Renewable Heat Policy – muddled thinking

The United Kingdom Government has published an Energy Statement in the form of Departmental Memorandum from the Department of Energy and Climate Change. As a whole it is much of the same, with little change from the previous position, but that is to be expected from such a new government that has to get to grips with securing our energy and climate change future which is the most difficult and important of its tasks, whether it realises it or not.

I shall in this post focus on the Memorandum’s statements about renewable heat. I must admit that I find them odd, illogical and ill informed. They also seem to lack self contained logic.  The Memorandum rightly points out the need to develop low carbon forms of heat, concentrating upon the gas burned for heat and concentrating on space heating. The renewable target is for 12% of energy to be provided (not generated) from renewables. This figure can easily be met by using more solar thermal technology, which is ignored in its entirety, even though it is the most popular and easily installed form of renewable energy for households.

The Government state that their “pathways” show electrification as a means of producing heat; they are following the wrong pathway and someone should tell them before they end up in the wrong place. In fact the use of “pathway” indicates that the policy has already been set by the previous Government, who beat a path leading nowhere.

The Memorandum mentions heat pumps as an example. It is a poor example because it ignores the fact that in cold weather the renewable contribution from heat pumps is zero – you might as well use the electricity just for heat, and on combined heat and power, ignoring the problems of balancing national electricity demand with local heat demand.  Heat pumps have a places if used with solar thermal for off gas grid heating, but not as a general widely used technology. They mention biofuels; have anyone in the department studied the carbon footprint of biofuels? I doubt it.

They are still considering responses to the Renewable Heat Incentive consultation and will set out what will happen in the October Spending review. The RHI was supposed to come on stream in April this year and it has been set back by another six months. The nation still does not know if there will be a renewable heat incentive and if so, what form it will take.

It is particularly odd that no mention is made of solar thermal technology, having singled out the less efficient and electricity dependent technologies of heat pumps and CHP. Having explained how important renewable heat is, they have missed the point that at least one third of renewable heat is spent on water heating, which can be provided by solar panels, which will reduce gas demand in summer (when prices are cheap) enabling gas to be purchased and stored for use in winter, providing. A policy based on these facts will save money, energy, carbon emissions and provide a greater degree of energy security than a policy that walks along the path of greater dependence upon electricity, which cannot be stored and is often generated when it is not needed.

Perhaps when they read the responses to the consultation on the RHI they government will see sense. We can only hope that they do.

2 Responses

  1. Maybe Government ministers are mostly technological/science illiterates who rely on the ‘wisdom’ of advisers whose motives are self interest rather than a point of principle. Also, perhaps Government is more interested in its own income.

    That’s why the last Government agreed to a third runway at Heathrow despite agreeing to punitively tax passengers because flying is energy wasteful. The outcome of that scenario was REVENUE.

    Its also why it launched the car scrappage scheme. Consider:

    The scheme required that motorists ‘throw away’ perfectly useful cars on the basis that a new car was more fuel efficient. This scheme ignored:
    (i) the lost energy input from original manufacture and that required to dispose of the old car; plus,
    (ii) the energy required to build a new one and transport it from , say, Korea to the UK.
    (iii) the scheme did not require purchase of a more fuel efficient model than the scrapped car.

    I did a rough calculation that:
    (a) the lost energy; and,
    (b) manufacturing energy,
    was approx 2000 gal of petrol equivalent. Therefore, for the new replacement car to be truly energy efficient it would have to travel 20,000 – 30,000 miles just to save/recoup the lost and its wasted manufacturing energy.

    From that point it would be truly (marginally) more energy efficient than the car it replaced, assuming a similar type of car. But my example completely ignores the waste of raw materials. The cars were crushed, not re-cycled. So the raw materials and recyclable parts were also lost resulting in energy costs of manufacturing spares for cars not scrapped.

    If Government policy was genuinely to promote reduced energy consumption it could have subsidised replacement ECU’s for all older cars which would improve mpg by at least 10% for every car at virtually zero energy cost.

    The real beneficiaries were car manufacturers, retailers and the Government which received a useful VAT input (£10,000 x .15 – £1000 = £500) and first registration charge.
    In my view, the scheme encouraged consumption of new cars and did not promote energy efficiency.

    To conclude, in my view, its not surprising that the Government can’t make a sensible policy on renewable energy. It’s overwhelmingly influenced by industry and desire to increase revenue. Scientific principle is generally ignored.

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