By Dave Elliott
Imperial College London and the NERA consultancy have produced studies of energy system integration costs and grid balancing options for the government’s advisory Committee on Climate Change. They focus on flexible generation and backup systems and conclude that ‘flexibility can significantly reduce the integration cost of intermittent renewables, to the point where their whole-system cost makes them a more attractive expansion option than CCS and/or nuclear’.
By Dave Elliott
At a meeting of the House of Commons Liaison Committee, which brings together the chairs of select committees, PM David Cameron in effect provided an overview of his take on key aspects of UK energy policy. It was quite revealing, with justifications being offered for the extensive cut-backs in support for most low-carbon projects, in order ‘to deliver low carbon at the lowest cost’. Very little seems to have survived unscathed. (more…)
By Dave Elliott
Not everyone backs biomass, given the emission/biodiversity/land-use issues, but biomass does offer a range of flexible green fuel options, biogas especially. The World Bioenergy Association (WBA) says bioenergy already contributes over 14% to the global energy mix, and its use is bound to expand. So what are the options? (more…)
By Dave Elliott
Is the truth out there? An extended Xmas Whimsy
It’s usual for there to be a spread of viewpoints on most issues, and it’s always worth looking at a range views, including ‘outlier’ ones! On that, this is fun: www.xonitek.com/press-room/company-news/the-stone-age-didnt-end-because-they-ran-out-of-stones/
However at times you can get weary of obsessive time wasters and yearn for clarity! Sadly that may not be easy to achieve.
A World of Troubles
by Dave Elliott
With the typhoon disaster in the Philippines, Japan’s cut back on its climate targets and Australia abandoning its climate policy, the latest gathering of the Conference of Parties of the UN Framework Convention of Climate Change in Poland last October was a rather gloomy affair. The Fifth report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had reinforced a key message from the basic science- it was now 95 % certain that climate change was caused by human activities, up from 90% previously. And the results were likely to be serious. The United Nations Environment Programme then issued a warning that if countries failed to take immediate steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the global temperature will be significantly more likely to rise above 2˚C.
By Dave Elliott
The UK’s new Contracts for a Difference system will replace the Renewables Obligation fully from 2017, but before then some green energy projects will be supported under it. 16 have been earmarked for consideration for this early support under the Final Investment Decision (FID) ‘Enabling for Renewables’ process.
By Dave Elliott
The World Energy Council (WEC) has called for policymakers and industry leaders to ‘get real’ on global energy policy, claiming that the global financial crisis, Fukushima, and the development of unconventional hydrocarbons has changed the context and that, as a consequence, the CO2 targets for 2050 will be missed, unless significant changes and policy frameworks are adopted. (more…)
By Liz Kalaugher
The thousands of delegates congregating in Vienna this year will find the EGU making further efforts to “green” the meeting – badge lanyards are made from bamboo fibre rather than PET and the conference schedule is smaller to save paper. It seems only appropriate, since many of the sessions at the conference will focus on the cryosphere (shrinking), climate (warming), natural resources (under pressure) and energy. But are such measures just a drop in the ocean, especially as environmental issues appear to have fallen down the priority list for many governments?
Indeed, governments received a call for action within the first half hour of the conference opening, with Millie Basava-Reddi of the International Energy Agency Greenhouse Gas R&D programme (IEAGHG) stressing the need for investment in carbon storage, in her talk presented by session chair Michael Kühn due to a delayed flight.
While the G8 nations would like to see 20 carbon capture and storage projects up and running by 2020, the IEA target is 100 by 2020 and 3,400 by 2050. The agency’s latest assessment, however, indicates that while 20 projects are feasible for 2020 its own roadmap isn’t, with just 50 projects likely by 2025. Worldwide there are currently 14 large-scale integrated projects in operation or execution; 2011 saw 74 large-scale projects in at least the planning stage. Basava-Reddi called on governments to allow for long project lead times – up to fifteen years – and to help to provide up-front investment.
The challenges for carbon capture and storage in many cases mirror those for other subsurface technologies such as geothermal energy. Indeed Kühn’s group at the Helmholtz Centre Potsdam, Germany, is researching how brine extraction from saline aquifers could help reduce the pressure rise induced by the addition of carbon dioxide, whilst at the same time providing geothermal heat.
There are a large number of issues in geothermal energy that need substantial research efforts, explained Adele Manzella of CNR Institute for Geosciences and Earth Resources, Italy. The upper 3 km of the Earth’s crust could provide 60,000 times our current power consumption; the only snag is where and how to access that power. The up-front costs are high and it’s hard to forecast production, especially since there is a lack of data on geothermal potential. But once systems are set up the energy produced is cheap compared with other types of renewable energy, since power is provided 24 hours a day.
The European Energy Research Alliance has set up a Joint Programme on Geothermal Energy, said Manzella. Areas under study include assessing Europe’s resources for geothermal power, how to mitigate induced seismicity in reservoirs, and high-performance drilling.
Chris Llewellyn Smith speaking to delegates.
By Michael Banks, Physics World, in Washington, DC
The 2011 American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Washington, DC had a slight winding-down feel to it today as the placards were being removed and the exhibitors packed their stalls.
But there was still a morning of talks to be had. So I headed to a session entitled “Can global science solve global challenges?” where Chris Llewellyn Smith spoke about past and future global science projects. He is an ideal speaker for the topic, given that he has been director-general of the CERN particle-physics lab and also served as chairman of the ITER council – the experimental fusion facility currently being constructed in Cadarache, France.
Llewellyn Smith went through some of the successes of global collaboration and consensus such as the eradication of smallpox in 1979 and the banning of CFCs in 1987, which successfully reduced the ozone hole.
The particle physicist also named a few examples of global collaborations that he felt had failed. This included scientists who were warning that a tsunami could occur in the Indian Ocean. The tsunami happened in 2004 killing 230,000 people and Llewellyn Smith says that lives could have been saved if warnings from scientists around the world had been heeded. He also adds communicating climate change as a challenging area that was damaged by scientists “not keeping objectivity and turning to advocacy”;.
Llewellyn Smith now calls for a global endeavour to be set up for the application of carbon capture and storage (CCS) to coal power stations that would include working out if the technique is at all possible and, if so, then the best way to store carbon dioxide underground. “CCS is going to be crucial if we don’t stop burning coal,” he says.
Indeed, Llewellyn Smith is involved with a Royal Society report into global science, which will be released on 29 March. He didn’t want to give the report’s conclusions away but says the report will concern “where science is happening and who is working with who”. There will be no specific recommendations made in the report but “we hope that it will start a debate” he says.
A recent article titled “Government impose ‘carbon capture levy’ to fund coal-fired power plants”, discusses the UK government imposing a tax on electricity to potentially fund carbon capture and storage (CCS) development on up to four coal plants over the course of 10–15 years. A quote from the article sums up the discussion:
“The Department for Energy and Climate Change said yesterday that uncertainty over the commercial viability of CCS meant that public support might have to continue beyond 2030.”
Of course CCS is not commercially viable. The only way to make it commercially viable is to internalize the cost of CO2 emissions to such a degree that the cost of investing in the infrastructure for capturing the CO2 justifies the investment. The price of CO2 is not there yet for the UK, and is nonexistent within the United States. So the commerical viability question is not even applicable except for potentially using captured CO2 to extract more oil out of mature reservoirs. Still, given that there are natural sources of CO2 that only require major investments in pipelines while avoiding interacting with the electricity indudstry, a sufficient CO2 price may not exist for a couple of decades that induces investment in CO2 capture on coal plants.
But the real “commercial viability” conundrum rests on the fact that a large portion of society believes that we (well, the industrialized world) should place a value on reducing CO2 emissions. Capturing CO2 from coal plants will lower their net electricity output by 20–35%. In terms of the normal venacular of economics, this is going to something less efficient. In this case, the efficiency is less electricity output per unit of fuel input. This is a fundamentally different concept than has occured since the dawn of the industrial revolution.
Sure, we have imposed certain types of pollution mitigation technologies on power plants before (e.g. SO2 and NOx scrubbing, mercury capture), but these have for the most part not prevented coal plants, and the power plant industry in general, to increase their efficiency over time by increasing the pressure and temperature of operation. But everyone knows that the thermodynamics of the power plant with CO2 capture will be less efficient. This goes directly against the purpose of investments and technological advancement since the founding of modern civiliazations.
People have historically invested in ways to extract more productivity and wealth from the Earth per unit of effort (human effort) until some ecological feedback prevents that from being a desireable option any longer. These feedbacks to date have mostly been associated with direct air-, soil- and water-quality problems. And the past mitigation methods have been of a small order of cost such that the human population has continued to grow since the Industrial Revolution. But this feedback fo global warming appears to cost several orders of magnitude more to deal with. The question is: “Is coal power so valuable to us that we will continue to use it even at lower efficiency?” In other words: “Are other viable technologies so inferior that coal power must continue to exist by providing less direct services than it has since we first put it in a steam cycle connected to a dynamo?”
So far, the answer seems “yes” to these two questions. Widespread use of CCS will mean that we value environmental/ecosystem services more than energy services on a larger scale than any time before in history of human civilization.