Post the General Election, the next government will have to confront the EU on energy policy

April 16th, 2010

Yesterday, I was asked to take part in a panel discussion at a conference organised bythe excellent Association of Electricity Producers. The theme for the day was the vast sums projected that will have to be spent by the utilities and National Grid in order to meet the 2020 renewables target et al (basically a ramping up from 5% to over 30% renewable electricity by 2020);

The £200 billion generation game: Can the electricity market deliver our energy policy goals?

To which of course, my answer was an emphatic no. The money is just not there. And no one in the audience seemed to register even a flicker of disagreement.  A real shame then that none of this politicians are giving it a mention during the general election, less still the leaders TV debate last night.

However where I respectfully disagreed with my fellow panellsts and some in the audience was on the security  of future UK gas supplies and the implication of the non-delivery of renewables targets around the middle of the next decade when the energy gap is forecast to kick in. It seems to me fairly obvious that the coal fired power stations due to close down in 2015 thanks to the EU’s Large Combustion Plant Directive will have to remain open for a few more years until cleaner plant becomes available and the 2020 target will have to be renegotiated.

However some of those in the gas industry would disagree. Their view is that because plenty of CCGT and LNG terminal capacity is being installed, the gas will be also there.  But I would have much more confidence in their rosy predictions if I didn’t know that the UK will have to compete in the spot market for LNG cargoes, which last year were 87% sewn up in long-term supply contracts and destined mostly for the Pacific Basin.

Thanks to the West’s recession, US shale gas discoveries and a consequent LNG supply surge, there’s no denying that there is a global gas glut at the moment. Yet as it is not yet a truly fungible commodity, it’s a very long way from solving local and pricey shortages which the UK is overexposed to. We are still at the wrong end of European  gas pipelines, a long way from the LNG target market of the Pacific Basin and demand is going to rise, not fall, especially with a population destined to reach 70m by 2030.

That’s why I fear, due to our own mismanagement, the UK’s power supply just might be at the mercy of external events over which we have little control from 2015/16.

Micro-hydro – huge potential for the UK?

March 4th, 2010

I keep thinking about this trip I went on last weekend – a tour of micro-hydro plants organised by the South Somerset Hydropower Group. It was a good deal – for £60, we got lunch, coffee x 3 and bussed around 6 quite different micro-hydro sites, with plenty of expert commentary, not least by some very proud owners – full details here. At this time of year as well, these plants are working nearly flat out,  because there has been so much rain (and lots of mud too – I’m such a townie!). Load factors of 70+% are right now about the norm.

Anyway, here’s one of my favourites of the day, Hainbury Mill which has an archimedes screw. The benefits of this technology are that it is; very fish-friendly, virtually no filtering out of river debris required and it’s really quite unusual to look at.

With feed-in-tariffs coming in from the 1st April, it’s anticipated that a mini-boom might come about for micro-hydro. Let’s see – I wouldn’t hold my breath for any government scheme scaling up quickly and efficienctly. For all that, this is different to the pre wind rush of just over a decade ago. Back then, complex regional monitoring of windspeeds was required to get an idea of where the best locations were. This time, the UK already knows where its long-retired 30,000 mills are located and technology has come a long way in the last few years, to enable the extraction of power from low head sites. And micro-hydro has much higher availability, works at a higher load factor – even contributing baseload power than those poster childs of the micro-generation sector – wind and solar.

One more picture – I thought this mill won the beauty prize – Hewletts Mill.

144 years on, the Jevons Paradox has never been more valid

December 15th, 2009

Writing on Western Europe’s most successful political blog today – , I explored one of the themes I developed from the EPC’s launch paper – SECURING OUR ENERGY FUTURE – Why and how it must be done – Energy Efficiency and why it ultimately increases energy consumption. This is a very old idea put forward by Economist William Stanley Jevons in 1865. Yet today, received opinion wants to spend bilions and billons on energy efficiency. So meet William . . .

And read my article here;

Dan Lewis: More energy efficiency will ultimately increase, not reduce, demand for energy

It just shocks me sometimes how much our political class has been so blindingly taken in by the energy efficiency lobby . . .

SECURING OUR ENERGY FUTURE – Why and how it must be done

December 14th, 2009

SECURING OUR ENERGY FUTURE – Why and how it must be done

Download here.

In the launch paper of a new think tank, the Economic Policy Centre, a radical overhaul is called for in UK Energy Policy, as featured today in The Engineer and in an op-ed by Dan Lewis in the Yorkshire Post.

The paper calls for;

i) A return to basics – putting energy security first

ii) Scrapping of wasteful programmes – smart meters, carbon capture levy, government-financed R&D

iii) Creation of Clean and Secure Energy Obligation – based on Renewables Obigation but with 100% target by 2060 at a much lower buyout price and the inclusion of big impact technologies nuclear, large hydro, interconnectors and Severn Tidal Barrage / tidal lagoons

iv) Keeping coal-fired stations open beyond 2015 until new clean and secure plants come onstream

v) A new annual ranking system that keeps track of the energy security footprint and to create a competitive merit order

vi) Creation of clear lines of political responsibility for energy security

Says author and Chief Executive of the Economic Policy Centre, Dan Lewis;

Britain has too much energy policy and it is back to front – it’s crazy to go on over-rewarding low impact, intermittent technologies while failing to secure investment for big impact, long lifespan, clean and secure technologies like large hydro, nuclear, interconnectors and a Severn Tidal Barrage or Tidal Lagoons. This will only lead to even greater future dependence on expensive, tight supplies of imported gas and very possibly, power cuts from the middle of the next decade. All this because government has failed to prioritise and factor in the energy security footprint of its own policy“.