“IMAGINING OTHER…”

Protecting the Planet

Week 9 – Energy policies and alternatives to deal with climate change.

Imagining Other Home Page

 

Protecting the planet Week 1: Introduction

Protecting the Planet Week 2 & 3: some key industries

Protecting the Planet Week 4: alternative strategies

 

Protecting the Planet Week 5: some possible solutions to environmental damage

 

Protecting the Planet Week 6: global warming (i) causes

 

Protecting the Planet Week 7: global warming (ii) possible effects

 

Protecting the Planet Week 8: species decline

 

Protecting the Planet Week 10: the environmental movement

Updates

Summary:

1. Views in favour of renewables.

2. Examples

2.1 Solar

2.2 Offshore wind power

2.3 Tidal power

2.4 Other ideas – electric vehicles, power to gas

3. High-tech alternatives

3.1 Carbon capture and storage

3.2 Biofuels

3.3 Nuclear

3.4 Fracking

4. Across the world – different policies

5. What can I do?

NB: these notes are a ‘starter’ – go to Updates for extra information.

NOTES

1. The need for new – renewable – sources of power. Four views in favour.  

Caroline Lucas: The Paris agreement aims to keep the increase in global temperature rise over the next three years to 2C or even 1.5C if possible. We should celebrate our ‘world-leading Climate Change Act’ (which has legally binding five yearly carbon budgets). However, 15,000 jobs have been lost in the solar industry in the last year alone, there is a ‘de facto ban’ on onshore wind; Hinkley point will be far too costly, and the ‘dash for gas’ will be destructive of the environment (see on fracking below). More ‘smart meters’, home and grid-scale batteries, a nationwide scheme of home insulation are needed – rather than new power stations.

Alan Whitehead MP, Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change: In Nov 2016, the UK government accepted the Fifth Carbon Budget, for 2028 – 2032 reducing greenhouse gas outputs by 80% in 2050 – these are targets agreed under the Climate Change Act. However, no policies are being put in place to bring about the changes needed.

The Committee on Climate Change estimates that something like 75% of generation will have to come from renewables, nuclear, or plants fitted with CCS (see below). Labour says there should be an industrial strategy, with more electricity being supplied by renewables, retrofitting homes with insulation and cladding, a National Investment Bank, to support tidal and wave technology. The Siemens Offshore wind facility in Hull is an example, and the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon needs to be developed (see below).

This government has ‘effectively banned’ onshore wind, cut support for solar PV, ended the Zero-Carbon Homes compact, and cancelled two CCS pilot projects at the last minute.

New Statesman Energy Spotlight supplement, 2nd Dec 2016:

(Editorial). Every second of every day we are blasted by 170,000 billion billion joules of energy from the sun – and this will last for several billion years. If we could capture and store one third of one hundred-thousandth of one percent of this, we could satisfy completely the power requirements of human civilisation.

Of course, diversity is important and we have seen the results of reliance on fossil fuel only!! But change is happening: in China, renewable energy employed 3.5m in 2015 (and 2.6m in oil and gas). The solar industry now employs 2.8m people worldwide.

Chris Goodall [author of The Switch, and carboncommentary.com] (19th Jan 2017, Guardian supplement):

Solar power costs fell in 2016 by an average of 15%; China is committed to adding about 40 gigawatts annually of solar panels = more than half the new capacity installed across the world in 2016.

In Britain the government believes solar (photovoltaics) will be producing electricity that costs only 20% more than a new gas-fired power station in 2020.

Within a decade solar will fall to less than half the cost of fossil fuel in sunny parts of the world. New approaches such as solar film are being developed.

Wind costs have also fallen especially in off-shore sites. On-shore wind in the best locations in the US is now 2/3 the cost of the cheapest new gas-fired stations.

Other sources are anaerobic digestion, geothermal... worldwide, more new renewable energy was added than all fossil fuels combined in 2015. The only limitation is storage, but new batteries are being developed. Tesla is developing bigger batteries –Tesla has switched on one of the world’s largest batteries, (the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery) in South Australia – it is connected to a wind farm and can supply 30,000 homes for one hour (three times what any other battery has been able to do). It was also completed in record time: 100 days. It cost US$38m – and the government wants to move to 50% renewable, but has met with opposition because last year there were blackouts, and there is a strong lobby for coal. However, prime minister Malcolm Turnbull doesn’t think much of renewable energy and wants to make sure fossil-fuel power is supported in his National Energy Guarantee policy. State governments have not supported him in this however. (FT online 1st Dec 2017) (see below on ‘politics’...)

Another example of sustainable electricity generation is near Port Augusta in Australia, where two coal-burning power stations have been taken down and in their place is a large field of mirrors that reflect the energy of the sun onto a tower, which stores the heat in molten salt. This will be the world’s largest solar thermal tower. A campaign called Repower Port Augusta has been fighting for over five years to get rid of the coal-fired stations. (New Internationalist, Dec 2017).

2. Examples of renewable energy sources:

2.1 The story of solar power in the UK:

25th July 2015 (Miles Brignall): the government announces it wants to cut subsidies to big solar farms, and review the feed-in tariff (payments that householders receive if they fit solar panels - Fits). The government’s argument is that it wants to keep costs to consumers down, and that the support given to renewables has driven the cost down so that they don’t need subsidies any more.

When Fits were first introduced in 2010 a typical domestic PV system cost £15,000 - £18,000. Adopters were then promised 41.3p per kWh generated for 25 years, plus savings on electricity bills of up to £160 a year. For £15,000 invested it was argued that incomes and savings would amount to £30,000. Then prices fell for panels, and a system could be installed for £5,000 - £6,000 (in 2015) – so income paid also fell, to 12.92p per kWh (for houses at energy band D or above).

The Solar Trade Association said (2015) that 670,000 UK homes have solar installations, and thousands of schools, businesses etc, producing 7-8GW of power. At a peak in 2015 solar power produced 15% of UK electricity demand. The UK has enough solar to power the equivalent of 2.4m homes.

24th July 2015 (Adam Vaughan) the government scraps its plan to insulate homes because there has not been enough take-up. Loans were provided by the Green Deal Finance Company – but only 15,000 were issued or in progress, and it was bailed out by the government in Nov 2014 with a £34m loan. Householders who installed cavity and solid wall insulation were also given cash back under a similar scheme which has also been cancelled, despite the fund having been ‘rapidly exhausted several times’. The consumer organisation ‘Which?’ said it was right to stop throwing money at a scheme that had not taken off.

9th Oct 2015 (Terry Macalister). Two solar panel installation companies (Mark Group and Climate Energy) have collapsed in as many days. Environmental groups are protesting at the loss of jobs, and the uncertainty surrounding the future of the solar industry. The companies said government cuts were partly to blame. The government said the decisions to close were commercial, and up to the businesses concerned. The National Insulation Association also called for more help. Other cuts made since Amber Rudd became secretary of state for energy and climate change include an 87% reduction in financial aid for householders installing solar panels (because prices had fallen – and the government doesn’t want householders’ bills to be higher than they need).

In numbers (17th Oct 2015, Susanna Rustin):

3,000 solar businesses in the UK

35,000 employed in the solar industry

750k homes with PV solar on the roof

£80 wholesale price for solar per MWh - £50 for fossil fuels

16% of UK electricity provided by solar in one day July 2015

£6,000 cost of solar panels in 2015, compared to £20,000 in 2010

78% of people polled by ICM in September said government should do more to encourage local power generation.

10th December 2015: rise in VAT on solar panels and wind turbines, from 5% to 20% from next summer. Blamed on European commission ruling on energy-saving materials used in the building trade. Government says it is likely to affect fewer than 500,000 individuals – but Solar Trade Association says it could add £900 to a typical installation. Coal, gas and oil remain at 5%.

On subsidies: Gwen Harrison, Scientists for Global Responsibility, points out in a letter (29th Oct 2015) that renewables are not the only source of energy to be subsidised: according to the IMF, the UK will spend £26bn on fossil fuel subsidies this year, while the cost of (? Subsidy for) renewables (DECC) was £3.5bn for 2014-15, and will rise to £4.3bn in 2015-16.

Update on solar power in UK: 10th Nov 2017 (Adam Vaughan): a solar farm is planned for Cleve Hill, near Faversham in Kent – it would have five times the capacity of the UK’s largest solar farm, and would supply around 110,000 households when it comes on line in 2010.  There are concerns about wildlife, especially on the salt marshes. The group 10:10 said it showed smaller community-owned solar farms are being ‘frozen out’.  It could have a capacity of 350MW. The biggest wind farm in the UK is at Lyneham in Wiltshire, and it produces 69MW, and is owned by the government.

2.2 Offshore wind-power.

Chris Anderson, CEO of 4C Offshore: The European ‘energy giant’ Dong is going to phase out its oil and gas business interests and it is now the largest single developer of offshore wind energy in Europe. The German company RWE has restructured to put renewables into a new subsidiary. E.ON has also announced a new strategy. On a political level, three of the four parties in Norway have agreed to ban petrol and diesel car sales from 2025. Statoil (also Norwegian) is developing offshore wind technologies, and is running the Dudgeon Offshore windfarm off the Norfolk coast.

The UK has the largest installed base of offshore wind generation on the planet. Costs have fallen and continue to fall, and the cost per MWh is already below that for Hinkley – not to mention the latter’s construction costs (and Hinkley’s price will be fixed for 35 years. Whereas the price for wind-generated electricity could fall still further!).

Interconnectors’ – that allow power (especially from wind turbines) to be exchanged from one country to another are in existence between us and France, the Netherlands and Ireland – they can be constructed in five years and 19 more are proposed. Each one provides the equivalent of a large power station.

Changing to electric vehicles is likely to mean we need another 5 – 8 large power stations, and offshore wind is the most likely solution (Chris Anderson CEO of 4C Offshore). 

2.3 Less well-known – tidal power:

Source: http://www.tidallagoonpower.com/projects/swansea-bay/ Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon will be the world’s first tidal lagoon power plant.

A tidal lagoon is a ‘U’ shaped breakwater, built out from the coast which has a bank of hydro turbines in it. Water fills up and empties the man-made lagoon as the tides rise and fall. We generate electricity on both the incoming and outgoing tides, four times a day, every day.

Due to the incredible tides on the West Coast of Britain, by keeping the turbine gates shut for just three hours, there is already a 4m height difference in water between the inside and the outside of the lagoon. Power is then generated as the water rushes through 60m long draft tubes, rotating the 7.2m diameter hydro turbines.

The project was awarded a Development Consent Order in 2015 and is primed for construction. It will comprise 16 hydro turbines, a 9.5km breakwater wall, generating electricity for 155,000 homes for the next 120 years. Its major delivery partners include Atkins, General Electric, Andritz Hydro, Laing O’Rourke and Alun Griffiths Ltd.

The 320MW pathfinder project provides a scalable blueprint for our programme, opening up the option of a fleet of larger UK tidal lagoons to generate renewable electricity at a scale and low cost not seen before.

To date, approximately £35 million has been spent on project development.  With the exception of a commercial loan from Welsh Government this has been financed privately.

Our aim is to start on site in 2018.  Construction of the entire project will take four years, with first power generated in year three.

British institutions, led by Prudential’s InfraCapital and InfraRed Capital Partners, will provide equity funding for the business.  Macquarie Capital (Europe) Limited is advising Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay (TLSB) on debt funding, and has received close to 40 expressions of interest to provide debt finance to the project.

The majority of project’s £1.3 billion capital spend will be on content sourced in Wales and across the UK.

Independent reports find that 2,232 construction and manufacturing jobs will be directly sustained by the build, supporting thousands of further jobs in the wider Welsh/UK economy. The project is expected to contribute £316 million in Gross Value Added to the Welsh economy during construction, followed by £76 million in each of its 120 years of operation.

Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon requires only the rate of bill payer support currently offered to nuclear, a 60 year established industry. But because the project is small, its overall cost to households is also small: potentially as low as 20-30 pence per household per year, on average.

Tidal power has also been working in Scotland, and in France (near St Malo on the Rance for 50 years).

2.4 Other ideas:

Electric cars (EVs): the Chevy Bolt can do 200 miles on a charge. Global sales grew by more than 50% - and in Norway more than a quarter of all new registrations were for EVs. Chinese EV manufacturers sold a third of a million.

There is a new ‘power to gas’ plant near Copenhagen, built by the German company Electrochaea: when electricity is abundant, it converts it into natural gas (using microbes). The gas can then be burned to produce electricity when needed (when it is scarce).  ‘The end of the era of fossil fuels is within view.’ (Jan 2017)

3. ‘Hi-tech’ alternatives:

3.1 Carbon Capture and Storage

The parliamentary advisory group on CCS says (Guardian, 12th Sep 2016): consumers could save billions of pounds a year if government kick-starts a CCS industry. With it, electricity could be clean and cheaper than Hinkley Point or renewables. It could capture 40% of UK’s emissions by 2050, saving up to £5bn a year compared to alternative strategies. The report argues for £200m - £300m government seed funding plus private investment. The gas would be pumped into exhausted oil and gas fields under the North Sea.

In November the government cancelled a £1bn CCS development, citing high costs. The report says a state-backed company would slash the price of the project. The group was chaired by Lord Oxburgh, a geologist and former chairman of Shell.

Journal of the Institute of Gas Engineers, Feb 2017: an Anglo-Indian firm, Carbon Clean Solutions Ltd, claims it has developed a new solvent that makes the process up to 66% cheaper than traditional methods, costing $30 per tonne of carbon, compared to $60-$90. With this approach soda ash is produced, which can then be sold to make a range of products, from detergents to glass. The company says it is operating at a 10-megawatt station in Chennai, Aniruddha Sharma says it can be scaled up to 1,000MW. 

3.2 Biofuels: fuel made from plant matter has been developed, as a sustainable alternative to fossil fuel. It can also be added diesel In order to reduce particulates, CO and hydrocarbons. In 2010, 2.7% of the world’s fuels for road transport were from biofuels (Wikipedia). In Brazil 79% of all cars produced were made with a hybrid system, taking biofuel and gasoline. The International Energy Agency has a goal of biofuel meeting more than 25% of global demand by 2050.

However, there are problems: deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and soil erosion have resulted from growing crops for biofuel, and there have been arguments about growing crops to convert to fuel when there is still much hunger in the world – they might be acceptable if grown on land that is not suitable for food.  As with other crops, intensive monoculture leads to environmental damage. Moreover, burning biofuels still produces air pollution. One expert says they produce more greenhouse gases when burned than the fossil fuels they replace, and it is also argued that their production leads to more greenhouse emissions e.g. through nitrogen in fertilisers, as well as reducing the take-up of carbon if forests are cut down to make way for biofuels.

3.3 Nuclear:

Hinkley Point C nuclear power station (HPC) is a project to construct a 3,200 MWe nuclear power station with two EPR reactors in Somerset, England. The proposed site is one of eight announced by the British government in 2010, and in November 2012 a nuclear site licence was granted.[7] On 28 July 2016 the EDF board approved the project, and on 15 September 2016 the UK government approved the project with some safeguards for the investment. [Wikipedia]

The plant... has a projected lifetime of sixty years, has an estimated construction cost of between £19.6 billion and £20.3 billion. The National Audit Office estimates the additional cost to consumers under the "strike price" will be £50 billion. Financing of the project is still to be finalised, but the construction costs will be paid for by the mainly state-owned EDF of France and state-owned CGN of China.

In January 2008, the UK government gave the go-ahead for a new generation of nuclear power stations to be built. Hinkley Point C, in conjunction with Sizewell C, was expected to contribute 13% of UK electricity by the early 2020s. Areva, the EPR's designer, initially estimated that electricity could be produced at the competitive price of £24 per MWh.

 In October 2013, the government announced that it had approved subsidized feed-in prices for the electricity production of Hinkley Point C, with the plant expected to be completed in 2023 and remain operational for 60 years.

In February 2013, Centrica withdrew from the new nuclear construction programme, citing building costs that were higher than it had anticipated, caused by larger generators at Hinkley Point C, and a longer construction timescale, caused by modifications added after the Fukushima disaster.

In March 2013, a group of MPs and academics, concerned that the 'talks lack the necessary democratic accountability, fiscal and regulatory checks and balances', called for the National Audit Office to conduct a detailed review of the negotiations between the Department of Energy and Climate Change and EDF

In December 2013, the European Commission opened an investigation to assess whether the project breaks state aid rules[26][27] with reports suggesting the UK government's plan may well constitute illegal state aid

 In January 2014, an initial critical report was published, indicating that the UK government's plan may well constitute illegal state aid, requiring a formal state aid investigation examining the subsidies Though... ten months later the European Commission approved the financing.

In March 2014, the Court of Appeal allowed An Taisce, the National Trust for Ireland, to challenge the legality of the decision by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to grant development consent. An Taisce lawyers say there was a failure to undertake "transboundary consultation" as required by the European Commission’s Environmental Impact Assessment Directive

 In July 2014 the Court of Appeal rejected An Taisce's application on the basis 'that severe nuclear accidents were very unlikely... no matter how low the threshold for a "likely" significant effect on the environment... the likelihood of a nuclear accident was so low that it could be ruled out even applying the stricter Waddenzee approach'[33]

The UN, under the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context, ordered the Department for Communities and Local Government to send a delegation to face the committee in December 2014, on the "profound suspicion" that the UK failed to properly consult neighbouring countries.[34]

On 8 October 2014, it was announced that the European Commission had approved the project, with an overwhelming majority with only four commissioners voting against the decision

In September 2015, EDF admitted that the project would not be completed by 2023, with a further announcement on the final investment decision expected in October 2015.

In February 2016, EDF again delayed a final decision on proceeding with the project,.. EDF, which had recently reported a 68% fall in net profit, was still looking at how it would finance its share of the project. With EDF's share price having halved over the preceding year, the cost of the Hinkley Point C project now exceeded the entire market capitalisation of EDF. EDF stated that "first concrete", the start of actual construction, was not planned to begin until 2019.

On 28 July 2016, the EDF board approved the project when 10 out of 17 directors voted yes...

On the same day, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Greg Clark announced that the government would delay its decision until the autumn of 2016 to "consider carefully all the component parts of this project", including Britain's national security [because of the need for finance by the Chinese].

In September 2016 the UK government announced approval for the scheme with “significant new safeguards”.

In February 2017 The UN, under the Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context, 'said the UK should consider refraining from further works' until it has heard back from other countries on whether it would be helpful for them to be formally notified under a treaty on transboundary environmental impacts.

On July 2017, the estimated construction cost had climbed in two years to £19.6 billion and was revised to £20.3 billion accounting for the fifteen months estimated delay cost, with a start date of between 2025 and 2027

Cost:

EDF has negotiated a guaranteed fixed price – a "strike price"– for electricity from Hinkley Point C of £92.50/MWh (in 2012 prices), which will be adjusted (linked to inflation) during the construction period and over the subsequent 35 years tariff period. The strike price could fall to £89.50/MWh if a new plant at Sizewell is also approved. High consumer prices for energy will hit the poorest consumers hardest according to the Public Accounts Committee.

 In July 2016, the National Audit Office estimated that due to falling energy costs, the additional cost to consumers of 'future top-up payments under the proposed HPC CfD had increased from £6.1 billion in October 2013, when the strike price was agreed, to £29.7 billion'. In July 2017, this estimate rose to £50 billion, or 'more than eight times the 2013 estimate

Nuclear power as an alternative to renewables:

 (Letter, Guardian 15th Sep 2017) nuclear power is not a ‘zero-carbon technology’ – if carbon emissions are included from mining and transporting uranium, building the plant, transport, reprocessing and storage of waste, then studies suggest that emissions could be one-tenth of those from fossil fuels, but twice those from wind power.

From The Ecologist: When comparing the carbon footprints of electricity-generating technologies, we need to take into account carbon dioxide emitted in all stages in the life of the generator and its fuel. Such a study is called a life cycle analysis (LCA).

There are other gases such as methane that are more dangerous greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. The most reliable LCAs take all greenhouse gases into account and present equivalent carbon dioxide emissions.

In a recent paper in Energy Policy, Daniel Nugent and Benjamin Sovacool critically reviewed the published LCAs of renewable electricity generators. All the renewable technologies came in below the 50 gCO2/kWh limit.

The lowest was large-scale hydropower with a carbon footprint one fifth of the CCC limit (10 gCO2/kWh). A close second was biogas electricity from anaerobic digestion (11 gCO2/kWh). The mean figure for wind energy is 34 gCO2/kWh, and solar PV comes in a shade under the 50g limit, at 49.9 gCO2/kWh. Bear in mind that rapidly evolving PV technology means that this last figure is contantly falling.

Greenhouse gases are emitted in all stages of the lifecycle of a nuclear reactor: construction, operation, fuel production, dismantling and waste disposal. Leaving out any of these five stages will bias estimates towards lower values.

The last two contributions, dismantling and waste disposal are particularly difficult to estimate. Not many commercial reactors have been fully decommissioned. Also there is still no scientific or political consensus on the approach to be used for the long-term storage of waste.

The fuel preparation contribution is also problematic. Considerable amounts of carbon are released in the mining, milling and separation of the uranium from the ore. Also the carbon emitted is very dependent on the concentration of uranium in the ore.

The conclusion from the eight most rigorous LCAs is therefore that it is as likely that the carbon footprint of nuclear is above 50 gCO2/kWh as it is below. The evidence so far in the scientific literature cannot clarify whether the carbon footprint of nuclear power is below the limit which all electricity generation should respect by 2030 according to the CCC.

Carbon footprint of nuclear power: conclusions

There is no consensus in the scientific literature as to the carbon footprint of existing nuclear reactors. I have more confidence in the six highest LCAs because two of them have been independently re-assessed and - in contrast to the two lowest LCAs - the higher analyses have taken realistic account of the uncertainties in the three most problematic parts of the nuclear life cycle.

As all six are either above, or have error bars that reach above, the CCC's 2030 threshold of 50 gCO2/kWh, the balance of the evidence of the six most robust LCAs is that the carbon footprint of nuclear power is above the CCC's recommended limit.

And of course these figures apply to existing nuclear power stations, not the EPR design planned for Hinkley C. As we have seen, the EPR's very high cost suggests considerably higher emissions in the construction stage. So too does the fact that, over its projected 60-year lifetime, it will be using uranium from very low quality ores.

Source: https://theecologist.org/2015/feb/05/false-solution-nuclear-power-not-low-carbon (Author profile: Keith Barnham).  

 

Emeritus Professor Sue Roaf, Oxford, letter 21st September 2017: It is claimed that nuclear is better than renewables because the latter do not provide a steady flow of current. However, not only to nuclear power stations have to shut down from time to time for maintenance and repair, but sometimes jelly fish get stuck in the seawater inlets, as at Torness in 2011, leading to a week-long shutdown, and seawater can block inlets, and sometimes operator mistakes have led to shut-downs. The most serious problem, though, is being vulnerable to coastal floods: Defra says (Report, March 2017) that nine UK plants are currently vulnerable, including all eight proposed new nuclear sites. EDF says that ‘to protect Hinkley Point C station from such events, the platform level of the site is set at 14 metres above sea level, behind a sea wall with a crest level of 13.5 metres.’ Hurricane Katrina in 2005 produced a storm surge of up to 8.5 metres, and it is predicted that sea levels will rise by a metre by 2100. It is not true that nuclear power provides continuous supply, because of deliberate and accidental shutdowns. In Japan, all 54 reactors were closed down after the Fukushima disaster in 2011 (Dr David Lowry, Institute for Resource and Security Studies, Cambridge, Mass Letter 18th Sep 2017).

Moreover, nuclear plants cannot respond to the daily fluctuations in demand, and have to be backed up with something – just as do wind and solar. (Dr Fred Starr, 18th Sep 2017).

Nuclear power - for the ‘defence’:

A letter (25th Sep 2017) from a past president of the Nuclear Institute (Tim Chittenden) argues that to replace the UK’s current nuclear generating capacity with offshore wind would require a sea area equivalent to a 1.6km wide band around the entire coastline of the UK... 

Another letter (loc cit, Jim Waterton) points out that Hinkley Point C is a partial replacement of seven AGR reactors which will reach the end of their lives after 40 years, in the next decade or so. How much extra CO2 will be produced if they are all replaced with gas-fired power stations?

3.4 Fracking:

From the website of the CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England):

Shale gas or oil is trapped within impermeable shale rock, as opposed to conventional natural gas deposits such as those under the North Sea, which are trapped below impermeable rock. Therefore simply drilling down to it is not enough. The rock has to be fractured at high pressure or to get the gas or oil out.

Fracking techniques have for some years been used in the UK in conventional deposits, but mainly offshore.

 

The USA has been developing shale gas rapidly over the past 10 years now has several hundred thousand shale gas wells. Experience from the USA shows fracking can be a substantial environmental hazard. The robustness of the safeguards put in place through regulation of shale gas and oil development is critical if environmental harm is to be prevented.

Fracking involves drilling down to over 2km vertically, then laterally outwards for as much as 3km. The gap between the lining of the borehole that has been drilled and the surrounding rock is then sealed up with concrete. The well casing is perforated to allow fracking fluid to get into the rock, and gas to get out. Then, on a typical well, up to 10 million litres of water containing sand, lubricating fluids and other additives are pumped into the borehole under extremely high pressures. This opens up cracks in the shale for up to 50 metres. The cracks are kept open by the sand particles when the pressure is released, so the shale gas can escape. A well head is then installed to capture the released gas. The drilling and fracking equipment is then taken away.

 

Water, chemicals and sand are pumped at high pressure underground to fracture shale rock and release trapped gas. Each well can use up to 6m gallons of water. Between 20% and 30% is pumped back to the surface containing salts, chemicals, and naturally occurring radioactive material. Environment Agency sets standards for the treatment. The Natural Environment Research Council said last year that there was a lot of uncertainty over this, as it is a new technique. Two years ago Cuadrilla withdrew an application for a permit to frack in Lancashire after the EA tightened its rules. However, 2m gallons of wastewater had already been discharged into the Manchester Ship Canal. (Andy Rowell)

14th May 2016 (Nazia Parveen). Kirby Misperton in North Yorkshire is the site of a battle over fracking: the company involved, Third Energy, says concerns are misplaced, while the local people worry about pollution, the effects on wildlife, and the change to the character of the area which could lead to more development. Third Energy say they have been drilling wells and producing gas safely from the site for 20 years.

In North America fracking has made the US less reliant on the Middle East, and has pushed the price down dramatically.

In 2011 a moratorium was placed on Cuadrilla when operations in Blackpool ‘probably’ caused tow small earthquakes. The moratorium was lifted at the end of 2012, but no drilling has been authorised in England.

Councillors have given the go-ahead... 

16th June 2016: Ineos holds 21 shale gas licenses and wants to dump wastewater from fracking into the sea (after treatment).

In August 2016, Professor MacDonald in a letter (22nd August) claimed that our regulations are watertight. But they have not been tested in practice (David Cragg-James, letter 26th August): and there has been a published analysis of peer-reviewed literature between 2009 and 2015 which shows that 84% of the studies contain findings that indicate public health hazards, in areas of fracking. Another letter (Terry Cannon) points out that it ‘gives the game away’ to say that fracking is OK provided it is regulated: why should a business need to be regulated – can it not make sure itself that its procedures are safe? Or is the real picture that these companies want to minimise regulation in the search for profit.

26th December 2016 (John Vidal): after five years of false starts and delays, exploratory fracking for shale gas will start in England in 2017. Only 17% of the people in England are in favour of fracking – so local and national protests are certain. 

4. Across the world - different government policies:

7th Feb 2017, (Martin Wright): Trump’s hostility to renewables may fade because they are simply stronger now, owing to falling costs and consumer demand. Apple, Google et al want renewables. Over half the renewables capacity recently installed in the US is in Republican-governed states. More people are employed in solar than in coal, oil and gas combined. Investors are beginning to view fossil fuels as like tobacco – as a pariah sector.

Brexit? UK will lose contact with a strong, joined-up European R & D programme on renewables.

The main growth in wind-power is in Asia: costs are falling, and China is looking for export markets, plus growing local demand because of energy access and health. In India, air pollution is the main problem. 350 million people in India are living off grid: renewables are the cheapest and fastest way of connecting them. (Development needs to go ahead along with Carbon reduction). The main issue is designing the power markets of the future – giving incentives to produce and use renewables.

9th Feb 2017. (Adam Vaughan): renewable energy made up nearly nine-tenths of the energy added to the grids in Europe last year (2016).Of the 24.5GW built across the EU in 2016, 86% came from wind, solar, biomass and hydro. Germany installed most, followed by France, the Netherlands, Finland, Ireland and Lithuania. Offshore wind farms in Britain contributed to increased investment.

However, total power capacity in Europe is 918.8GW, of which only 153.7GW is from wind power. Only 7 countries have clear policies and volumes for wind power beyond 2020.

5. What can I do?

(Chris Goodall, [author of The Switch, and carboncommentary.com] 19th Jan 2017, Guardian supplement.)

Cut down on air travel – one flight to New York = ¼ of the average person’s annual CO2

 

Eat less meat – cows and sheep emit large quantities of methane. A vegan diet would cut your emissions by 20%

Make sure your house is well insulated, and your boiler is not more than 15 years old

Drive less - 5,000 miles a year = 15% of an average carbon footprint or a tonne of CO2

Switch to LEDs (halogen bulbs consume more energy)

Maintain rather than replace, get the most efficient appliances, consume less!

Check the CO2 impact (bananas are shipped by sea, and so not as bad as e.g. asparagus from Peru)

Get solar panels or invest in cooperatively owned wind, solar or hydroelectric plants

Support low-carbon businesses, use renewable power (e.g. Good Energy)

Support divestment, pressure politicians. (See Week 10: the environmental movement.)