Muddled Thinking: preventing wasting energy is just as important as clean renewable energy

I have devoted several essays on this web log to my views on what is a clean renewable source of energy and what is a dirty renewable energy source. A clean source is one that creates very few emissions and pollutants in its life cycle and a dirty source is one that creates many pollutants in its lifecycle and use. Continue reading

Battersea Power Station

The upside down table like power station at Battersea has now been out of commission for many years. It has been a South London Landmark and always brings a smile to my face when i travel past it on a train from Victoria Station.

The power station was built to burn coal, that highly polluting and emission creating fuel, but was ahead of its times as the surplus heat that power stations always generate was siphoned off into social housing to provide then with free heat for space and water. These days power stations are located far from where people live and the surplus heat energy is wasted.

Several businesses have thought about acquiring the power station and turning it into – a conference centre, or a theme park with rides or even a casino with shopping but none of the plans have been economic and tyhe power station, listed as a protected building for its design is gradually crumbling.

My idea about the building is simply to turn it back into a power station, but this time burning natural gas. It could also be used for gas storage; we are still very short of having stores of natural gas in the United Kingdom and the old power station could serve this purpose.

As power stations goes the site is small, but small is beautiful. A new gas burning power station could be built to the highest environmental standards and there are plenty of nearby houses that could benefit from the surplus heat. It could easily be metered and sold as heat, recreating a real environmentally friendly district heating system in the heart of London.

The cost of all this infrastructure would be significantly less than the cost of a tunnel for the proposed high speed rail link to Birmingham and would have far greater environmental benefits.

Mr Brown’s new deal for the environment

In November Genersys hosted the Green Party’s launch of the “Green New Deal” Policy and the Green Party Leader, Caroline Lucas, explained her party’s policy of a plan for creating 100,000 new jobs by substantial investment in renewables and other environmentally friendly processes. I thought that this policy was exactly right and called upon all political parties to have a consensus about this. Several weeks later I provided some evidence and calculations of the number of new jobs that take up in the solar thermal field would provide, which the Solar Trade Association asked me to do and which I understand they have now sent to the Director of Heat at the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
I should now turn to Mr Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister. I have criticised him in the past on various policies but in 2008 he did what I have urging for seven years and created the Department of Energy and Climate Change, so we can expect some better joined up thinking from government and their officials on these keys matters. I can also hand Mr Brown another plaudit (hard to win but very easy to lose) for his adoption of the Green Party’s policies on a Green New Deal.
Mr Brown is now talking about substantial investment in renewables as part of a larger public works policy, which he expects will drive the recession away and create new jobs. On the climate change side we have so far invested (as a nation) pitifully small amounts in addressing climate change but the recession now provides an opportunity to enable all developed nations to create a lower carbon infrastructure.
Logically there should be investment in these key areas to create a nation that emits much less carbon than at present. Please note that I am not suggesting that we can eliminate all carbon emissions but that we should do what we can to reduce emissions, rather than leaving it to “choice” and to a very few good people doing more than their bit.
o Microgeneration: solar thermal is the key here and there should be a plan to install solar water and/or space heating on one million dwellings a year; the carbon saving will be at least half a million tonnes each year. In addition there should be a plan to install photovoltaic panels on one hundred thousand offices a year. The savings would be less, but still very worthwhile.
o Large scale renewables; I favour building small new gas fired power stations close to city centres, so that the heat emitted as part of the electrical generation (40% of the energy used to make electricity is wasted at heat) can be captured and recycled as heat for buildings and, where suitable, for industrial processes. I also favour the building for more wind turbines, but not small turbines in city centres or in the suburbs.
o Transport; here there is an opportunity to make very large savings but it will require a radical reorganisation of the delivery of public transport. We need more train services, more bus services but most of all we need cheaper public transport. It should be almost free at the point of use. I would also favour much more stringent taxes on large vehicles especially the gas guzzlers.
o Carbon capture and storage needs to be given a far higher priority than it has at present. The Government seems to think that the “competition” it has organised and which the energy companies are participating may solve the problem; it will not. What may solve the problem is international co-operation on the scale and with the resources of the Manhattan Project, which created the Atomic bomb in 1945 by collecting the finest research, engineering and theoretical minds which then managed to create a bomb before the Axis powers could.
o It might be a good time now to abolish all the various carbon trading schemes; I cannot see that they will add any actual emission savings in the present climate as industry scramble for survival.
o Finally, and this is perhaps the easiest and most cost effective thing that could be done, is to take the spending of money on energy saving and renewables away from the energy companies who collect the money from consumers for these purposes. Perhaps I am being simplistic, but the energy companies sell energy (mostly from fossil fuel) and that is how they make their money. You do not put the fox in charge of the chicken, or turkeys in charge of the voting fro Christmas.
Overall Mr Brown’s new deal is very welcome. We now have to see what actually happens and whether he has the resolve and determination to see these ideas turn into actual measures.

EU renewable energy targets – renewable heat is part of the solution, not the problem, dummy!

The European Union will legally require each country in the Union to meet a certain fixed percentage of its energy by renewables by 2020 if plans announced yesterday are approved, as they are likely to be. In the case of the United Kingdom that fixed percentage is 15%. The United Kingdom has got off very lightly; Germany, which has a much larger uptake of renewables than the UK must produce 18% of its energy by renewables, and Sweden a whopping 49%, presumably because they will burn their forests.  Continue reading

New nuclear power stations and Gordon Brown making tough decisions

There has been a lot of news in the past day. The race for presidential candidates in the United States has got very interesting, particularly with Mrs Clinton making a strong showing to win New Hampshire. In the United Kingdom there are new measures that will be introduced in an effort to halt or slow down the worrying amount of people infected in hospital where they go to get better.

Somehow, amidst all this news the announcement that the Cabinet had unanimously agreed to approve new nuclear power generators has gone relatively unnoticed, although in the longer term it is probably the most important piece of news this week. 

Gordon Brown claims that this decision is a “fundamental precondition of preparing Britain for the new world”, but has refused to answer questions about the detail of what will happen. It is nice to see Mr Brown is concerned about preparing Britain for the new world, but his rhetoric is empty. I have news for him; the “new world” that he seeks to prepare us for already exists. His party has been in office for ten years and have in that time neglected the issue of energy and in particularly neglected to secure any long term energy independence for us in a world where nations are competing for limited supplies of fuel. 

Apparently this decision will be announced not by the Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks but by the Business Minister, John Hutton tomorrow; odd, that, to announce the decision twice – once to the media and once to Parliament. They can save a lot of time by only announcing it once; I am sure that Parliament follows what is in the media and that the media follows what is said in Parliament. This double announcing seems a gross waste of energy. 

The decision to build new nuclear power stations is incompetent, dishonest and dangerous. It is incompetent because nuclear fuel is a finite resource which will probably last no more than seventy years, and possibly less as China and India build new nuclear power stations that will draw on the world’s supply of uranium. In these circumstances by the time the power stations are built we will have only secured some electricity for a limited period. Nuclear power will only secure electrical energy supplies, and although electricity can be used to create heat that is a very expensive way to use it. 

It is dishonest because the decision will be dressed up as an environmental decision, and all kinds of claims will be made that nuclear energy (when they mean nuclear electricity) does not emit carbon dioxide. The process itself does not; the nuclear fission provides heat which drives turbines which generate electricity but mining the uranium is a carbon intensive process, particularly in places like India where when they mine uranium and then process it the overall carbon foot print is as big as an oil burning power station. It is also dishonest because decommissioning will involve building huge underground concrete bunkers to store the waste fuel which in itself is a very carbon intensive programme. 

It is dangerous because the new generation of nuclear power stations will be over twice the size of existing power stations and will contain a great deal of dangerous material. It is also dangerous that we are going to build more nuclear power stations without having invented a process for disposing of the waste safely, other than by burying it for tens of thousands of years. 

This decision is being dressed up as the government making a tough long term decision. Balderdash. It is an easy option – the only tough part about the decision is the need to explain it to a sceptical public and trying to figure out how we can pretend that the decommissioning costs will actually be paid by the plant operating companies when in reality they will be paid by the public purse. 

A tough long term decision would be to require every home to have some form of microgeneration from a non carbon or a low carbon source, now. A tough long term decision would be to build a tidal power station in the Severn Estuary. A tough decision would be to require all new homes built to have solar water heating. A tough decision would be to tax the people that use the most energy by having progressive energy price bands. A tough decision would be to ban car engines above a certain size. Gordon Brown is not making any tough decisions about these and a host of other measures relating to energy. 

So when you hear the spin that the government will put on this decision ask them why they are making easy short decisions not tough long term ones. And also ask them why, if the nuclear power stations that they will be building will be so safe why they won’t site them next to the Houses of Parliament, so that they may deliver the electricity that they produce quickly to high population centres without suffering the low transmission losses, and use the surplus heat generated to provide people nearby with a district heating scheme.