“IMAGINING OTHER…”

Protecting the Planet (a WEA course)

 

Week 9 – Energy policies to deal with climate change.

LINKS:

Imagining-other home page

Protecting the Planet 1: Introduction

Protecting the Planet 2: key industries

Protecting the Planet 3: some case studies

Protecting the Planet 4: strategies

Protecting the Planet 5: some solutions

Protecting the Planet 6: global warming

Protecting the Planet 7: effects of global warming

Protecting the Planet 8: species decline

Summary:

1. Overview, and the controversy in the UK #overview 

2. Solar power #solar

3. Wind power #wind 

4. Tidal power #tidal power

5. Other sources, batteries etc #other sources and questions

6. Electric cars #electric cars 

7. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), + Negative Emissions Technology, ‘natural’ climate solutions:  #carbon capture  #negative emissions technology

8. Biofuels #biofuels

9. Nuclear power #nuclear

10. Fusion #nuclear fusion

11. Fracking #fracking

12. Other countries #other governments

13. What can I do? #what can I do?

Updates: #Updates

Notes.

1. Overview: energy policies, and the controversy in the UK.

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.

Controversy over policies:

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.

Interconnectors’ – that allow power 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 (see below) 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). 

14th June 2018. BP chief says (in BP’s annual review of world energy) that the world is struggling to meet Paris agreement goals. There is a renewed increase in global emissions – by 1.6% in 2017, after flat-lining for the previous three years. Renewable power generation grew by 17% last year, led by wind and then solar. But strong economic growth in China increased the use of coal. The main worry for Spencer Dale, chief economist, is the lack of progress in the power sector.  Changing the type of car engine doesn’t make as much difference as changes would in power generation. The world demand for oil grew by 1.8% last year. (Adam Vaughan).

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jun/13/rise-in-global-carbon-emissions-a-big-step-backwards-says-bp

17th Jan 2018: Damian Carrington – UK will miss its Carbon targets if no detail is added to the government’s ‘vague’ plans, according to the Committee on Climate Change. Solid plans must be made if petrol and diesel cars are to be banned by 2040, and more trees will need to be planted. There are also significant risks attached to the Hinkley C project. The government published its Clean Growth Strategy last October. A number of pledges are made with little or no detail on how they would be delivered. Making all homes energy efficient by 2035, for example. The chair, Lord Deben (John Selwyn Gummer) said if the bonus paid to Persimmon’s chief executive had been used on the 18,000 houses it built last year it could have saved everybody electricity bills.

The CCC also argues for more carbon capture and storage: CCS is essential (to save costs...) – George Osborne cancelled a £1bn programme in 2015. Since then only £100m has been pledged for it. Oil and gas companies need to get working on it.

How was the government going to drive up sales of electric cars?

17th July 2018 - the shift to renewables has slowed down, declining by 7% in 2017 (to $318bn), while oil and gas production investment went up by 4% (helped by rising prices). Adam Vaughan.

27th Feb 2019. Guardian editorial: Recent survey data shows that while 93% of British people know climate change is happening, only 36% believe that humans are mainly responsible, and only 25% describe themselves as very worried. UK’s target is to reduce greenhouse gases by 80% by 2050, which is more ambitious than many comparable countries.

April 2019. The US generated more electricity from renewable sources than coal for the first time ever in April, new federal government data has shown. Clean energy such as solar and wind provided 23% of US electricity generation during the month, compared with coal’s 20%, according to the Energy Information Administration. This represents the first time coal has been surpassed by energy sources that do not release pollution such as planet-heating gases.

14th Oct 2019. Renewables provided more electricity in the UK than fossil fuels for the first time ever over the third quarter of the year. (Jillian Ambrose), at 40%. Fossil fuels provided 39%. Coal-fired now accounts for less than 1%. Coal plants are shutting down – will be banned in 2025. By spring there will only be four left. Gas makes up 38%. Nuclear slightly less than 20%. Wind: 20%, renewable biomass: 12%, solar: 6%. The world’s largest offshore wind farm, Hornsea One, began generating in February (off the Norfolk coast), and generated 1,200MW in October. Beatrice off the north-east coast of Scotland helped to double the amount generated.  Govt says we have cut emissions by 40%, while growing the economy by two-thirds since 1990. The offshore wind industry hopes to treble its size by 2030. (Jillian Ambrose)

21st Oct 2019. (Jillian Ambrose) On a world scale: global supplies of renewable electricity are growing faster than expected and could expand by 50% in the next five years, powered by a resurgence in solar energy.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) found that solar, wind and hydropower projects are rolling out at their fastest rate in four years.

Its latest report predicts that by 2024 a new dawn for cheap solar power could see the world’s solar capacity grow by 600GW, almost double the installed total electricity capacity of Japan. Overall, renewable electricity is expected to grow by 1,200GW in the next five years, the equivalent of the total electricity capacity of the US.

Renewable energy sources make up 26% of the world’s electricity today, but according to the IEA its share is expected to reach 30% by 2024.

While the IEA said such movements (as the students led by Greta Thunberg) and individual decisions by companies and investors “can make a major difference,” it insisted that “governments must take the lead ... the greatest capacity to shape our energy destiny lies with governments.”

2. 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.

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.

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.

28th Feb 2018 (Adam Vaughan, Guardian). There has been a ‘solar rush’ as prices have gone down by 86% from 2009 – 2017. From 100MW in 1992 there is now (2016) 300GW across the world. At one point last summer solar provided more power in Britain than nuclear... A new crystal may mean another breakthrough: perovskite, which is abundant in the earth’s crust, can improve the efficiency of PV cells. It captures the energy from a different part of the spectrum to silicon, so a layer could be put on top and would add 20% more power. It is light, so can be used for windows. It doesn’t need heating to high temperatures to process (silicon needs 1,000C). Saule Technologies and Oxford PV are working on it as there is more to be done before it is usable. 

24th June 2018, (James Tapper). Community Energy England in its 2018 report says that the number of people getting electricity off-grid is not increasing any more. Cuts to subsidies for solar panels and a ‘hostile planning approach’ are behind the decline in interest. Grassroots schemes can cut bills considerably, but are risky to set up – nearly 30% of community energy groups saw some of their schemes fail last year. Fossil fuel subsidies are more than 30 times higher than the green energy subsidies which were pegged at £100m by 2019. Community energy groups were growing by 30 a year until 2015, but last year only one was formed. There are 228, serving 48,000 members. Barnsley has a scheme which helps people at risk of fuel poverty, has installed batteries and solar panels. One customer’s bill dropped from £350 to £185. 

April 2019, (Daniel Boffey, Guardian). Dutch engineers are building the world’s largest archipelago of islands made up of sun-tracking solar panels. Islands are also being built in China the Uk and Japan. In north Holland there will be 73,500 panels which can move to follow the light, and can re-position themselves in bad weather. Enough energy should be generated to power 10,000 households. Only half of the reservoir will be covered, to avoid damaging the ecosystem. The designer is Floating Solar.

21st Oct 2019. The IEA expects solar energy to play the biggest role in jumpstarting fresh growth in global renewable energy because falling costs are already below retail electricity prices in most countries.

The cost of solar power is expected to decline by a further 15% to 35% by 2024, spurring further growth over the second half of the decade. (Jillian Ambrose).

But the number of home solar panels is also expected to more than double to reach around 100m rooftops by 2024, with the strongest per capita growth in Australia, Belgium, California, the Netherlands and Austria.

Even after the “spectacular” growth expected for solar over the next five years, panels will cover only 6% of the world’s available rooftops, leaving room for further growth.

“Renewables are already the world’s second largest source of electricity, but their deployment still needs to accelerate if we are to achieve long-term climate, air quality and energy access goals,” IEA’s executive director, Fatih Birol said.

14th Oct 2019. A renewable energy revolution could end the world’s rising demand for oil and coal in the 2020s, decades ahead of forecasts from oil and mining companies.

3. Wind power: 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.

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!).

Scottish Power to give up fossil fuels: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-45873785 and to use 100% wind power.

Jan 22nd 2018: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jan/22/fears-for-future-of-uk-onshore-wind-power-despite-record-growth

Observer Business leader, 29th April 2018:

The UK went without coal for three days this week, and it was wind turbines that kept the lights on.  Public support for offshore windfarms is 83%, onshore: 76%, solar: 87%. There are subsidies for offshore, but no support for onshore and solar. Energy minister is Claire Perry, and she says she will ‘look at’ more onshore windfarms in Scotland and Wales. UK is leading – GE will test its new 12MW turbine here (the world’s most powerful). Onshore windfarms are significantly cheaper, and they could be built without consumers paying any subsidy and for the same price as new gas power plants.  They can also be built quickly (unlike nuclear!).

Nov 2018. Letter on amount of space needed for wind power – surely needs refuting? https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/14/the-role-of-renewables-in-the-uk-energy-mix

To replace the UK’s current nuclear generating capacity with offshore wind turbines like those planned for Triton Knoll, and at similar spacing, would require a sea area equivalent to a 1.6km wide band around the entire coastline of the UK. This assumes perfect power storage, loss-free transmission and an optimistic through-life load-factor of 27%: real figures would almost certainly increase the required sea area. Is the UK population ready for the environmental impact such a programme would create?
Tim Chittenden
Past president, The Nuclear Institute

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jun/10/scottish-power-build-vast-battery-improve-wind-energy (Jillian Ambrose)

4.Tidal Power:

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

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).

5. Other sources, batteries etc:

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).

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)

6. 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.

Energy requirements for charging – see above, under wind power.

19th March 2018, Adam Vaughan: the Green Alliance says 2040 is too far off for the ban on new petrol/diesel cars, and propose 2030. This would cut the gap in meeting the UK target by 85%, or 98m tonnes of CO2. It would save up to £6.63bn a year in oil imports.

This would also boost sales of electric cars, and the UK could even become a net exporter. A fifth of the electric cars sold in Europe in 2016 were manufactured at Nissan’s Sunderland plant.

BMW will make its electric Mini at Oxford, but Jaguar land Rover production will go to Austria.

In 2016, transport overtook energy as the single biggest source of CO2 emissions in the UK (due to changes in power stations) – but the taste for bigger cars has meant that emissions from the average new car rose...

23rd Jan 2018. Adam Vaughan: Provided divers shift charging to off- peak times, the grid will be able to cope. Aurora Energy Research predicts growth of electric cars from about 120,000 today, to 10m by 2035, and then over 17m by 2040. Tariffs need to be offered to get drivers to use ‘smart’ charging (e.g. not on returning from work!). 0.5GW of peak demand would be added, which is not significant. Taking advantage of cheaper charging times could halve the driver’s electricity bill, at £110 a year (as against £280 for charging at peak times).

Aug. 2019. Update: trial of fast-charge EV station: https://airqualitynews.com/2019/08/28/researchers-model-battery-for-uks-first-electric-forecourt/

Researchers are helping to design the UK’s first all-electric EV charging station to build up the UK’s charging network.

The demo ‘electric forecourt’, being built in Braintree, Essex by the energy company Gridserve, and will feature 24 ultra-fast charging bays capable of recharging an EV in less than half an hour.

Brunel University London is modelling the forecourt’s main 5 megawatt (MW) electric battery, which will be connected to the national grid.

It is hoped that the forecourt will be the first of 100 such sites to become operational over the next five years. If successful, they could even eventually replace traditional petrol stations.

‘We’ll be modelling the battery and its performance with respect to the ebb and flow of the numbers of drivers arriving throughout the day,’ said Dr Colin Axon, a senior lecturer for Brunel’s Institute of Energy Futures.

‘The challenge is to determine how the batteries deteriorate in real-world conditions as this start-stop regime is not ideal for preserving the life of a battery. But of course, that’s how it needs to be used – now we need to see how that peaky-ness of demand affects the battery.’

Earlier this month (Aug 2019), the Science and Technology committee urged the government to speed up the deployment of EV charge points to help the UK hit its climate targets. The cross-party group of MPs recommended working with public services and owners of public land, such as schools and hospitals, to obtain space for charging points.

Hydrogen cars: Jan 20th 2018. Oliver Franklin-Wallis:  https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jan/20/hydrogen-cars-hugo-spowers-future

For the last 16 years, Hugo Spowers has been founder and chief engineer of Riversimple, a small hydrogen-fuelled car company based in Llandrindod Wells, in mid-Wales. In 2016, it unveiled its first production-ready car: the Rasa, a radical, ultra-light two-seater powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. This year, the company will roll out a beta test of 20 cars in Monmouthshire and if all goes well, Spowers hopes to have the car on the market in 2019. “As far as we can tell,” he says, “we are the only independent hydrogen car startup in the world.”

The Rasa (short for tabula rasa, or clean slate) is baby blue and has a sleek, friendly design. Its unusual, aerodynamic shape was designed by Chris Reitz, who also designed the modern Fiat 500. “We want to design something people want, not just for eco guilt,” Spowers says. The entire car weighs just 580kg, or less than half a Volkswagen Golf and a quarter of a Tesla Model S.

Its chassis is carbon fibre, and it uses low-rolling resistance wheels. Every part has been painstakingly engineered for lightness; the lower the weight, the less energy required. The car can do 0-60mph in 10 seconds – the equivalent of a Ford Fiesta – and has a range of around 300 miles. But it does that on just 1.5kg of hydrogen, using a tiny 8.5kW fuel cell. Toyota’s hydrogen car, the Mirai, uses 5kg to achieve the same range.

For a long time, the industry has explored another alternative to the combustion engine: hydrogen fuel cells. To put it simply, fuel cells work by electrochemically combining hydrogen, stored in a pressurised tank, with air to generate an electric current; the only emission is water vapour. However, development of fuel cell technology has been slow. They are expensive to produce (platinum is a key component), as is hydrogen. The gas is flammable and difficult to store. And while hydrogen can be produced using renewable energy via electrolysis (using a current to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen) it’s more commonly produced from natural gas, releasing carbon dioxide in the process. For that reason, Tesla’s Elon Musk has called the technology “fool cells”. There’s an industry joke: hydrogen is the fuel of the future – and it always will be.

14th Nov 2019. The IEA’s World Energy Outlook warns that growing demand for SUVs in the US, China, Europe and elsewhere could negate all the environmental benefits of the increased use of electric cars, as the bigger cars are more difficult to adapt to electric motors.

SUVs “were the second biggest reason for global emissions growth in last 10 years, after the power sector and more than all the industrial sectors put together”, IEA director Fatih Birol told reporters in Paris on Wednesday. Energy-intensive SUVs and pickup trucks account for about two-thirds of car sales in the US, and there is a steadily growing in demand in Europe, according to industry reports. Worldwide, about 42% of cars sold last year were SUVs,

The IEA said that almost 20% of the growth in last year’s global energy use was “due to hotter summers pushing up demand for cooling and cold snaps leading to higher heating needs”.

Based on current emissions promises by governments, the IEA forecast a global oil demand of 106.4 million barrels a day in 2040, up from 96.9 million last year. Global oil demand is due to slow in the 2030s and coal use to shrink slightly. Emissions will continue to rise, if more slowly than today, and will not peak before 2040.

Other, more dubious (in my view) ‘Hi-tech’ alternatives:

7. 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. 

Negative Emissions Technology:

28th Jan 2018, Observer, Robin McKie: (link to follow...) talks of a project set up by Climeworks, which extracts (only) 900 tonnes of CO2 a year from the atmosphere, and uses it in greenhouses to help grow plants.

There will be a report this week from Natural Environment Research Council on techniques for removing CO2 from the atmosphere. These include burying biomass and burying the CO2 that results, adding fertilizers to the sea to boost the growth of carbon-absorbing blooms, crushing and spreading rocks over fields and beaches (‘enhanced weathering’), and planting new forests.

But ocean fertilisation could create too many algae, and increase acidification; ‘beccs’ (biomass energy with carbon capture) would require vast amounts of trees at a time when we need more land for food – and CCS is as yet underdeveloped; enhanced weathering would require large amounts of power to crush and transport the rocks.

Other (myself included!) argue that developing negative emissions technology would be used as a pretext so that ‘we’ could go on burning fossil fuel. The problem is urgent, and such explorations remove the incentive to get to the bottom of it, viz, cutting emissions!

1st Feb 2018 (Damian Carrington and others): A report from Southampton University says that methods of sucking CO2 from the atmosphere would not work on a large enough scale to help beat global warming. The IPCC had included this method as a way of meeting the Paris targets. It calculated that about 12bn tonnes of CO2 a year would need to be captured and stored after 2050 – about a third of all emissions today. John Shepherd, an author of the report says there is no silver bullet. ‘NETs are very interesting but they are not an alternative to deep and rapid emissions reduction. These remain the safest and most reliable options.’ NETs include tree planting, but this raises the problem of having enough land to grow the food needed for a growing world population.

In 2018 the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council found these technologies have ‘limited realistic potential’ to even slow the increase of CO2 n the atmosphere, let alone to meaningfully reduce it. The same year Nature described CCS as ‘magical thinking’. To capture CO2 globally would require ‘large-scale scrubbing plantations nearly everywhere on earth’ (David Wallace-Wells 2019). One estimate says that we need to open fully operational CCS plants at the rate of one and a half per day every day for the next seventy years. In 2018, the world had 18 of them. Total.’ (p47)

July 2019. Other ‘natural’ solutions to climate change (and relates to the controversy over ‘net zero emissions’ which is not the same as ‘zero’!!:

https://www.desmog.co.uk/2019/07/06/big-oil-natural-climate-solutions-nature-conservancy

Oil companies have been trumpeting ‘natural climate solutions’ (NCS) and ‘reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation’ REDD+ initiatives as a way to offset carbon emissions for decades. REDD means that governments or corporations that own forests should be rewarded for keeping them instead of cutting them down. However, it is being interpreted as meaning that owners could cut down forests but plant trees elsewhere to compensate, so that ‘emissions are reduced’. The idea was discussed in the lead-up to Kyoto, but dropped because of: leakage (avoiding deforestation in one place but moving somewhere else to cut down trees), additionality (not being able to prove what might have happened in the absence of a REDD project), permanence (carbon stored in trees is only there while they are alive, and when they die it goes back to the atmosphere), measurement (of amount of CO2 stored is complex and prone to large errors). See www.redd-monitor.org 

In the last year, major oil corporations such as BP, Shell, Norway’s Equinor, and Italy’s Eni have ramped up their messaging around NCS as pressure has mounted to respond to climate change.

But a pair of analysts say the feasibility of such solutions at scale is murky. Authors Chris Lang, founder of REDD-Monitor, and Simon Counsell, executive director of the Rainforest Foundation UK,* claim the potential efficacy of the solutions themselves may be overblown.

Lang and Counsell have zeroed in on a TNC-led 2017 paper published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The paper’s authors estimate NCS “can provide 37 percent of cost-effective CO2 mitigation needed through 2030” needed to stay below the 2° Celsius threshold of global warming.

It outlines over 20 pathways for reducing carbon in the atmosphere through NCS, ranging from converting pastureland to forests, avoiding deforestation in areas, and implementing changes to the logging industry to reduce output, among others.

The sheer scale of NCS needed to achieve those results, without taking into consideration the policy implications of such proposals, makes the potential of NCS purely theoretical, according to Lang and Counsell.

It’s not feasible,” Lang said. “But even if it was feasible, we’re talking about covering an area the size of India.

 

8. 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.

Tuesday 14th Aug. 2012: two very useful pieces in the Guardian today (i) George Monbiot on biofuels (40% of the US’s production of maize goes on biofuels – and if you take into account land clearance and use of nitrogen fertilizers then biofuels account for more CO2 than oil-derived fuels...), and climate change (James Hansen says that the increased frequency of very hot summers, affecting 10% of the world’s land surface each year – up from 0.1 - 0.2% between 1951 and 1980 – is most likely to be due to global warming). OECD says that by 2021 14% of the world’s maize, 16% of its vegetables and 34% of its sugarcane will go on fuels. World cereal prices rose by 17% last month as a result of the US crop failures, and there is a land-grab going on for land to grow these crops, with the result that poor are going hungry so that the rich can drive:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/aug/13/poor-hungry-rich-drive-mo-farah-biofuels?INTCMP=SRCH

 

9. 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: Source: https://theecologist.org/2015/feb/05/false-solution-nuclear-power-not-low-carbon Author: Keith Barnham - 5th February 2015

 

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.

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.

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).

Letter 5th April 2018 from Prof Andy Sterling and Dr Phil Johnstone, SPRU, University of Sussex, challenging Mike Clancy of UK Nuclear Industry Council: why do they, and unions generally, support nuclear and not renewables. SPRU have reported on the way the civil nuclear power industry supports nuclear submarines – despite this not being economic.

See: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/spru/newsandevents/2016/publications/submarines

Plans for a new nuclear power station on Anglesey have been delayed because of concerns about the effect of the large-scale building etc on rare sea birds, especially the tern – sandwich, arctic and common terns are protected under the EU habitats and birds directive. About a fifth of the UK’s sandwich terns live nearby. (Adam Vaughan 10th April 2018). The proposal is for a twin reactor to replace the former magnox one at Wylfa. To be built by Horizon Nuclear power, a subsidiary of Hitachi the power station will generate 3GW – enough for 7% of the UK’s electricity. The power station has already cost £2bn – and £1m is being spent every day on it. It is likely the concerns about the birds will only delay and not prevent construction.

Amazing article by Adam Vaughan, 22nd Jan (posted on Twitter) describing the lengths that are being gone to, in order to bury highly radioactive waste safely – for ‘hundreds of thousands of years’. Waste mixed with resins, in steel containers, forms insoluble blocks; these placed inside copper and steel sarcophagus; deep underground would be tombs of buffer materials to soak up radiation and minimise water seepage, around each container; this all buried hundreds of metre down under rock, and storage tunnels filled with concrete... 

June 17th 2019. Scotland: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/jun/17/scotland-urged-to-invest-in-nuclear-to-hit-climate-goals

13th April 2019. Link to Wired article on replacing nuclear with renewables: https://www.wired.co.uk/article/hitachi-nuclear-uk-anglesey-wylfa

3rd April 2019, Guardian, Rajeev Syal. Astonishing figures for cost of maintaining and decommissioning nuclear-powered submarines: storage of obsolete subs has cost £500m. MoD has twice as many in storage (20) as in operation (10), and has not disposed of 20 decommissioned since 1980 (National Audit Office report 3rd April). They are being stored in Plymouth and Rosyth, while arrangements are made to safely dispose of their radioactive waste... Seven have been in storage longer than they were in service. The estimated overall cost of disposing of a submarine is £96m.

MoD puts total cost of maintaining and disposing of them all at £7.5bn over the next 120 years...

None of them have been ‘defuelled’ since 2004, when regulators said the facilities did not meet required standards .Meg Hillier, chair of the public accounts committee, said there was dismal lack of progress, and had been promised for more than 20 years. 

 

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?

10. Nuclear fusion:

Excellent editorial, Guardian 13th March 2018:

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/12/the-guardian-view-on-nuclear-fusion-a-moment-of-truth

One of the cliches of nuclear power research is that a commercial fusion reactor is only ever a few decades away – and always will be. So claims that the technology is on the “brink of being realised” by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a private company should be viewed sceptically. The MIT-led team say they have the “science, speed and scale” for a viable fusion reactor and believe it could be up and running within 15 years, just in time to combat climate change. The MIT scientists are all serious people and perhaps they are within spitting distance of one of science’s holy grails. But no one should hold their breath.

Fusion technology promises an inexhaustible supply of clean, safe power. If it all sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is. For decades scientists struggled to recreate a working sun in their laboratories – little surprise perhaps as they were attempting to fuse atomic nuclei in a superheated soup. Commercial fusion remains a dream. Yet in recent years the impossible became merely improbable and then, it felt almost overnight, technically feasible. For the last decade there has been a flurry of interest –and not a little incredulity –about claims, often made by companies backed by billionaires and run by bold physicists, that market-ready fusion reactors were just around the corner.

There are reasons to want to believe that fusion will one day be powering our lives. The main fuel is a heavy isotope of hydrogen called deuterium which can be extracted from water and therefore is in limitless supply – unlike the uranium used in nuclear fission reactors. But fusion’s science is tricky and the breakthroughs rare. So far there has been no nuclear fusion reaction that has been triggered, continued and self-sustained. Neither has the plasma soup that exists at temperatures found in the stars been magnetically contained. Nor has any research group sparked a fusion reaction that has released more energy than it consumed, one of the main attractions of the technology. Perhaps the most successful fusion reactor has been the JET experiment, so far Europe’s largest fusion device, which ended up in the UK after the SAS stormed a hijacked German airliner in 1977 and Bonn backed the then prime minister Jim Callaghan’s request to host it. JET hasn’t even managed to break even, energy-wise. Its best ever result, in 1997, remains the gold standard for fusion power – but it achieved just 16 MW of output for 25 MW of input.

Hopes for fusion now rest with the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (Iter), a multi-national $20bn effort in France to show that the science can be made to work. Within a decade Iter aims to control a hydrogen bomb-sized atomic reaction for a few minutes. It is a vast undertaking. At its heart is a doughnut-shaped device known as a tokamak that weighs as much as three Eiffel towers. Iter’s size raises a question of how large a “carbon footprint” the site will leave. Like JET, Iter uses a fusion fuel which is a 50-50 mixture of deuterium and a rare hydrogen isotope known as tritium. To make Iter self-sustaining it will have to prove that tritium can be “bred”, a not inconsiderable feat. Iter will also test how “clean” a technology fusion really is. About 80% of a fusion reaction’s energy is released as subatomic particles known as neutrons, which will smash into the exposed reactor components and leave tonnes of radioactive waste. Just how much will be crucial in assessing whether fusion is a dirty process or not.

Iter’s worth is that it is a facility in the real world, where fusion’s promise can be tested. If it turns out to be better than expected then private investment is going to be needed to commercialise a fusion reactor. If it falls short then there must be a realistic rethink of fusion’s potential. After all, the money that has been poured into it could have been spent on cheap solar technology which would allow humanity to be powered by a fusion reactor that’s 150m kilometres away, called the sun.

11. 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. 

1st Feb 2018, letter from David Smythe Emeritus prof of geophysics, Univ of Glasgow: Ken Cronin (Letters, 17 January), of the UK onshore fossil fuel trade body, responds to your editorial on fracking(10 January) by claiming that imported natural gas has “higher [environmental] emissions” than the gas “beneath our feet”. This claim is akin to the 40-a-day smoker with lung cancer telling their doctor that only the last two or three cigarettes of the day do the damage, and promising to stick to 37 a day. There is a global gas glut. The UK is well supplied by imports from stable countries, the price of which is predicted to remain low and stable for years to come. So no additional bridging supply is needed while the 23m UK households that depend on gas are weaned off their fossil fuel addiction over the next one or two decades.

The UK shale basins are far more complex geologically than in the US, and a fully fledged drilling industry will need to be developed from scratch – Lancashire is not Texas. This will require several billion pounds of capital investment, the training of several thousand technicians and engineers, and will take at least a decade to create. UK shale gas will probably cost around double that of US gas. The Committee on Climate Change report only sanctioned shale gas development on condition, among others, that indigenous gas replaces imports and does not add to it. Mr Cronin should tell us whether he favours a tariff on gas imports, an import ban or else a subsidy, to make UK shale gas competitive.

26th Jan 2018, Adam Vaughan: extra hurdle for fracking as Greg Clark, business secretary, says an application by Third Energy to begin fracking until it had completed a financial resilience assessment, which would include being able to clean up the site afterwards. The company has already met delays because its accounts were not in order. It has overdue accounts for the period ending 31st December 2016 (due last September). There are 13 other technical tests the company has to pass as well. Cuadrilla and Ineos will now have to go through these financial checks as well. Third Energy wants to start fracking at Kirby Misperton. John Dewar resigned as director this week, and the company’s acting chief executive Keith Cochrane was a director of Carillion which went into liquidation January 20128.

A moratorium has been declared on fracking – Nov. 2019. This has been celebrated by environmental groups and local people. However, there is a suspicion that the government could approve fracking still at some future date...

12. Different government policies: 7th Feb 2017, Martin Wright (roundtable) 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.

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.

13. 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.

Continued next week....

Updates:

17th July 2018, John Harris on the amount of electricity needed to run the giant computers for Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon et al. At least the first three have agreed to go carbon-neutral. But Amazon uses massive amounts of energy, as does Bitcoin... https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jul/17/internet-climate-carbon-footprint-data-centres. Most of these computers use electricity from non-renewables sources, and already the carbon footprint is bigger than that of air transport.