Tories plan to decimate Green Energy

This is a reposting of something I put up on my personal blog recently.

Hidden away within the recent Queen’s speech was a series of commitments to dismantle many of the Green energy policies brought in under both the last government and indeed the previous Major government. Obviously fearful that labour might win the next election, the Tories are taking a leaf out of G.W. Bush’s play book and trying to hammer through as much legislation as possible favourable to their pay masters.

Figure 1: The 2014 Queen's speech might well represent a major roll back of Green Energy

Figure 1: The 2014 Queen’s speech might well represent a major roll back of Green Energy

The Tories, aided by their lib dem lackies, firstly plan to make it easier for shale gas drillers to frack under people’s homes (wonder what that will do to house prices?). And this comes on the back of news that the US shale gas boom is running out of steam (not that this should come as a surprise to anybody who has been paying attention to the facts rather than the propaganda) and that even the US is now talking about the need to kerb emissions. Its as if the Tories were living in a cocoon through the winter storms (presumably in a coffin holding a handful of grave soil ;D).

And should protesters against fracking try to stop this drilling, the Tories are also seeking to tighten up trespass laws with another bill they’ve slipped into the queen’s speech.

Figure 4: Shale Gas well blow outs are not also a problem for locals [Credit: drillhead.com, 2014]

Figure 2: Fracking wellhead fire, coming shortly to a field in England [Credit: drillhead.com, 2014]

Perhaps more serious is the threat to fiddle with building standards. The Tories are now proposing to relax current standards for new buildings intended to ensure that new build structures are more energy efficient.

This is a hugely significant move. As I’ve pointed out before, as much as 30-40% of the UK’s final energy consumption involves providing heat to buildings. By contrast electricity is just 20% of the UK’s final energy consumption (and quite a bit of that goes towards heating!). So any measure that can reduce the energy consumption of buildings would go along way to both reducing the UK’s carbon emissions and reducing the peak demand for energy in winter (thus improving energy security).

Figure 3: Commitments to low carbon homes within the UK are now under threat [Credit: Businessgreen.com, 2014]

Figure 3: Commitments to low carbon homes within the UK are now under threat [Credit: Businessgreen.com, 2014]

And it would also mean saving money for not just householders, but also the government (by reducing the scale of the winter heating allowance…of course the Tories want to get rid of that too!). Not to mention less cases of pensioners freezing to death in winter in leaky cold houses. Such measures are also intended to counter the mistakes of the past. The fact is that the UK has in past housing booms thrown up lots of cheaply built but expensive to maintain houses which were poorly insulated, leaky, damp and without putting much thought into support infrastructure (e.g. drainage to avoid flooding, public transport to reduce the dependency for cars, etc.).

Obviously one doesn’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past, so given these facts, the previous Labour government introduced strict limits and tough new building codes. These went so far as to suggest that all new homes should be zero carbon by 2016. These rules were no bolt from the blue, but built on measures previously introduced by the Major government and indeed measures the current coalition originally supported.

The justification for the changes the Tories now propose (in what is another U-turn on the environment…anyone still remember that “greenest government ever” pledge!), is that these tough building standards are curbing house building (by making the costs of building homes more expensive). So given that the Troy plan for the next election is to trigger a housing bubble (and thus an artificial spur of growth), these building standards are proving more than a little inconvenient.

However its worth reflecting on the consequences of such a policy. It was all well and good throwing up cheap leaky homes in the 70’s, 80′s and 90′s when the world was awash with cheap fossil fuels, but that is not the case anymore. Anyone buying these homes will essentially be locking themselves into a future of many decades of ever higher gas bills (while the zero carbon homes come with much lower running costs).

And of course, where is all the gas to run these homes going to come from? As I’ve previously discussed it is highly implausible to suggest the UK can rely on Shale gas and with events in Ukraine the security of supply of the UK’s gas supplies is under greater threat than it ever has been before. Obviously in such circumstance’s creating a whole new generation of natural gas users is hardly a sensible strategy, no more than previous Tory policy to get rid of energy efficiency grants intended to allow existing households to refurbish homes (make them more air tight, better insulation, etc.).

Wind-bagging hypocrisy

Figure 4: The Wind Turbine (badly positioned, not really much good other than publicity) on Cameroon's london home comes down

Figure 4: The Wind Turbine (badly positioned, not really much good other than publicity) on Cameroon’s london home comes down

Of course this comes on the back of the Tories letting slip that indeed they will oppose onshore wind farms after the next election, cutting subsidies and encouraging councils to block such developments. Cameron claims that this decision on the basis that after a decade or two of subsidy, surely wind power should be able to get by without subsidy?

A fair point I’ll agree, but equally he is proposing to provide a massive subsidy to nuclear power…an industry that has been dependant on massive government subsidy for the best part of 50 years (not just to building nuclear plants, but also costs such as the £73 billion and counting to dispose of nuclear waste). If subsidies to renewables are to be cut, then surely we should cut all nuclear subsidies too? Won’t that be the free market response?

Also its worth remembering that part of the point of subsidies to renewables (or nuclear for that matter) is to get around the fact that fossil fuel use is also in receipt of significant subsidies.

As a token gesture, the Tories do include a measure to introduce a 5p charge on plastic bags. A good idea, as I’ve discussed before, but clearly a classic example of bait and switch, as can be observed from the fact that the Daily Mail, which is usually allergic to anything environmental, actually praised this measure.

Figure 5: A plastic bag tax was included as a token gesture  [Credit: The Scotsman, 2014]

Figure 5: A plastic bag tax was included as a token gesture
[Credit: The Scotsman, 2014]

In short the Tory plan is to gut the environmental budget, repeat all of the mistakes of the past, leading to a Britain in future with yet more leaky, badly built, flood prone homes. The unfortunate owners of these new homes will find themselves trapped with the millstone of negative equity around their neck in a home they cannot sell and cannot afford to heat (once the shale gas fantasy runs its course).

Posted in clean energy, climate change, economics, efficiency, energy, fossil fuels, Global warming denial, nuclear, Passivhaus, peak oil, politics, power, renewables, Shale Gas, sustainability, sustainable, technology | 3 Comments

An exercise in how Climate Denial works

Been away on holiday as well as busy with marking the last few weeks, so not really had time for blogging.

bear_loon

Figure 1: Deniers, like Polar bears, are becoming something of an endangered species

Before I went away, I stumbled on a paper by a one Professor Nasif Nahle, which claims to contradict the general accepted theory that Carbon dioxide is a potent greenhouse gas. Naturally the deniers lapped it up, like a fish swallows a worm without even thinking (then again, thinking or reading has never exactly being they’re strongest point).

However it actually exposes how the dishonest nature of the denial machine works, the very limited technical knowledge of most deniers and how they are increasingly become a cargo cult, trapped in an echo chamber of anti-intellectual delusion.

First thing that tripped me off was a lack of any reference to his alleged “peer reviewed” paper on Science direct.com. This is a clearing house for scientific papers online, often the first port of call for genuine academics like myself. A lack of mention on science direct does imply this paper has not been subject to proper peer review.

Figure 2: Scientific Consensus on Climate Change is increasingly strong [Transition culture.org, 2013 http://transitionculture.org/2013/04/24/im-sorry-what-a-visit-to-the-met-office-hadley-centre/ ]

Figure 2: Scientific Consensus on Climate Change is increasingly strong [Transition culture.org, 2013]

I finally found a copy, but on a site called “principia-scientific.org”. However this is not a reputable science journal, just a site posing as such, but run by a known climate denier Tim Ball and John O’Sullivan, another known denier with a habit of miss-representing himself.

Further a profile of the author Nasif Nahle on Wikipedia (apparently self penned) reveals his principle expertise to be in the field of herbal medicine….not climate physics! Furthermore he appears to be a (self-appointed) “Professor” of a small back alley lab (view their own profile here), one without any official backing, i.e. not a university, etc. Another blogger did a similar review of the author and also found Mr Nahle lacking in credibility…to say the least! So we have a paper that is going out of its way to try to appear to be from a reputable source, when in fact it is nothing of the sort.

Figure 3: Peer review is rigorous and not without its flaws but it serves an important purpose in stopping bad science making it through to publication [Nick Kim, 2008]


Climate literalists

But what about the actual contents of this paper? Does it make any sense? Well no! As one climate blogger points out Nahle’s paper can be dismissed as little more than the work of an amateur who doesn’t understand what he’s talking about. A large part of his failure here is he seems to take the term “greenhouse effect” a little too literally, as he assumes that the atmosphere acts exactly like the windows of a greenhouse, but of course it’s not quite as simple as that.

I would further chip in my two cent’s that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. This paper includes none. It appears to be built on a dubious theoretical model “verified” by a couple of bench experiments build using cardboard and sticky tape. It’s Blue Peter science at its worst!

That carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas is not controversial, except among deniers. And I mean the lunatic fringe of the denier movement. Those climate skeptics with any vaguely creditable qualifications (such as John Christy or Richard Lindzen) know enough to not dispute this fact, as they understand that’s about the scientific equivalent of supporting “intelligent falling”. But of course the loony “lord” Monkton brigade of the denier camp will not hear any of it. Unwilling to concede any ground, they insist on the fact that carbon isn’t a greenhouse gas, even though they are ignoring basic chemistry by doing so.

Figure 4: Absorption spectrum of Carbon Dioxide [Physics of Global Warming, 2008]

Figure 4: Absorption spectrum of CO2 [Physics of Global Warming, 2008]

The physics and heat absorption properties of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases have been known about for over a century. Carbon dioxide’s infrared absorbing properties were determined experimentally in the 1890’s, leading eventually to Svante Arrhenius making his famous hypothesis (although the significance of this early work was not entirely understood at the time).

Figure 5: Dr Iain Stewart demonstrates an experiment to prove the heat trapping properties of Carbon Dioxide, video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SeYfl45X1wo [BBC, 2011]

Figure 5: Dr Iain Stewart demonstrates an experiment to prove the heat trapping properties of Carbon Dioxide, video here  [BBC, 2011]

I have seen similar experiments to John Tyndall’s 1850’s research performed in a lab before. We rig up an infra-red camera with a candle and a flask between the two. By introducing carbon dioxide into the flask, the candle appears to vanish thanks to the increased heat absorption properties of the CO2. Like I said, it’s fairly basic chemistry we’re talking about. In fact here’s a link from a website advising schools as to how to perform such experiments. Indeed the US TV program Mythbusters conducted one such experiment a few years back  (supervised by a child for some reason), demonstrating the effects of various green house gases.

But of course such experiments extend to simply quantifying the properties of a greenhouse gas. One cannot simply assume that the whole atmosphere will behave the same as a cardboard box. This was in fact part of the problem in the early days of research into climate science, as this assumes the atmosphere is scalable in such regards and such analysis ignores various processes in the atmosphere, such as convection cells, cloud formation, geological activity, interaction with the biosphere, that big shiny thing in the sky, etc. that have a combination of net positive and negative effects. This is why real climate scientists use super computers or experiments with weather balloons.

Figure 6: Effects of Greenhouse gases in the Atmosphere [IPCC, 2007 or Skeptical Science, 2009 http://www.skepticalscience.com/empirical-evidence-for-co2-enhanced-greenhouse-effect-advanced.htm ]

Figure 6: Effects of Greenhouse gases in the Atmosphere [IPCC, 2007 or Skeptical Science, 2009]

The effect of greenhouse gases within the atmosphere has been verified numerous times over the past few decades by masses of real world experiments and data collection records going back at least 60 years (excluding ice cores and other proxies that is, which go back even further). Perhaps oddly enough the first large scale atmospheric studies into GHG’s were conducted not by environmentalists, but by the US military back in the 1950’s. The US military weren’t trying to prove global warming, but support the development of new heat seeking missiles.

Figure 7: Some of the first efforts to research the Greenhouse effect were performed not by hippies with long hair, but military engineers (with buzz cuts one assumes!), specifically to aid in the accuracy of heat seeking missiles, such as this test of an AIM-9 missile in the 1950’s [USAF, 1958]

Figure 7: Some of the first efforts to research the Greenhouse effect were performed not by hippies with long hair, but military engineers (with buzz cuts one assumes!), specifically to aid in the accuracy of heat seeking missiles, such as this test of an AIM-9 missile in the 1950’s [USAF, 1958]

The lone black sheep

In short, even if we ignore this author’s dubious background, the fact that he has chosen to publish his work through a mechanism that seems designed to misrepresent his work as that of a respected organisation, that his research is full of holes and obvious miss-conceptions….and that a ten year old appears to be smarter than him ;D. He fails to address the obvious question – Why is his research is at odds with all the past research over the last 150 years?

One cannot prove or disprove a theory like global warming with one paper (badly researched or otherwise). That’s not how science works. Without him or his supporters addressing how this research ties in with the masses of seemingly contradictory research (e.g. how is it that those heat seeking missiles can hit their target when they are programmed to assume the atmosphere behaves in the way chemistry says it should?), then one is forced to draw the obvious conclusion – he either faked everything or screwed up royal and his work can be dismissed as the ravings of an oddball crank.

A similar controversy as that surrounding Mr Nahle’s work has brewed up around a paper by a J. E. Postma. However, as with the Nahle situation, dig a little and you quickly find the same script of dubious misrepresentation of qualifications, questionable sources …and that’s even before we look at the “science.

Figure 8: Cartoon about Global Warming Skeptics [Cagle.com]

Figure 8: Cartoon about Global Warming Skeptics [Cagle.com]

Changing tactics

I would argue that these sort of shenanigans represent a change in how the denier camp do business. Back in the old days, those denying climate change, had to look to a small handful of scientists with vaguely credible qualifications, such as the aforementioned John Christy, Richard Lindzen or Patrick Michaels (and presumably drive up too their house with a truck load of cash!). Monbiot does an interesting take down of one of one such distortion by Fred Singer (via David Bellamy, who got in way over his head) in the Guardian a few years ago.

Figure 9: While the consensus on climate change is strong with scientists, confusion and doubt spread by contrarians means the message isn’t getting through to the general public [The Consensus Project, 2013]

Figure 9: While the consensus on climate change is strong with scientists, confusion and doubt spread by contrarians means the message isn’t getting through to the general public [The Consensus Project, 2013]

However one assumes that, given the increasingly strong consensus as regards the science to support global warming, very few credible scientists are now willing to be made fools of by endorsing these views.

Plus there is now clear blue water between the genuine “skeptics” (such as John Christy or oddly enough James Randi) and the hard core (referring one assumes to the thickness of they’re skulls ;o ) deniers, such as Lord Monckton. While the skeptics will generally concede that yes, global warming is happening and that humans are at least partially to blame (they’re main argument is to what degree we are to blame). The deniers instead are going for presentation over content. Creating things that looks like proper science (to non-scientists anyway!), but in fact is little more than amateurish technobabble.

Figure 5, the bumber book of right-wing science [Source: Cagle.com http://www.cagle.com/2012/10/republican-science/]

Figure 10: The bumper book of Republican science

Of course given that more Republicans believe in demonic possession than climate change, it’s no surprise that we see a sort of “emperor’s new clothes effect”. i.e. Many of those in the denier camp don’t understand big words or equations, so they don’t dare question a paper like this for fear of looking stupid in the eyes of their peers. Hence we see this herd effect among its bloggers, without any attempt at critical thinking.

Figure 11: The Yes men http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Yes_Men have previous shown how easy it is to get those on the right to buy into any silly idea if they advertise it the right way.

Figure 11: The Yes men have previous shown how easy it is to get those on the right to buy into any silly idea if they advertise it the right way.

In much the same way that many on the right have resorted to increasingly insane and fundamentalist political positions, be it the sort of lunacy we see coming out of the Tea Party or in particular Ron Paul, or Bible literalism, or creationism, we are seeing a lurch to a type of “climate literalism”, which clings to equally bizarre notions.

Posted in climate change, Global warming denial, politics, Uncategorized | 11 Comments

The BBC Bias on Climate Change

Figure 1: BBC Bias?

Figure 1: BBC Bias?

This is a reprint of an article from my personal blog.

One line you will regularly hear from the likes of UKIP or the Tea party types is that the major news channels, in particular the BBC can’t be trusted, as the media are “biased against them. That for example on the topic of climate change, the BBC is biased towards “the warmist agenda”…which seems to mean they believe the nice guy with the PhD in climate studies and the hundred or so published papers to his name, over screaming lord piss-pop with a degree in Reiki medicine from Hollywood upstairs medical school.

Anyway, a recent report from the UK Parliament’s Science and Technology committee has criticised the BBC for its coverage on the climate change issue…for being if anything too biased against the mainstream scientific position.

In essence they’re criticism of the BBC is that the beeb will often report on the science of climate change, interviewing for example some respected scientist, or a government minster, or some green campaigner. Who will back up his/her position by pointing to peer reviewed studies by a host of sources or organisations (many of which have nothing to do with the IPCC and no reason to be biased either way). And then in the interest of journalistic “balance” the BBC will pull out some climate contrarian such as Bjorn Lomborg or Delingpole (recently fired from the Telegraph), who’ll counter said peer review studies typically with “opinion”, technobabble or half-baked myths.

Obviously, there is a world of a difference between someone’s opinion and a peer reviewed study backed up by actual data. It’s the equivalent of a doctor showing you an X-ray and suggesting they need to operate straight away, but you applying equal weight to the fact that the bloke down the pub the other night says you look fine, or something you saw in the Daily Mail Health section.

Figure 2: Comforting lies v's an inconvenient truth [CSM, 2007]

Figure 2: Comforting lies v’s an inconvenient truth [CSM, 2007]

Indeed this problem isn’t just an issue for the BBC on its climate coverage, but an issue with all media on many issues relating to science. Where again the often feel the need for “balance” by bringing on some loony toon homeopathic quack and giving equal weighting to his opinions as they give to many decades worth of scientific research. Even the comedian Dara O’Brian picks up on it in one of his sketches.

While people are entitled to their opinions, its important to apply appropriate weighting, particularly given that many on the right have strong ideological reasons to adopt a climate denial position.

Posted in climate change, Global warming denial, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Putin a sock in it – the consequences of Crimea on European energy

Putin’s hasty actions in Crimea have had all sorts of consequences. Ranging from geopolitical to economic. However in this post we will address one of the questions raised regarding energy, what if as revenge for sanctions Putin decides to turn off the gas?

Figure 1: Gas workers in Russia

Figure 1: Gas workers in Russia

Russia is Europe’s largest gas import partners, providing some 140 billion m2 of natural gas per year, about 100 mtoe or 5 trillon cfg. This represents roughly 39% of total European gas imports. And this is just the overall picture, some European countries get 100% of their gas via Russia.

 Figure 2: Europe’s sources of natural gas [Credit: BBC and BP, 2006 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/7819429.stm ]

Figure 2: Europe’s sources of natural gas [Credit: BBC and BP, 2006]

It should be noted, that contrary to what the tabloids would have you believe, the UK receives only limited amounts of its gas directly from Russia (at the moment anyway, but that could change radically in future, given recent government policy). The bulk of UK gas supply comes from the North Sea or is imported in via Norway. So in theory the UK would not see many gas shortages. Of course, given that the other EU states would start buying up any gas they could, this would send prices in the UK soaring. So rather than the lights going out or the gas going off, one can see Brit’s being forced to turn them off themselves to save money!

Figure 3: Dependence of Russian Gas by European country [Credit: Nasdaq.com, 2011 http://www.nasdaq.com/article/investment-themes-to-break-russias-natural-gas-dominance-cm56939 ]

Figure 3: Dependence of Russian Gas by European country [Credit: Nasdaq.com, 2011]

American Shale gas as a solution?
Inevitably the propagandists for Shale gas have proposed exports from the US as a solution. However, the problem with this proposal, is that much of these plans are based on hype rather than facts. For example, as I discussed in a prior post, the US is not a net natural gas exporter, shale gas accounts for only about 35% of American gas production and they still need to import substantial quantities of gas from Mexico and Canada (Americans often forget that these are independent countries!).

Shale gas production might also be on the verge of peaking (certainly some individual fields are in decline, but others are still expanding in output). Although the EIA still seems to believe there is some growth potential in US gas production before any peak (although that just means a steeper decline rate afterwards!), as figure 4 demonstrates.

Figure 4: Shale Gas production in the US past and possible future [Source: EIA.gov, 2012]

Figure 4: Shale Gas production in the US past and possible future [Source: EIA.gov, 2012]

Certainly, North America as a region could become a potential exporter of gas (both shale gas and conventional gas). The large historical difference in price between gas in the US and the EU means the idea of exporting gas across the Atlantic isn’t anything new, but one has to highlight the logistics involved here.

Consider that the largest class of LNG transporters has a capacity of about 160 million m2 of natural gas (at atmospheric before/after liquidation). You would therefore need 875 such deliveries a year to replace Russian gas imports (about 100-120 such ships arriving per month during peak demand times such as winter). This is well beyond the limits of what any existing or planned LNG facilities could support either side of the Atlantic (and that ignores where the gas is going to come from!).

Figure 5: LNG Tanker, Japan. Is swapping a pipeline for this really a proposition? [Source: Sustainable John]

Figure 5: LNG Tanker, Japan. Is swapping a pipeline for this really a proposition? [Source: Sustainable John]

So this isn’t really a solution that one can string together in the short term. It would require long term planning both sides of the Atlantic (and a substantial order for a large fleet of LNG tankers!), and obviously that would mean an assurance of where the gas to fill these ships was going to come from. Otherwise this proposal is little more than a giant Ponzi scheme.

Indeed, just before Christmas, Shell pulled out of their plans for an LNG export terminal in the US, which could be interpreted as a signal that they doubt the long term viability of any such projects.

And of course, we need to consider what the effect of these exports will be within the US. Gas prices are low in the US, as I discussed in a prior post, due to the fact that producers are often left with no choice but to effectively dump their product and sell it off cheap. Inevitably once we start connecting up the European and American gas markets, prices in the US will rise significantly. One has to wonder who long before the novelty factor of being a gas exporter will wear off for American voters after they see those utility bills rocket.

British Shale gas?
Inevitably the supporters of fracking in the UK have also taken the opportunity to rally around support for shale gas as a possible solution. However, as I discussed before, the likely output of fracking within the UK is not likely to be very large, certainly not enough to even meet domestic supply, nevermind the demands from the rest of Europe. And consider the timing here, it took the US 25 years to get where they are with Shale gas. All in all, it will be case with British or European Shale gas of too little too late.

Also one has to not forget about climate change. Shale gas isn’t the greenest of energy sources. There is still a big question mark over the life cycle carbon emissions from it and getting addicted to shale gas could be creating problems for ourselves, come the next round of climate talks. As any long term climate change mitigation policy will almost certainly require a rapid curbing of the dirtier unconventional fossil fuels alongside coal.

Alternative sources of natural gas

Figure 5: An alternative pipeline route into Europe travels via Turkey [Credit: BBC News, 2008][Credit: BBC News, 2008]

Figure 6: An alternative pipeline route into Europe travels via Turkey [Credit: BBC News, 2008]

It’s worth remembering that Russia isn’t the only source of European gas imports. There are large quantities of gas that could be imported from Africa, the Middle East or the Caspian Sea region, if only the pipeline network existed to allow such imports. Indeed much of what we call “Russian gas” is actually merely Uzbek, Kazak or Turkmen gas that is passing through Russia.

An alternative to the pipeline routes via Russia, or LNG shipments from the Persian Gulf is to pipe gas across Turkey and Eastern Europe directly from these regions. This would greatly increase the available quantities of gas to Europe. Similarly an expansion of pipelines across the Mediterranean, would allow greater quantities of gas imports, from producers in Algeria and Libya, to reach the European market.

However, one has to consider whether regimes such as those in Uzbekistan, Turkminstan or Algeria are any more reliable partners than Putin’s Russia. And again, these are long term projects, not something that could be knocked up overnight.

Nuclear?
And inevitably the propagandists for nuclear, always looking for an excuse, have waded in suggesting nuclear power as a solution. Again, as I discussed in a prior post, nuclear power in the UK (and many other EU countries) is going to struggle to replace its existing nuclear capacity before the present generation of reactors are decommissioned, nevermind expanding it.

Figure 6: Nuclear and Fossil fuels both do very different things on the Grid, as in this example for Japan [Source: WSJ, 2011 based on EIA data]

Figure 7: Nuclear and Fossil fuels both do very different things on the Grid, as in this example for Japan [Source: WSJ, 2011 based on EIA data]

Also it’s worth remembering what it is that nuclear does for the UK energy grid and what we use natural gas for are very different things. Nuclear power is generally used for baseload electricity. Natural gas is used for peaking power and winter heating loads. Its simply not practical nor economic to try and meet these energy demands with nuclear energy. Not least when you consider the practical implications of trying to do that.

Renewables?
Renewables can certainly help. Unlike nuclear, the installation rate of these is rapidly expanding and prices are falling. Certain types of renewable energy, notably biofuels, hydroelectricity or solar thermal are an ideal replacement for natural gas.

However, other forms of renewables, such as PV and wind power come with the same problems of nuclear (although cheaper), they are not an ideal match replacement for natural gas and switching to them as an alternative would require some major infrastructure projects, notably to increase the country’s ability to store energy. We could also look at converting the UK’s natural gas grid to run on hydrogen, however that would be a long term project, so as with the other options not a short term solution.

Figure 6: Biogas production from renewable energy [Credit: Sterner, 2009 http://www.joabbess.com/2012/03/22/carbon-captured-2-socialising-cost-privatising-profits/ ]

Figure 8: Biogas production from renewable energy [Credit: Sterner, 2009]

Energy Conservation
Certainly in the short term, energy conservation should be the priority. A substantial cut in European energy consumption, for a continent dependent on natural gas, could reduce or eliminate the need for imports altogether.

Figure 2: A breakdown of UK final energy consumption based on DECC figures: [Sources, DECC 2010 & DUKES 2011]

Figure 9: A breakdown of UK final energy consumption based on DECC figures, a sizable portion of the UK’s energy consumption is winter heating of (badly insulated) homes, often using natural gas [Sources, DECC 2010 & DUKES 2011]

Probably the key area is housing. As I mentioned in a prior post, building related heating is a larger contributor to the UK’s carbon emissions than practically anything else. And much of that is fuelled by natural gas. So simply lagging lofts, insulating homes better, passing legislation to ensure new homes are zero carbon or passivhaus standard would greatly reduce the UK’s gas demand. Possibly to the point where they could easily be met, firstly by domestic gas supplies and later by expanding renewable energy capacity. And that capacity could be increased by copying some of the ideas from Germany for mandatory building integrated renewables in all new homes.

I told you so
Regular readers to this blog might be keen to point out, hang on, hasn’t the government committed to cutting the money it spends on energy conservation? Or, aren’t they cutting the subsidies for renewables? And unfortunately, you’d be right…..

….As I mentioned many times before, the Tory government have effectively painted themselves into a corner by committing to a policy that amounts to a new dash for gas, without clarifying exactly where the gas was going to come from. I questioned at the time of the latest “energy bill”the sensibility of this strategy. As Damian Carrington of the Guardian put it at the time, what the Tories were doing was effectively making a £200 billion bet that what happened in Crimea the other month won’t happen….well it did!

call_me_dave_dorky_helm_protestor

Figure 10: Spot the Donkey!

So unfortunately, there are no short term solutions here, no quick fixes. As always when it comes to energy, it amounts to a need for a long term energy strategy. This should look at diversification of energy resources. Certainly a Europe dependant on gas coming from Russia alone is just asking for trouble. But equally a Europe dependant on shale gas from the US or anywhere else for that matter, doesn’t sound any better. More renewable energy, greater energy conservation and a long term plan to get off fossil fuels is the only answer.

Posted in climate change, economics, efficiency, energy, fossil fuels, Global warming denial, nuclear, Passivhaus, peak oil, politics, power, renewables, Shale Gas, Shale oil, subsidy, sustainability, sustainable, Tar Sands | 1 Comment

Time for a Fracking reality check

Figure 1: Anti-fracking protests in Romania [Credit: Al-Jazeera, 2014]

Figure 1: Anti-fracking protests in Romania [Credit: Al-Jazeera, 2014]

One story that the major news media seems to have missed was that of a recent set of shale gas protests in rural Romania against the actions of the US owned firm Chevron. It would seem Chevron decided to start fracking on people’s land (or even back gardens!) without making any effort to consult with them first nor offer any sort of compensation.

Naturally this made them none too popular with the locals who proceeded to make a bit of a fuss, blocking roads and occupying sites. With the international media starting to sniff around and realising they were sitting on a bit of a PR disaster, Chevron responded by going around handing out flyers explaining why having a shale gas well in your back yard is kind of swell.

It would seem to be yet another example of an all too typical tale. Representatives of a corporation show up with a truck load of money outside the door step of some impoverished government. In return for which they get Carte Blanche to do whatever they want in said country. Inevitably this leads to exploitation and repression of local communities and destruction of the environment. A good example is the actions of Chevron’s in Ecuador and the toxic legacy they’ve left behind. Here they began using drilling practices and waste disposal techniques that were illegal in the US causing enormous harm to the Jungle environment.

The new Grapes of Wrath

Now some readers might well say, oh isn’t this terrible, but that’s some rural Eastern European backwater, why this sort of thing could never happen in a Western Country like the US. Couldn’t it?

Figure 2: The mess left behind post-fracking

Figure 2: The mess left behind post-fracking

Well look no further that the Fracking boom in the North Eastern USA for proof. Here we hear tales of worker exploitation, where many who flocked to the jobs on offer, like some modern day Grapes of Wrath. Now they have to work long tiring shifts for limited pay, often living in their cars or in trailer parks without access to running water. Indeed running water is now so scarce local businesses in the area have to lock their toilets to stop them being turned into impromptu shower cubicles by oil workers!

Figure 3: Trailer parks have exploded in Fracking areas, where many workers live in conditions not far removed from those in the Great Depression [Credit: Business Insider, 2014]

Figure 3: Trailer parks have exploded in Fracking areas, where many workers live in conditions not far removed from the Okies in the Great Depression
[Credit: Business Insider, 2014]

Those lucky enough to secure a roof over their heads have seen rents sky rocket. A beat up motel room in Hicksville North Dakota will now set you back more per month than an apartment on Manhattan. And given the nature of fracking, whereby wells tend to have a very short active life span, there is a constant need for such operations to move, uprooting workers and all the associated hardware and leaving an awful mess in their wake.

And if a shale gas well blows up in your back yard, what can you expect from Chevron? A free pizza! So okay, not quite as bad as Romania!

Figure 4: Shale Gas well blow outs are not also a problem for locals [Credit: drillhead.com, 2014]

Figure 4: Shale Gas well blow outs are not also a problem for locals…now with free pizza!
[Credit: drillhead.com, 2014]

In short the Shale oil and gas fields of the US are starting to resemble something of the wild west. Now while some Americans, who have learnt their history via Hollywood movies, have various romantic notions about the cowboy era, in truth it was an era when crime, violence, prostitution and debauchery were rampant (and indeed there has been a jump in crime in some areas where fracking is taking place). An era where the only real winners from oil booms of the past were the “robber baron” billionaires (such as Rockerfeller) of the time who’d make the Koch Brothers look like Gandhi.

Another factor related to shale gas fracking has been the level of methane leakage from such wells. Given that methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas any significant leakage of methane would represent a significant level of greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed some worry that shale gas might be worse than coal as far as overall greenhouse gas emissions. Recent evidence now points to the possibility that the leakage levels have been significantly underestimated…by as much as 50%!

There are in short, many reasons for opposing shale gas drilling and pursuing alternatives to fossil fuels. Climate change is one, the destruction of the environment another. But the corrupt dirty politics of these industries is clearly one of them. Ultimately we have to ask aloud the question, do we really want to see this played out in the UK?

Posted in climate change, energy, fossil fuels, Global warming denial, history, peak oil, politics, power, Shale Gas, Shale oil, sustainability, sustainable, Tar Sands | 1 Comment

Climate Change Hypocrisies

This is a reprint of something I put up on my personal blog last week:

Figure 1: Oh, the joy's of being a politician! [Credit: BBC, 2014]

Figure 1: Oh, the joy’s of being a politician! [Credit: BBC, 2014]

One is often confronted by the ineptitude of politicians and their habit of putting presentation and vote winning ahead of doing the job we voted them to do and indeed the job our taxes pay them to do. This can range from the usual banning conkers and cheese races nonsense, to an inability to sort out the most basic local problems (getting the roads fixed, etc). However nowhere is this more evident than the politics of climate change.

In general terms all the major political parties except the general idea that climate change is real, its happening and we need to do something about it. With the exception of the US Republicans (notably the Tea party types) and certain other lunatic’s on the extremes (UKIP seem to think flooding is the fault of gays!) this is not a controversial issue. However when the thorny issue of actually doing something about climate change rolls around, there is often a strong reluctance of any politicians to doing anything concrete. In part this is because they worry that action against climate change might be unpopular in the short term and that might cost them votes.

Of course I would counter the claim that action against climate change is not necessarily going to be unpopular. The lowest hanging fruit is energy conservation, which means measures such as lagging lofts, more fuel efficient cars, better public transport, changing planning laws to make new buildings more energy efficient, encouraging the use of CHP by industry and large energy users, subsidizing domestic use of renewables, etc. I fail to see how any of this is likely to be unpopular with anyone…other than “Lord” Monckton (note he’s not actually a lord, just likes to pretend to be one!)….or the Shale Gas industries newest lobbiest, David Cameron.

Furthermore if, for example, the government was to bring in a carbon tax to discourage fossil fuel use and level the playing field for renewables (.e.g to encourage electric cars over petrol powered ones). I’d argue that this new tax should be brought in at the same time as VAT, Petrol duty and Vehicle Excess Duty and other related taxes are gradually reduced and ultimately withdrawn, with the carbon tax essentially taking their place. Hence the tax burden on the public should remain more or less the same and for those who make the right choices get to see a cut in their taxes.

And since we’re talking about, the insurance industry would argue we’re already paying a defacto carbon tax as a result of the increased costs to insurance premium’s worldwide, or the fact more and more are forced into government guaranteed insurance schemes all as a result of climate change.

But yes, okay, there is certainly a “perception” that measures to tackle climate change will be unpopular with voters used to their two SUV’s in the garage, 3,000 mile Caesar salads and two foreign holidays a year lifestyle.

However, I put it to any politician standing in the murky flood waters of Somerset that if there’s anything less popular than getting people to pay a little bit more in tax (for certain things) and conserving energy, its explaining to thousands of angry flood victims why there house has been under water for 3 weeks and there’s sod all we can do about it.

The flooding in the Somerset levels has seen the finger of blame go in all directions, from penny pinching tories cutting back on flood defences, conservationists opposed to dredging, the actions of the farmers themselves, etc. But certainly, while we can’t tie climate change to any one specific weather event, this is the sort of stuff its predicted we’ll see more of in future as a consequence of climate change.

Figure 3: I've heard of floating voters but this is ridiculous! [Credit: the Guardian, 2014]

Figure 2: I’ve heard of floating voters but this is ridiculous!
[Credit: the Guardian, 2014]

Now the problem for politicians with that is, it means in future more standing in muddy fields and floods, more angry locals shouting at them. I mean would you want to be the local Tory MP in Somerset come next election time? Would you want to be a Tory major of London or PM in charge after London floods? And London and the south east is one of the very locations climate scientists fear will become more vulnerable to flooding, unless a lot of money is spent on new flood defences.

And extreme weather events, whatever the reasons, can swing an election. As I pointed out before, its possible that storms and floods in the US on the eve of the vote 2012 election, coupled with Romney’s climate skepticism, probably swung the votes in several key states Romney had to win (such as Florida) Obama’s way. And the reason why Merkel’s conservatives in Germany are such enthusiastic supporters of the “Energiewende is in part because the CSU’s lack of empathy with flood victims and unwillingness to take action on climate change, cost them the 2002 election, a fact they are very slow to forget.

Figure 3: UK train battles the elements in Devon [Credit: The Independent, 2014]

Figure 3: UK train battles the elements in Devon [Credit: The Independent, 2014]

The Katrina effect
Furthermore there is also the expense of it all to consider. After Owen Patterson got run out of Somerset with his tail between his legs, the government realising how inept this made them look pushed the panic button. They immediately signed up to a whole host of expensive measures (such as dredging and new flood defences), that may or may not actually have any effect. The army was even deployed to help out. Although it’s turned out that they aren’t really needed. But it does show how the government is running scared on this issue all of a sudden.

This is a phenomenon I refer to as the Katrina effect. Where like George W. Bush, a politician is partially responsible for the severity of a flood (e.g. by cutting back spending on flood defences to save a few pennies) and then when the media go and make a big deal out of it, he’s forced on this massive guilt trip to make a lot panicky and often expensive promises to atone for his previous sins…at the expense of the tax payers, some of which may not actually be terribly effective.

As the 2006 Stern report made clear, even in the worst case scenario the costs of mitigating climate change will be vastly lower than the costs for fire fighting the consequences, quite apart from the loss of life and loss of political face, and the financial costs of panicky Katrina like responses to said disasters.

Consequently I put it to politicians, not only do they have a professional and moral obligation to do something about climate change while we still can, but it’s in their own long term interest to do so.

Posted in climate change, economics, fossil fuels, future, Global warming denial, Passivhaus, politics, renewables, Shale Gas, sustainability | 1 Comment

The fracking snake oil cult

Recently David Cameron has been letting slip many signs that he, like many Tories, has fallen for the fable of Shale Gas as the snake oil cure for all ills, hook line and sinker. He absurdly suggested that shale gas had driven down energy prices in the US so much, that factories were moving back from China to America and the same thing could happen in Britain.

call_me_dave_dorky_helm_protestor

Figure 1: Cameron, a nodding donkey and some angry protestors, what could possibly go wrong!
[Credit: Guardian, 2013]

Before going any further it would be useful to set the facts straight:

•    There are many reasons for a company to move a factory, energy costs are just one of those, and given that energy costs in China are still lower than in the US, it would be bizarre for a company to move out of China to the US only to pay more for energy if this was the sole deciding factor.

•    The supposed link between Shale Gas and the 2007 drop in US wholesale gas prices is dubious at best. As I discuss (here) and Gail Tverberg also discusses, shale gas is relatively expensive (compared to conventional gas) and the bulk of the ramp up in Shale gas production occurred well after the price drop occurred (as in at least a year or two). So the only way Shale gas could have had an influence on price is if there was mass manipulation and price fixing of the energy markets (which would have been illegal), as speculated on here.

•   While certainly fracking has become a major source of energy in the US, as I discuss here it represents about 35% of US gas production, but that’s only about 8% of US overall energy consumption. Hardly a cure to all of America’s long term energy problems.

•   Shale gas has NOT made the US a net gas exporter, contrary to what certain right wing think tanks would have you believe. As EIA statistics show, while the US exported some 1,619 billion Cubic ft of gas, America also imported some 3,135 billion Cubic ft of gas.

•   There are indications that the shale gas boom is starting to run out of steam. Reports by authors such as David Hughes, as well as official data from the EIA, suggest that shale gas is approaching peak production. There is a big question as to whether production will stabilise (i.e. all this trouble for just 8% of US energy production) or decline rapidly, as individual shale gas wells tend to have very rapid decline rates. All in all however, its likely that the benefits of shale gas will be short lived.

•   As I also discuss in more detail in a prior post, there is a huge question mark as to how much of the UK’s shale gas is viable. Reports suggest it might be only able to meet a tiny fraction of the UK’s energy consumption. While its supporters often point to the very large quantities of shale gas trapped underground, this ignores the fact that there is a world of a difference between “proven reserves” and “reserves in place”. i.e. we’re still sitting on a several hundred years worth of coal supply, but I don’t see anyone arguing for us to bring back coal mining.

In short like so many on the right, David Cameron has fallen for this outrageous myth. And rather than do some basic fact checking he’s instead embellishing on that myth with yet more absurdities of his own. He reminds me of those celebrities who end up part of some crazy cult. And the problem is that he is now writing the UK’s future energy policy on the basis of a fantasy divorced from reality.

He’s dismissed renewables as “green crap and cut back on policies aimed at energy conservation, both of which were crucial to the UK’s long term energy policy. as well as allying himself and the UK with arch-denier Canadian president Stephen Harper against the rest of Europe. An important point given the much higher carbon emissions from shale gas compared to conventional oil and gas, as I discuss here. And ironically his obsession with Shale gas is likely to be to the detriment of the nuclear industry he has also favoured with lavish subsidies.

Hence we must confront this snake oil salesmanship tactics for shale gas, now before it leads to a mess that it will take decades to undo.

Posted in climate change, fossil fuels, Global warming denial, peak oil, politics, power, Shale Gas, Shale oil, Tar Sands, Uncategorized | 5 Comments