The government seems now to have seriously ‘got’ the rapidly changing nature of the energy landscape and is producing plans to ensure that an energy transition which deals with all these disruptive changes can be managed effectively: smart grids, storage, self-generation, demand side management, low cost low carbon generation, and many more significant and important changes to how electricity in particular is generated, transmitted and used. The document that sets this out, published jointly with Ofgem, and entitled ‘Upgrading our Energy System: Smart Systems and Flexibility Plan’ was published on July 24. It both acknowledges the profundity of the energy revolution and seeks ways to harness it so that systems are both updated and made fit for the purpose of that revolution, and among other things calculates just how much consumer benefit will arise from getting it right. Government and Ofgem estimate that benefits will be between £17bn and £40bn in the period up to 2050. So roll on (or roll out) battery storage, aggregation of small scale generation, Demand Side Response, time of export tariffs and all that. The government is on your side now and plans to make the changes to the system that properly maximises the effect of these changes. almost on the same day, Ofgem (also joint author of the aforesaid sunny uplands document) announced its ‘final decision’ on an issue that had been bugging precisely those people in the energy sector working away at that revolution – the storage companies, the distributed energy entrepreneurs, the local energy generators and so on – for a year. The issue is simply this: do those kind of companies get an advantage that distorts the market by producing and using their power locally, since they arguably do not pay their share of the costs that otherwise would accrue to them of sending electricity up and down the country to its final destination? The added cost to high level transmission of these small (100MW or less) distribution connected generators is not high – perhaps £2 or so per megawatt hour. However, Ofgem thinks it is a serious distortion of the market and has decided that from 2019, everyone will have to ‘pay their way’ as if they were all big power stations connected to the National Grid system and sending out power across the country. If such short term thinking about how to prop up a failing market system for old capacity shoots new capacity squarely in the foot, then that is bad news indeed. And certainly bad news for the feasibility of the government’s new planning on distributed and local energy in the future.
Alan Whitehead MP 14th Sept 2017 read more »
Letter Ian Hill: Your excellent editorial on the reducing cost of offshore wind power (13 September) is timely in identifying the increasingly futile case for new nuclear build. It does, however, repeat the fallacy that nuclear power “is a zero-carbon technology”. The carbon emissions involved in building such immense structures, in mining and transporting uranium, and in the transport, reprocessing and storage of waste, contribute to a considerable carbon burden. Estimates vary considerably, but studies suggest that the emissions from nuclear generation could be one-10th of those of fossil fuels, but twice those of wind power. Furthermore, the need for a continuous supply is of only limited use when consumption patterns become distorted by, for example, the increased need to charge electric vehicles overnight, as your leader identifies. What is needed now, alongside continued investment in the latest generation of renewable production, is increased investment into a wide range of storage technologies, and further research and investment into the production of renewable heat. Tackling the energy challenge is plainly within our grasp as new technologies come to the market. The challenge now is not a technological one, it is a political one. Sadly, that is a political challenge which our current government seem unable to address.
Guardian 14th Sept 2017 read more »
Letter Steve Thomas, Paul Dorfman, Duncan Bayliss: It’s great to see your editorial on wind power – with offshore wind costs plummeting, solar costs halving in the last five years, renewable evolution is ramping exponentially. Germany, the strongest economy in Europe, has just broken green energy records by generating 35% of power from renewables in the first half of 2017. But here, sadly, inconsistent feed-in tariffs have meant a rush of investment then near collapse of the solar market. And we are still stuck on a large nuclear subsidy, even to the extent of distorting the UK energy market, backing an expensive technology come what may – finding ourselves in the surreal situation of planning the largest construction projects ever built on UK soil (Hinkley, Moorside and Sizewell), and contemplating buying reactors from bankrupt and disgraced companies using technologies that have failed wherever they have been built. The nuclear industry says that future UK energy should be nuclear and renewables – but because nuclear is so eye-wateringly expensive, the real choice is actually nuclear or renewables. And the reality is that, in an even market, renewables just make more economic sense.
Guardian 14th Sept 2017 read more »
Letter Dr John Twidell: You rightly report the welcome news that future offshore wind power projects will produce electricity significantly cheaper than future nuclear power. But there are other established non-carbon methods that are even better. Significantly cheaper still for consumers are onshore grid-connected wind power (now effectively banned by government planning policy) and onsite locally sized self-generation, generally from solar photovoltaic panels, but also from site-dependent wind turbines and mini-hydro. In addition, there are the cost-saving possibilities of battery storage and of local energy cooperatives. Of course, the renewables options produce variable power because they draw from the natural environment with its diurnal and inter-seasonal characteristics. Consequently as an integrated resource they are not “intermittent”, which implies suddenly ceasing. Individual renewables generator variations average out when combined together with grid connection. This average is predictable from UK weather forecasts and certainly not “intermittent”. However the generation from nuclear stations is indeed “intermittent”, with total and sudden outages from predictable refuelling and unpredictable transmission failures. It is impos sible that UK renewables could ever have the unwanted intermittency and cost characteristics of nuclear power.
Guardian 14th Sept 2017 read more »
Bridget Woodman: The price of offshore wind continues to fall dramatically. The UK government’s latest round of contracts for renewable generation have just been announced, and they show the costs of subsidies have halved in just two years. Cheap wind power is a great source of low carbon electricity, and it’s good news for politicians who may have been worried about subsidies bumping up household bills. But the scale of investment in offshore wind raises bigger, more systemic questions. The contracts – known as Contracts for Difference (CFDs) – pay operators of renewable energy installations a fixed price per unit generated for 15 years, regardless of what happens to the actual wholesale price of electricity in that time. For operators, this removes a lot of uncertainty about investing in relatively new and expensive technologies such as offshore wind because the subsidy and a guaranteed market for their power mean they can be confident they will recoup their costs. The scale of this will profoundly shape the country’s electricity system. As the proposed wind farms are as large or even larger than conventional fossil fuel or nuclear stations, the UK will continue to rely on relatively few individual plants. Renewables could of course mean lots of small-scale wind and solar farms, leading to a more decentralised system. But a big offshore boom will lead to more centralisation. The level of investment needed to build an offshore wind farm is enormous, and therefore only open to a handful of large companies with access to the necessary funds. This reduces the potential for new entrants into the market, and excludes all the new investors who had begun to put their money into smaller scale, onshore projects over the past few years. So, the decline in offshore wind costs is fantastic, and a real endorsement of a rapidly-developing technology. But the bigger picture shouldn’t be neglected here. The UK is putting a lot of eggs into one basket. Centralised generation increasingly excludes new entrants, and literally concentrates power in the hands of a few very large developers. That makes life easier for policy makers who have fewer firms to deal with, but concentration also increases the risk of collusion and, in the longer-term, will mean less innovation. While increased generation from renewables is a desirable thing in itself, it is a real pity to be neglecting the increased levels of participation in the system which smaller scale projects offered. If Britain continues along this route, the days of community energy groups and energy co-ops may well be over.
The Conversation 11th Sept 2017 read more »