retrospective and will affect all renewable micro-gen systems.  OFGEM (the UK energy regulator) is planning to alter the way the network is paid for.   All users pay a small charge in their electricity bill towards the upkeep of the grid.  This is not even itemised on my bill as to where the costs go.   The argument goes that those of us that generate on-site import less and are not paying enough and this is costing other energy users.

At first glance this seems a fair outcome.  Then you start to think about it, its daylight robbery for the following reasons.

1) When the FIT and grant scheme before this was introduced no mention was made of this.  I doubt if those rushing to install systems to beat the current deadline are aware of it either although the idea has been kicking about for a year.  It will seriously affect their payback since the FIT rates are so low.  Retrospective change is dangerous.

2) We were told that installing such systems would reduce the strain on the grid.  Therefore we are saving the grid money.  Many years ago I came across OFGEM or National Grid documents online that stated this would be the case.

3) Not all systems are equal in terms of power output/export etc.  But beyond that the ownership of systems varies.  Many local authorities installed systems on social housing to reduce the energy costs of those on low incomes.  Who is going to pay the increased cost when  many struggle in fuel poverty?  What about rent a roof schemes?

4) This is a total disincentive to energy efficiency.  Why install anything that saves energy?  OFGEM by and large energy demand at the moment is on a downward path.  This is for the simple reason that every-time we replace something it uses less energy than its predecessor. So the network contribution made by all users will fall until electric cars really take off.  Will households who have them pay a surcharge?

5) This is disincentive to invest in renewables when we need more.  It looks like almost all the new nuclear build is going to be cancelled.  We need more renewables not less.

6) Actually those of us who have installed systems are doing everyone a favour.  Not only are tackling climate change and peak oil/energy security.  We are also as pioneers helping to reduce the future prices for others – this has worked.

7)  The type of proposed charge to be levied is unfair.  OFGEM are considering four different types of charges.  A per unit charge (on both generated power and imported power), two types of capacity charge and a fixed charge.   The fairest is a per unit charge since this at least on the import side this gives makes the PV more cost effective and drives efficiency.  Perversely this is why OFGEM seem to be opposed to it for domestic users.  Plus they think you cannot calculate the proportions.  I thought that was what metering was for, particularly smart metering?  A standing charge is the least fair way of charging for energy use and should be abolished for all users, since you cannot conserve.

8) The argument takes no account of the efficiency of microgeneration.  You generate it where you need it and it takes no account of the value of the exported electricity which will go our immediate neighbours.

The cost for me as a low import user and small scale producer as well will about £47-130/year. This is the cost to the domestic user there is  a danger that once business learns about this they will lobby successfully on their behalf and we will pay more.  You got until 2021 if it goes ahead but not as long as that to stop it.

The fairer idea OFGEM is for everyone to do what the French do.  The cost of your electricity is based around capacity.  There are three different levels I believe, you choose your level.  High import capacity users pay the most and low the least.  If you exceed the capacity the power goes off until you cut back.  This would incentivise everyone to conserve.  It means the poorest who usually use less would pay the least.

This idea is unfair to introduce retrospectively (particularly for those just installing now), complicated and sends all the wrong signals.  I’m seriously thinking of setting up a social media group to stop it.  If you have a PV system or any other microgen and are happy to pay the above then fine.  As more me I’m determined to try to stop it.  I think its daylight robbery.  Some more details can be seen here.



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One thing we have learnt this week – particulates travel

1024px-Diesel_particulate_filter_01Particulates travel.  That’s the news this week.  Its how they travel that is surprising research conducted in Leeds has shown.  Researchers monitored commuters travels by cycle, bus, car and walking.  Some of the results are not surprising.  For example its been known for years that cyclists imbibe less particulates than motorists.   In addition those travelling by bike were faster than any other mode of transport.  There’s a surprise.

However the big surprise for me was that the pedestrians imbibed the most particulates.  Its not even close.  The difference would be highly statistically significant.  The reason of course makes common sense.  The pedestrians took the longest so their exposure is the greatest.  The cyclist took the least time so their exposure is the lowest.   Driving an electric vehicle of course does not save you either.  Again this is logical you are breathing in others particulates and electric vehicles still produce about 50% of oil powered ones anyway.

Particulates travel but not very far.  Even turning down a quiet side street cuts your exposure massively (about 90% I seem to remember).  So for pedestrians choosing your route is massively important.

All this shows we need a wholesale shift in modes of transport.  We know that particulates and NOX harm almost very organ in the body now.  Getting people walking is a start but unless they use quiet routes they could end up poisoning themselves.  Only getting people out of cars and getting them to use other modes of transport will cut it.


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solar panel removal

DSCN1669One question that no one has ever asked me is about solar panel removal.  To be honest its not a question I’ve asked myself very much.  But the issue has been raised for me by a house I cycle past on my way to work.  And another around the corner on a neighbouring road.  Both have had are having major work done on their roofs.  Both had solar PV systems and in both cases the panels have been removed to fit dormers.  In the first case they have not been put back in the second case the work is ungoing, but it does not look they will be (although they might be on the proposed plans on a rear extension although they they are not itemised).  One of the advantages of the internet and our democratic planning system is that I can poke around the plans online.  In the first case that I pass where the panels were on the front I could see they have been removed.  In the second I can just see them from my rear window in winter but had noticed them from a visit to my kids school for a parents evening.  I spoke to the owner about our joint experiences of putting them up.  Both houses have changed ownership.

Solar panel removal is such a strange thing to do.  The first system wasn’t that big but my near neighbours was.  Under the FIT you can only fit new equipment.  This has meant no second hand market and very little reason to steal systems.  What do you do with the kit?  Did the owners take them with them?  Is that possible under the FIT?  It also raises questions over the planning system.  It seem strange planning takes no account of the existence of the systems with a resource and climate emergency and you can strip systems off and least not them back somewhere else on your property.



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One thing we have learnt this week – climate action

2015-11-28 13.05.21As the climate change talks in Poland grind on climate action is at risk.  Governments worldwide are not doing enough.  It looks like CO2 emissions for this year are going to be at new high.  After no increase for a new years which was very encouraging CO2 emissions are rising.  Added to which President Macron has at least delayed increases in fuel costs which were officially aimed at tackling climate change.  If governments continue to back down in the face of political protest on this issue we are doomed.  The particular politics of Macron, the way he was elected and the scheme itself maybe mean we should not read to much into it.  The British Colombia climate tax scheme which I may cover in a future blog is a better model.  Nevertheless its discouraging news and leads me to think that a number of fundamental errors have been made over the the last nearly 4 decades.

The first is not to start immediately on climate action.  The first Earth summit took place in 1986 in Rio.  If governments had started making modest changes then we could have at least mitigated the problem earlier.  Climate change is a classic frog in cold water scenario and a future generations issue.  It creeps up on you and will largely affect someone else.  This makes it difficult for politicians to manage why upset the electorate when there is little gain to be had today.  This lack of action in the past means change now has to be more drastic.

This leads me to the second mistake made by policy makers.  Not to link climate change to resource depletion.  They are two sides of the same coin.  To remind people we live on the finite planet and we are using finite quantities of uranium, coal, gas and oil in my view would have helped make the change argument.  I largely blame green groups for this.  Their counter argument when I have discussed it with representatives was two fold.  First that it muddied the waters and and second that we could not afford to burn all the fossil fuels anyway.  This last point is true but clearly the climate only argument has not resonated with the public.  I rest my case.

The last argument on taking climate action is that change is good.  New technologies can create jobs and in many ways what we would be loosing is not worth having anyway.  Tackle this and we should end up in a kinder gentler world.  This point has not been made forcefully enough.

On the positive side we can see that people will take action and lobby when they see something, the classic current example being plastic.  This summer’s heatwave does seem to have tripped something.  My church has written environmental care into its next 5 year strategy.


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solar PV growth

DSC_4304We need some encouragement as pessimism at the current climate talks makes the news. So when I found an article on solar PV growth via Make Wealth History saying it would be the dominant form of electricity generation I was very pleased.  Then I had a think about it and a look at the BP data from their annual Review of World Energy.

Several of the assertions made in the the blogs are entirely correct.  The IEA and others have completely underestimated global growth of renewables generally as well as cost reductions.  Could they be currently be doing this with batteries and electric vehicles?  Is this really because they don’t understand the exponential growth curve?!

Its also true that a 41% increase in installation every year doubles capacity every two years (its actually 98% but near enough).  The growth is clearly exponential in nature.   I plotted the capacity data in Libreoffice calc as an exponential fit.  The R2 value was over 0.99.

Its also true that the growth between 2006-2016 was 48% a year on average (installed capacity) according to BP.

However are the claims about PV’s dominance correct (or at least by 2022)?  There is a difference between capacity and output.  Solar PV has quite a low capacity factor (of about 20% if memory serves me correct).  That is output is at max about 20% of the time.  This is obvious since its dark on average 50% of the year anywhere in the world.   At the moment (2017) according to BP total global electricity production is 25551 TWh/year and of that 442 TWh/year was supplied by solar PV.  This is just over 1.7%.  Electricity use is increasing by about 2.7%/year (far from exponential).  So the good news is that PV is closing on other forms of production.  Additional good news, if PV is the dominant new power form (which it is) and increases at its current rate then by 2022 then PV will produce about 55% of global electricity.  This assumes no major growth in other forms of capacity and assumes 2.7% growth in electricity demand.  However a closer look at BP’s data show this would overstate the case.  PV is doubling in terms of power output every 3 to 4 years.  This means that sadly PV will not be the dominant power source by 2022 on current growth trends it will be responsible for up to about 4% of global electricity production.

I’ve plotted the data for PV electricity production and capacity out in the graph below.

PV solar growthWe will know if we are on track next June when this years BP data comes out.  With exponential output at the same rate as capacity electricity production by PV should be about 3.5% of the total for 2018.  This seems unlikely since installation slowed in 2017.  For what its worth I think will be the dominant global power source – unfortunately we are some way short of this.




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One thing we have learnt this week – rewilding

640px-Beaver_lakeI decided to blog on something a bit different this week, rewilding.  I read an article on the re-introduction of Pine Martins into the Forest of Dean.  This is a small example of rewilding which covers a wide range of different things.  For example I also read an article this week on the new forest to cover East-West over the North of England and the best way of encouraging the trees to seed themself.  At the extremes it can cover the reintroduction of predators such as wolves or turning over the countryside to wild countryside rather than growing things.

There is a very long and unhappy human story of animal and plant introductions into countries.  The Grey Squirrel was introduced into this country cause it looked cute.  It eats anything in the garden (believe me I know) and causes destruction if it gets in your roof (again we know).  Other critters were introduced to control pests and then didn’t such as the cane toad in Australia to control beetles eating sugar cane.  It couldn’t get at the beetles and has been eating other native species as a result.  Other species were introduced to farm such as Mink in the UK for the fur trade.  I don’t approve of that but neither do I approve of the vivs releasing them into the wild were they have attacked various native species (also Wild Boar).   Some species have been introduced by mistake (wasps in New Zealand and rats almost anywhere remote).  Introduced plant species also cause chaos, such as Japanese Knotweed in the UK.

A common problem of the above is when the re-introduction is at the top of the food chain.  There are some things in Australasia that do eat cane toads or have learnt to eat them.  The same is true of the Grey Squirrel.  Its been found out recently that Pine Martins prey on them.  They also eat Red’s but the Red’s are used to them.  Greys are not.  Pine Martins were killed by gamekeepers since they were believed to eat the game birds. The remaining population was found in the highlands of Scotland.  Recently people have discovered the Pine Martin’s are spreading south.  The same has been found in the Republic of Ireland.  So the rewilding to the Forest of Dean is at the low end of scale by merely re-introducing a native species from one part of the country to another were it has been eliminated.  Far more controversial is to re-introduce a species that has been wiped out.  That has been done with Beavers in the UK.   These were hunted to extinction for their fur.  One of the big problems that is going to be caused by climate change is flooding.  One way of mitigating this is to dam streams up stream.  This slows the water down and causes the land to absorb it.  Its a big and expensive project for humans but why not get something cute to do it for nothing.  As we wrote in our book there is case for turning the upland areas of Britain over to trees which could be used for all sorts of uses.  I’m not sure about bringing back Wolves and Lynx though or turning most agricultural land over to the wild.


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hydrogen heat

DSC_1715We cannot seem to get away from hydrogen as a solution –  this time hydrogen heat.  I was reminded of this by a link on Make Wealth History this morning.  Apparently an Australian company is working on a new form of hydrogen powered car.  Last week the Committee on Climate Change produced a report saying we should replace our methane with hydrogen.  This is sort of going backwards to town gas which before the discovery of natural gas was produced from coal and contained amongst other things hydrogen.  In fact its going backwards in more ways than one.  Bizarrely the one thing this report says is that the hydrogen should not come from electrolysis using renewable electricity.  I say bizarrely but given my previous many criticisms of hydrogen its obvious it would be better to make renewable electricity and use straight electric heating.  The CCC suggest using reforming natural gas to hydrogen and then piping it to hydrogen heat.  The CO2 would captured using carbon capture and storage.

Where to start.  As I have said before you don’t have to move hydrogen too far before you have taken more energy to do so than you get back (references provided in this link).  To make it practical the country would have to have a lot carbon capture and storage (C&C) facilities so you were as near to one as possible.  Added to this C&C is untried on a large scale and will be very very expensive.  Its not zero carbon and is a bit like sweeping dirt under the carpet.  The whole idea is only temporary since gas is a finite resource in any case.  The CCC actually suggest themselves that using hydrogen alone for this purpose is impractical and householders would have to install other technologies alongside the hydrogen boilers such as heat pumps (something we said in our book is almost certainly impractical on a large scale and in most existing houses).  There is also a question over whether the existing pipework will leak to much although many in the industry do seem to think its going to be all right.

Changing our heat system from natural gas (or oil) to something sustainable is undoubtedly going to be very difficult.  I’m very pro renewables but for heat they do not look great (see our book) but this above idea is cloud cuckoo land.


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Ionic wind powered flight

1280px-heathrow_lon_04_07_77I read an interesting news report on ionic wind powered flight this week.  I like most people have never heard of such a thing.  I was going to do a blog on a report on hard to cut carbon intensive areas (and plan to still do so).  This report covered industrial sectors and shipping but left out other areas of extreme difficulty for decarbonisation namely heat and flying.

On the whole I’m a bit cynical when people say to me all we need is some form of completely new technology.  This is since I see it as an excuse for inaction ans also I think most of the technology we have is as up to the job as its going to be and we should not rely on some mythical new technology.  Just occasionally something brand new shakes this worldview and this is one of these points.

First a brief explanation on the physics of flight.  There are two types of objects that take to the air those that are lighter than air (airships/some seeds) and those that are more dense and heavier (almost anything else).  These latter objects must be powered to move through the air, the former will at least drift. There are four fundamental forces that act on heavy airborne objects; gravity (no explanation required), thrust (to move object usually forward), drag (friction essentially acting against the forward motion) and lift (an upwards reaction to the motion of the object through the air).  Air is described as a fluid since it the force needed to deform depends on the speed of deformation, not how much it deformed.  As long as thrust is enough to overcome gravity and drag then the resistance caused by the wing moving through the air will at least keep the object airborne.  Up until now thrust has come from turboprop engines or post WWII jet engines.

There is talk of electric aircraft covered on this blog in past.  But these are based on conventional turbprop aircraft powered by electricity rather than oil.  Ionic wind powered flight is completely different.  The wing of the aircraft is fitted with electrodes.  A thin wire seems to protrude forward from the aircraft wing.  This is positively charged compared to the electrode on the wing.  The potential difference ionises nitrogen in the air.  This moves to the other electrode displacing air and generating thrust.

Don’t get too excited yet there has been a simple demonstration that it works.  Which it does.  The system has the following advantages if it can be scaled up.  Its inherently quiet and electricity powered.  It would be lighter than an aircraft using electricity to power turboprops since it misses out the heavy engines.  This could increase range/decrease power consumption etc.  The big problem is where is the electricity going to come from when all the other sectors of our economy require electrification?  Does any aircraft really overcome this problem?  An interesting idea though.


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Coals to eco homes! to eco homes!  An old coal fired power station in the West Midlands is to be transformed into an eco village of 2000 homes.  This coal fired power station that closed in 2016 is one I recognise.  Its not so far from where I grew up.  I even went on a Youth For Christ camp within sight of it. The homes will be powered by solar PV modules both on top of their roofs and elsewhere even floating on a lake.  They will be heated by ground source heat pumps and will use 30% less energy than conventional houses.  The French firm Engie that owns the site is doing it to move beyond traditional dirty energy.

Coals to eco homes is a worthy sounding project.  Taking an ugly coal powered plant down and replacing it with houses will probably face little objections locally.   Old power stations seem a good way to deal with the housing shortage.  There are a whole heap of such power stations that have closed recently in the Trent Valley where housing could be built.  There are some questions though.  How cheap will these houses be?  And will they be fitted as described?  2000 heat pumps use a lot of juice and the grid may require reinforcement locally.  One question is why are houses not being built to passiv house standards which would require no heat?  The bigger picture is that all over the world coal fired power plants are closing.  This seems unstoppable even in America.


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One thing we have learnt this week – gas extraction and earthquakes

I watched a fascinating and worrying report on channel4 this week on gas extraction and earthquakes, in of all places Holland.  The first really major hydrocarbon finds in Western Europe post WWII were made in Holland.  I remember studying it in my O-level geography.  Unlike the north sea these finds were largely on land.  The finds (and these were big fields) stimulated North Sea exploration.  The fields were centred on Groningen and came on stream in the early sixties.  The following graph shows the output over the years (source BP statistical review of world energy).

dutch natural gas outputThe problem the Dutch have found is one of earthquakes.  Its become such a serious problem that the Dutch government are forcing production to cease (albeit gradually).  There has clearly been a huge scandal with up to 8 billion euros of damage.  Many people are waiting for compensation and have had to move out of their homes but it also includes public buildings.  Channel4 showed at least one school closed with the pupils having to use huts.  (Its so bad they showed an earthquake drill in a school).

So what has gas extraction and earthquakes to do with us in the UK?  Well the government has allowed fracking to go ahead in England.  So far amid huge public opposition (increasingly from Tory MP’s in rural areas as well) its going ahead at just one site in Lancashire.  It been stopped about 6 time due to earthquakes.  These are very minor, but the threshold has been set much lower than in Holland where it was set at 4 on the Richter scale.

It does seem that oil and gas extraction causes earthquakes on a regular basis.  At my children’s school there was a British geological survey map on the wall.  This showed the distribution of earthquakes over the UK.  What was interesting was the great majority were in the part of the north sea where the oil and gas fields were.  All this has been invisible due to the minor tremors being out at sea.  In the UK there is tiny amount of onshore oil and gas up until now.  The Dutch set their levels where there is said to be no damage to buildings, but clearly there has been a huge issue.  Albeit one that I missed when we were on holiday in Holland.

The geology is different in Holland from the UK being sandstone and its conventional gas.  However we are running a huge fracking experiment.  There is pressure on the government to liberalise both the planning and earthquake levels (with levels set so low it simply cannot be economic).  We cannot know what will happen if fracking really takes off and could be struck with huge problems if we do since clearly earthquakes down the Richter scale clearly cause significant damage.


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