German Wind Energy Production in 2016

The picture below shows the hourly production figures of wind energy in Germany in 2016. The underlying data are taken from Paul-Frederik Bach´s ample collection of data on green energy production in various European countries.

The mean hourly production during that period was 8765 MWh with a standard deviation of 6865 MWh. The minimum and maximum values were 135 and 33626 MWh, respectively.

French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron launches GE 9HA gas turbine

Andrew J. Lammas VP of Engineering Power Generation in front of 9HA Turbine test rig

Andrew J. Lammas VP of Engineering Power Generation in front of 9HA Turbine test rig

Nicholas Newman 29 May 2015 http://www.nicnewmanoxford.com/

It is designed to power a city the size of Birmingham with 400,000 households from its output of 397 MW for the turbine on its own or a whopping 570 MW in the combined cycle. Not surprisingly, the GE 9HA gas turbine is the size of a house; its technological component parts certainly impress the onlooker.Belfort – 28 May 2015-French economy minister Emmanuel Macron came to the launch of GE’S latest gas turbine, the GE 9HA gas turbine at its Belfort complex in South-Eastern France near the Swiss border. He said about the 9HA launch, “It is a great day for French industrial expertise and innovation.” This device is not only the latest but also the biggest new gas turbine of its kind in the world.

About GE’s  9HA Gas Turbine

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Throughout the 9HA, there are hundreds of sensors, which enable real-time performance analytics and optimize its use conditions accordingly. GE claims that such features mean unmatched efficiency, easier maintenance, and lower operating costs.

In addition, Victor Abate, CEO, Power Generation Products at GE Power & Water says. “Our 9HA advanced technology helps to drive leading performance, lower emissions, and improved project economics.” He claims that the 9HA is nimble for such a large beast, able to achieve full output in a mere 28 minutes, compared to a similar sized coal turbine, taking up to one hour to reach full output. For a machine this size, this is a record. This means that it is not only ideal for base load generation, but also responding to rapid market changes because of the fluctuations in demand caused by renewable generation.

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Victor Abate President GE Power Generation Products, said, “GE 9HA gas turbine took a team of 1800 employees three years of intensive development and €100 million to create on the assembly line and test bench capable of building and testing these giant turbines.” Though each turbine weighs as much as an Airbus A380 super-jumbo jet, it is constructed with a micron-level precision by specialized technicians and engineers with precision tools.

The market for GE’s  9HA Gas Turbine

“Already, there are nine confirmed global orders for the GE 9HA gas turbine, three from the US, 4 from Europe and Russia and 2 from Japan,” said Francois Cavin General Manager GE Products Finance. In addition, there is interest from Turkey for three turbine plants.

A second device is due to be delivered to THK-16 OAO gas power plant in Kazan, Tearstan  in Russia, as part of plans to improve power system reliablity,

The first production model 9HA leaves for northern France in a special convoy, leaving the Belfort plant on June 25th. It will be one of the largest road transport operations in European history. For the journey, the turbine will be mounted on a 100-meter long platform and travel first by road, then down the Escault River towards the North of France. It will take approximately two weeks of high-precision transportation to move this giant turbine from Belfort’s factory to EDF’s Bouchain power plant, near Lillie and the Belgium border.

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The plant is located where Europe’s cross-border interconnectors serve not only the French, but also the Belgium and English markets, making it an ideal location to supply peak power in all those markets. The new-generation GE model will be installed at an existing plant at Bouchain by 2015 when an existing coal-fired thermal power plant is phased out. The plant will cost 400 million euros ($536 million), EDF Chief Executive Officer Henri Proglio has said. The project is part of a “strategic partnership” with GE and aimed at modernizing EDF’s thermal plants by 2023.

For more about the GE 9HA Gas Turbine

Are Europe’s gas power generators turning into zombie companies?

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“Gas power is losing money hand over fist”

By:Nicholas Newman 12 March 2013

It appears that Europe’s gas generators are in danger of turning into zombie companies, [i]suggests Hugh Sharman Owner, Incoteco (Denmark) ApS. [ii] They finding it increasingly difficult coping with the market created by uncontrolled expansion of “free” but heavily subsidised renewables and the dumping of cheap imported coal from the United States. Unfavourable market conditions and negative gas power generation are forcing companies to lose money hand over fist, suggests Guido Custer Managing Director at Delta Energy.

Gas plants in crisis

This is particularly the case in both Holland and Germany which is full of zombie gas power plants. It is not surprising we are hearing about gas power plants like Dong Energy idling its brand new Rotterdam plant for most of the time. It is cheaper for Dong Energy to buy imported German wind and coal generated electricity at €45 per megawatt hour than produce it themselves at €50 per megawatt hour. Throughout Europe, we are seeing plans to moth ball gas plants by major utilities such as E.on, Statkraft, GDF Suez SA and Centrica Plc. Whilst, Gabrielle Seeling-Hochmuth, head of gas strategy at Vattenfall’s gas competence centre, suggested, “that the company is unlikely to invest in new gas capacity until the 2030s”. [iii]

An oversupply of conventional power

Currently, in both in Germany and the Netherlands, both countries are facing a dire oversupply of conventional power capacity. [iv] In Holland, this is due in part to a gas power plant building boom by investors keen to take advantage of the countries natural gas resources. Their ambition was to turn the Netherlands into a major exporter of power to the rest of Europe. As a result, the country is facing an oversupply of conventional generation capacity made worse by the country’s encouragement of biomass, wind and solar power.

At the same time in Germany, the policy of giving renewables the highest priority in supplying the market when it comes to despatching power, and the very success of the €4 billion a year subsidies to promote renewables, has drastically shrunk the market for gas power stations. On sunny and windy days, onshore wind and photovoltaic meet over 85 per cent of Germany’s mid-day electricity needs reports Renewable Energy World. This is despite Germany closing nearly a third of its nuclear power plants reactors in spring 2011, it exports electricity to its neighbours – and indeed sold more abroad in 2012 (23 gigawatts) than ever before. [v]So industry analysts are suggesting Germany is dumping its power on its neighbours.

Cheap coal in Europe has dramatically increased the output from coal generation dramatically. As a result, this is drastically reducing the demand for gas generation in many states. This has resulted in numerous gas plants operating in the red in France, the Netherlands, Spain and the Czech Republic, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. In Britain, gas generation is barely breaking even. It is not surprising operators are making a dash away from gas; after all, they are not charities.

The creation of zombie power companies?

“In fact, most of Europe’s major generators are turning into zombie companies, saddled with huge debts and heritage assets that are fast turning into liabilities,” suggests Hugh Sharman. Unfortunately, this dash away from gas is causing a problem for Europe’s energy leaders concerned about such issues as competition, stability and security of power supplies. Since if there is not adequate conventional reserve backup capacity to deal with lack of wind or sunshine for several days, then Europe faces the threat of continent wide blackouts.

Need for reform?

It has been suggested by various energy leaders, including Guido Custer that something must be done to end this cycle of zombie failure for gas generation and ensure that there is an adequate supply of reserve conventional capacity available. Guido Custer has proposed at Flame a series of measures to ensure adequate investment in maintaining current capacity and encourage new investment when it required. Certainly his proposals for a minimum price for the emissions trading system and widening the scope of members of European emission trading system sound reasonable.

A solution?

However, it is expected that many European governments will look not look kindly at lobbying efforts by the power sector for further subsidies known as capacity mechanism, given the current recession. [vi] Instead it would be more politically practicable for policy makers if government’s reduced subsidies for renewables and fixed the European emissions trading system so that gas is on a more equal footing with coal, renewables and nuclear. Unless something is done, the prospect of zombified European power companies could be a serious prospect. Even so, it looks like the size of Europe’s gas generation portfolio will be in future years, considerably reduced.


[i] Zombie Company is a media term for a company that needs constant bailouts in order to operate, or an indebted company that is able to repay the interest on its debts but not reduce its debts. There are several types of zombie companies. The term regained popularity in the media during 2008 for companies receiving bailouts from the U.S. Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). A 2002 New York Times article about Japanese companies kept on “life-support” with loans include a headline that stated, “They’re Alive! They’re Alive! Not!; Japan Hesitates to Put an End to Its ‘Zombie’ Businesses

Multi-functionality and multiple use: important features for sustainable cities

I want to write again on a topic that highly interests me. I wrote a blog ‘A sustainable city needs to be smart’ in May 2012. The topic I want to discuss this time builds on this subject.

I did some studies about making urban areas more sustainable during my work as a researcher at Wageningen University (The Netherlands). Together with a colleague with a background in spatial planning, I performed a study on the diversity of urban areas. We wrote a paper on the subject. We discussed the importance of a multi-functional urban area. It is important to see the chances the different urban functions have to offer in reaching a sustainable future.

In that way, having an industrial area in the vicinity of a residential area could be advantageous. Think about the concept of ‘Industrial Ecology’, with the case of Kalundborg in Denmark as example. Industrial Ecology can be seen as an example of park management: the companies within the borders of an industrial area try to find ways to re-use materials, to create new products from residual resources and to limit waste. A way of dealing with empty space in industrial areas and allowing other companies to build an industrial facility in that area, could be to use the local characteristics and available resources as restrictions. In that way, only a company that can be part of the chain is allowed to start its activities in the industrial area.

Park management is a good start, but it is not enough to make a complete urban area more sustainable. Therefore, we used the term ‘urban management’ (Leduc & Van Kann, 2013), in which we propose to broaden the scope and to look for options outside the borders of the industrial area. Often these industrial areas are close enough connected to residential areas or office space were, e.g., waste heat can be very useful, or residual resources from industry can be used to build houses, roads. Empty space in industrial areas can be used to collect water or to produce energy. It is very important to find synergy, so collecting water and energy can go together.

In order to create a sustainable urban area, we need to know how the area looks like. So, it is very important to perform a thorough check of the area first. Use this check to find out which functions are available in the area, at which locations, at what distances, what type of energy, materials and water is used and how much. Try to answer which type of energy, materials and water is needed at which quantity, at which location and when. An answer to these four questions can help to find better, more efficient ways to use energy and other resources, and to re-use resources.

The idea is to transform the urban area from a linear, resource-to-waste, metabolism to a more circular metabolism. In such a system resources can be used multiple times, more efficiently and effectively, and waste is not seen as waste, but as a residual resource. Any resource – energy, water, material – can be seen as a resource with still some remaining quality after use. When producing energy, lots of heat is produced that is mostly thrown away. This waste heat can also be seen as a residual resource that can be used by other urban functions for industrial processes or heating purposes. A similar idea can be found for water and materials: certain tasks in the household or industry need clean water, which after use will be ‘grey’ water and is usually eliminated via the sewer. If that ‘grey’ water is seen as a residual resource and not eliminated immediately, it can be used for other purposes like toilet flushing or gardening. An example for materials could be wood: it can be used immediately to be burned and produce energy, but it could be used more effectively. The wood could first be used to build a house, after the lifetime some of the beams could probably still be used to make furniture and in the last phase the wood could be used to produce energy. By following this chain, the same piece of wood would still produce the same amount of energy, but its qualities are used more effectively.

The ideas are based on research performed by the author and described in a published paper:

Wouter R.W.A. Leduc and Ferry M.G. Van Kann. Spatial planning based on urban energy harvesting toward productive urban regions. Journal of Cleaner Production, 2013, 39, pp. 180-190.

Available by author on request.

Wouter Leduc

By wouterleduc Posted in General

Fuel Poverty in the UK

This time I would like to cover a very different aspect of energy and its usage in everyday life. So far there is  no apparent lack of energy, technically speaking. Energy is available in abundance, and the only restriction to using it is the price we are asked to pay for it. Thus big users will eventually find themselves paying a huge bill. But it´s not only big consumers who might face a hefty burden from their energy bill. More and more people are using a substantial amount of their available income in order to  buy the energy they need. In particular, this is true for heating which is also one of the biggest parts of private energy consumption.

The UK statistical office is collecting data on fuel poverty. The term refers essentially to energy needs for heating purposes and the relative amount of household income people have to spend in order to “maintain a satisfactory heating regime”, i.e. 21 °C in the main living area and 18 °C for other rooms. In particular, people are considered to suffer from fuel poverty if they have to spend more than 10% of the household income on fuel for heating.

The figure below gives a sketch of the situation in the recent past (2003 and 2009).

Number of fuel poor households in millions. Abbreviations: dc – dependent children, hh – household.

The first observation we make is that the number of fuel poor households has apparently dramatically increased between 2003 and 2009. During that period the number of households concerned has, on average, more than doubled. Thus, fuel poverty in the above sense is definitely increasing and showing a severe social impact. Energy is becoming a scarce and to some extent even luxurious commodity.

Another observation is that specific groups are particularly hit by this phenomenon. People without dependent children are more likely to suffer from fuel poverty than those having kids. Moreover, persons older than 60 years are also facing a greater risk of getting fuel poor. The same is true for single persons when compared to couples.

The causes for this are manifold. Energy prices are on the rise. They climb faster than the average income, especially for retired people. Another factor is certainly the economic crisis which hit a number of European countries in 2008. So far we are still far from a sustainable recovery. Therefore, we may well assume that the situation has aggravated in the meantime.

Yet another factor coming into play is related to economic circumstances: Many elderly people may not be able to afford refurbishing their houses such that they consume less energy, especially for heating. Renovating old houses is a costly undertaking which may simply go beyond many people´s financial capabilities.

Fuel poverty is a critical issue not only in the UK. Also other countries like Germany encounter the same problem. However, most of those countries do not collect the respective statistical data as is the case in the UK. Therefore, it is extremely difficult to assess the severity of fuel poverty for other countries. Taking into account that energy is of critical importance to the functioning of our societies, it would be highly desirable to collect those data in order to tackle the problem as soon as possible.

Do Energy Saving Light Bulbs Really Save Energy?

Some considerations about the usefulness of energy saving light bulbs.

Conventional light bulbs which are now banned in the EU since 1st September 2012 are very inefficient when it comes to turning electrical energy into visible light. More than 90 % of the energy input are emitted in the form of heat. Thus with a less than 10 % efficiency in terms of light production the classical light bulb may indeed look a rather hopeless case and energy saving lamps appear to be the preferable choice.

However, a closer inspection shows that the odds are not at all so bad for the conventional lighting medium. During the cold season, i.e. whenever people feel the need of switching on their heating, the classical light bulb contributes to the heating effort. Thus whenever we count heading degree days the old fashioned light bulb lowers the need to switch on the heating. From a physical point of view during the heating period the energy saving light bulb does not save energy. That is a simple deduction from the law of energy conservation. On the contrary, if we turn to energy saving lamps, the work load of our heating systems gets higher.

On the other hand, it is true that during the warmer period energy saving light bulbs are the better choice because then we really do not need any extra heating. So in order to understand the energy balance of both lighting systems we developed a model which is based on the following assumptions:

Get-up time: 6:00

Leaving home in the morning: 8:00

Returning home in the evening: 17:00

Sleepy time:  24:00

In addition to that we assume an average performance of 200 W(el). Our model is then applied to two European cities, one in the northern (Stockholm) and the other in the southern part (Rome). From this model it follows that the maximum number of lighting hours per day is 9 which is reached during the dark winter months. On the other hand, during the long daylight hours in summer, it may be necessary to switch on the light for no more than 2 hours per day. Electricity consumption for light sources is thus fluctuating between those two extremes. Fig. 1 shows the distribution of lighting hours in both cities.

Fig. 1 Lighting hours in Rome and Stockholm.

How much artificial light we actually need is largely determined by the length of the daylight period which in turn is governed by sunrise and sunset.  The data for those astronomical observables are easily accessible, clearly highlighting the differences between northern and southern locations. Although these differences may be very large during certain periods of the year, their overall impact on our model is far less dramatic than expected. On an annual basis the number of lighting hours in Stockholm is not very much different from the one in Rome, 2160 vs. 2110, respectively, i.e. less than 3 percent difference. These lighting hours correspond to an average electricity consumption of 432 kWh and 423 kWh, respectively.

Lighting and heating

What is, however, different is the number of heating degree days between the two cities. Correspondingly, the number of lighting hours during the heating period is much larger in northern Europe than in the southern part. Our analysis shows that more than 80 % of lighting hours are consumed during the heating period in the case of Stockholm. This, in turn, means that during that period there is no gain from using energy saving light bulbs. The respective number for Rome is 62 %. Thus also in southern Europe a substantial amount of lighting is used when people are likely to put on their heating. The rest of Europe lies, in its vast majority, somewhere between these two extreme values. There are exceptions, but these are statistically insignificant.

From a physical point of view, energy saving lamps are only useful when it is warm outside, because then there is no need for excessive heat. During winter those lamps do not lead to an overall reduction of energy consumption. Let us look at the situation from the point of view of a classical light bulb. It wastes energy in summer, but not in winter. According to our model, the waste energy produced by a classical lighting system amounts to about 78 kWh (Stockholm) and 145 kWh (Rome), respectively, over the whole year. We may also ask how much heating energy we can save by using normal light bulbs. The figures are 311 kWh (S) and 235 kWh (R), respectively. Thus we may conclude that, physically speaking, the energy balance of classical light bulbs is clearly better than the one of their energy saving competitors. Their contribution to heating in winter outweighs their waste of energy in summer. Of course, the effect is much more pronounced in northern Europe than in the southern countries. But even in the latter ones, the result is undoubtedly in favour of normal light bulbs. Figs. 2 and 3 demonstrate the contribution to heating and the waste energy of conventional light bulbs for the two cities.

Fig. 2 Heating potential vs waste energy of conventional light bulbs in Stockholm.

Fig. 3 Heating potential vs. waste energy of conventional light bulbs in Rome.

It is, of course, conceivable that under certain circumstances energy saving light bulbs live up to their expectations. Our model indicates that this may be the case in tropical areas where heating is hardly ever needed.

In any case, energy-saving lighting systems are not reducing energy consumption at the level of private consumption which we have considered inour model. This is even less so at a more general level, when taking into account the energy effort for producing and disposing of light bulbs. The recycling of energy saving systems is putting an extra burden on their overall energy balance, therby seriously questioning their high expectations.

A crisis in leadership in Japan’s nuclear industry.

By: Nicholas Newman

Failing to make the right decision is easy to do. Regrettably, despite years of technological progress and experience, governments and energy companies continue to make such mistakes. Nevertheless, due to the increasing scale of investment and environmental hazards that the industry faces, the world energy leadership needs to do better than it has in the past.

It is clear those events at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant have as much to do with bad decision-making by the country’s energy leadership as it has to do with the massive sea quake that caused a tidal wave to hit the doomed nuclear power station. Examining the factors that contributed to the poor decision-making that led to disaster in Japan last year, one comes to the conclusion that the events transpired could have been substantially mitigated or even avoided by the country’s energy leadership.

Here are some of the reasons that contributed to Japan’s unpreparedness for such a nuclear crisis and surprising negligence of nuclear power plant safety standards. These factors that contributed to the Fukushima incident range from internee sign fighting between the country’s government agencies (Ministry of Environment and its two regulatory agencies the Nuclear Safety Commission and Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency) as well as the plant’s owners Tokyo Electric Power Co. Nor did it help that the power plant’s operator had been found to have ignored safety advice on several occasion from both domestic and international nuclear professionals such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

It is clear from government reports that the leaderships of various stakeholders in the industry, including Japan’s regulatory agencies and nuclear power station operator TEPCO made serious errors which would have been avoided if the organisational culture was more accountable and open to inspection to not only Japan’s voters, but also the international community at large.

For instance, there are several documented examples of the national regulatory agencies ignoring the advice of such world agencies such as the IAEA. Reports suggest that the regulatory system was suffering from turf wars and intra-agency rivalries between regulatory agencies and departments of government ministries.

Nor did it help that TEPCO falsified safety records and ignored the advice given to it by both the domestic regulators and the International energy agency revealed in a report by Japan’s Independent Investigation Commission. In this report, it was revealed that Japanese electric power companies had since 1980, been unwilling to cooperate with the IAEA ‘s operational safety review of the country’s power plants. This review known as the Operational Safety Review Team (OSART), is where a team of experts conduct an in-depth review of operational safety performance at a nuclear power plant by checking the factors affecting safety management and personal performance.

In 1992, this operational safety review of Fukushima made a number of recommendations which Tokyo Electric Power Co, subsequently dismissed. In 2002, it was revealed that TEPCO had falsified 29 cases of safety repair records regarding cracks found at several of its nuclear reactors, including those at Fukushima Daiichi in the late 1980s and 90s. Despite this, the power company declined the offer by the IAEA to institute a fact-finding process to improve safety at the plant concerned. It was announced by the Chief Executive at TEPCO, that the proposed regulations were unrealistically strict and not in accordance with actual operational requirements.

Nor did it help that the entire nuclear community of the country was suffering from isolationist and secrecy tendencies, which were not helped by delusions that the country’s nuclear power sector was the best regulated, most advanced and managed industry in the world. The perception amongst many Japanese nuclear professionals was there was no need for Japan to learn from the rest of the world. In a sense Japan’s nuclear community was suffering from classic Galapagos Island syndrome symptoms.

Much to the surprise of these professionals the events at Fukushima were a wake-up call; it became clear from various investigations that Japan’s nuclear power sector was rotten to the core. It became clear that the industry was totally unprepared for the crisis when it occurred and was not able to provide solutions to such a crisis. It did not help that many of those civil servants working in nuclear regulation and safety management, did not have the opportunity to develop long-term expertise in the subject, because of the practice of regularly rotating civil servants to other government ministries. In addition, it did not help that findings found that the regulators were not truly independent of the power companies they were supervising.

Unfortunately, breaking out of the Galapagos syndrome for Japan’s nuclear sector is going to prove a hard task. Japan will need the help of the international community to create a new decision making energy leadership culture so that it equips it with the tools to avoid such complacency and a repeat of such disastrous mistakes. There are plans to establish a new, powerful nuclear safety agency this summer that will replace the old agencies and ministerial departments. Unfortunately, many of the new staff for this new agency will come from the failed organisations that contributed to Japan’s nuclear disaster.

However, perhaps the best way to revolutionise Japan’s nuclear community is if it imports new leadership and experts from abroad, until Japan has trained up the necessary recruits in the standards of the world nuclear community. Unfortunately, foreign CEO’s leading Japanese companies are rare and tend only to stay a short time due to inherent organisational resistance to change. In addition, Japan, the country finds very difficult to change its organisational culture, given the extremely conservative, traditional nature of its society. This is despite its appearance as one of the world’s most technologically advanced nations. This can be seen by its failure to implement the radical changes required to break the country out of economic stagnation in recent years.

Japan’s government wants to restart two nuclear plants to avert summer power shortages this summer, but public skepticism of nuclear safety and the industry remains high. Before March 2011, Japan depended for 30% of its power from nuclear power plants. Unless Japan can make the necessary changes it is unlikely there will be public support for the country’s nuclear power stations to start operating again. Instead the country’s energy leadership will have to continue to depend on expensive renewables and imports of gas from Australia to fuel its power sector in order to maintain energy security.

Is Britain’s energy leadership failing?

“National energy leadership requires clear policy around investment to manage risk and investment, and a healthy balance between the market, and the consumer (taxpayer)?”

By: Nicholas Newman

National energy leadership requires clear policy around encouraging investment to manage risk and development, and a healthy balance between the market, and the consumer (taxpayer)?

The question of energy and especially its price has always been a politically sensitive issue. The question, is whether Britain’s energy policy is failing? Many would suggest that significant parts of it already have. In fact, until recently, the United Kingdom did not enjoy an overarching energy policy framework; instead it depended on guidance from European energy policies for much of the day-to-day implementation of operational issues. In a sense, what there was of a discernible British energy policy was merely an incomplete jigsaw. What is certainly clear is that successive British governments have failed to demonstrate “responsible” energy leadership.

Some successes

Britain can certainly be proud of its successes largely due to the result of responsible leadership back in Brussels and not here in the UK. Such successes include the ban on old-style light bulbs, the backing of the use of biofuels in petrol, the introduction of carbon trading, the scrapping of ageing coal power stations, together with the introduction of smart meters in homes and energy-efficiency labels on domestic electrical goods. In addition, the introduction of more energy efficient domestic goods has certainly benefited the consumer’s pocket and in the case of cars, has reduced pollution in our cities.

Some disappointments

However, despite these advances there are still grumbles, not only from consumers, but major players in the energy market. From an energy security perspective, the actions taken to encourage investment in renewables, has only had a marginal impact on slowing down the UK’s reliance on imported fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas . [1] [i] In 2010, the cost of energy imports contributed to around 15% of the UK’s then trade deficit. University of Lancaster’s environmental researcher Oluwabamise Afolabi, reports that the DTI in 2007 projected that UK natural gas imports will increase to 70% by 2017 and imported coal could be meeting up to 75% of the UK coal needs by 2020.

Certainly part of the reason is that the EU energy policies have not gone far enough in the implementation of its ambitions for a single energy market for the continent, whilst we do have a single market for bananas! A single market for energy would certainly help meet many of Europe’s energy security concerns and hopefully facilitate greater competition Europe-wide. In the UK, there is a serious need for more energy suppliers actively competing in the market. At present, for instance the gas and electricity market is dominated by six major players, so it is not surprising we suffer high power prices.

Lack of leadership?

Nevertheless, the current government has preserved the vacuum in clear policy ownership and focused leadership left by its Labour government predecessor. This is demonstrated by the recent fiasco of the U-turn over feed-in tariffs [1] [ii] for solar power [1] [iii] and the failure to encourage investment in insulation for buildings with solid walls. The government’s decisions over feed-in tariffs plunged the rapidly growing job-creating solar power installation industry into crisis at a time of high unemployment. It is clear that senior policymakers made a decision without clearly understanding the full impact it would have on Britain’s solar power sector.

There seems to be a lack of leadership being exhibited by ministers on energy policy by many in the governing coalition. We are seeing, increasing opposition in Parliament by Conservative MPs, but also by members of the public towards the government’s ambitious support for new wind power projects throughout the country. In January, 101 Tory MPs wrote to Mr Cameron, calling for onshore wind farms subsidies to be “dramatically cut” – well beyond the 10 per cent reductions already in the pipeline. In addition, there have been protests about new renewable energy projects across the UK, together with concerns about the increasing number of people being plunged into energy poverty due to the shambolic energy taxes and subsidy system. Overall, current subsidies paid out to renewable energy producer’s amounted to some £1.5 billion a year, of which £400 million was given to companies operating onshore wind farms, reports the Telegraph in June 2012. However, DECC reports that renewable energy subsidies are costing each British household around £103 per year and between 2004 and 2010 electricity prices rose by 60% and gas bills by 90%, noted DECC.

At a strategic level investors are increasingly concerned about the sense of drift on energy policy towards new investment by the current government towards various types of generating technology, many large-scale investors are complaining that they are not getting sufficient encouragement to move ahead on meeting the government’s ambitious programme to replace time-expired coal and nuclear power stations with new generating capacity from both traditional and new generating technologies.

Failing to identify risks

It also appears that the government appears to be failing to identify and manage risks and plan for such unforeseen events as natural disasters, supply disruptions and wars. There appears to be a lack of long term preparation against supply disruption, this can be seen from the following issues. At present, we have limited interconnector capacity amounting to just under 5% of UK generating capacity, is made up of high voltage undersea power cables linking Britain with France, Belgium and Holland. For energy security reasons the UK needs to double such capacity. Once completed Britain will be better able to balance shortfalls in renewable generation here with imports from elsewhere in Europe.

Then there is the question of gas security, Britain only has 3.3 bcm, equivant to 14 days of gas storage capacity available in theory, reports DECC, and much of that is reserved for storage capacity for other nations in Europe. Unfortunately, there are no reciprocity agreements to such storage capacity that is located in the UK with foreign owned companies at present; I was surprised to learn from an energy trader recently. Though there are ambitious proposals to increase gas storage capacity, given sufficient government support. Unlike France and Germany, which have at least one month gas storage capacity? Currently Britain imports 24% of its gas from Qatar. This apparent lack of direction and foresight can also be seen in the relatively low large-scale electricity storage capacity of only 20 GW hours: perhaps sufficient to replace current UK wind generating capacity for just two hours if the wind failed to blow.

In addition, unlike several other European countries Britain has failed to move ahead with pilot carbon capture projects. The realisation of carbon capture technology could aid Britain in its ambitions to further diversify its current sources energy, as coal is available worldwide in easy to reach commercial quantities including Poland, USA , South Africa and Australia.

There are increasing fears that Britain could face power shortages by end of the decade, unless urgent action is taken to construct sufficient new generating capacity to meet growing demand. I would hate to think Britain consumers will face in the future the prospect of regular power cuts, as is the case of Nigeria today.

We are also seeing a lack of realism, amongst policymakers into the impact of their policies. One of Europe’s and U.K.’s ambitions is to reduce reliance on gas imports. Unfortunately, the government’s neglect of creating a proper framework for reducing gas usage for power generation purposes is encouraging a reliance on this fuel source to back up for the variability of renewables. Which could raise interesting energy supply and security concerns for large scale consumers such as hospitals and railways that rely on 24/7 energy supplies.

Since 2004, the UK has been a net importer of gas, as domestic production has declined and the country’s power sector has switched to gas for power generation purposes [1] . Since the winter of 2009, the UK has depended for half its gas needs on imports. Current government policy neglect is encouraging reliance on imported gas to remain at present levels whether imported from Norway, Russia, Nigeria or Qatar. As Britain’s reliance on renewables increases we are going to see imported gas-for-power generation purposes providing a backup to wind energy projects when the wind fails to blow, because Britain has not invested enough in sufficient gas and electricity storage capacity and expansion of its interconnection links with the rest of Europe.

Danger of short term thinking

Overall, Britain’s energy policy is in danger of suffering from short term thinking, which might be building up new problems for the future that might prove expensive to solve. In other areas, there is much to be proud of, but it is clear much more needs to be done. In addition, there has to be greater dialogue between all stakeholders involved in energy policy so that Britain develops an affordable, reliable and secure energy sector that meets our economic ambitions for growth.

Conclusion

However, the government needs to demonstrate responsible energy leadership and move actively forward on implementing many of its ambitions quickly, such as starting construction on new nuclear power stations, stop dithering on proposed coal and carbon capture projects and encourage investment in new energy storage capacity. Nevertheless, the emphasis on energy policy should be rebalanced more in favour of the consumer and taxpayer, by enabling users near such projects to directly benefit from the profits of such schemes.

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[1] [i] DECC aims for at least 15% of UK energy mix to come from renewable sources by 2020 if current levels of investment are maintained.

[1] [ii] A feed-in tariff (FIT, standard offer contract or renewable energy payments) is a policy mechanism designed to accelerate investment in renewable energy technologies. It achieves this by offering long-term contracts to renewable energy producers, such as home owners, it is typically based on the cost of generation of each technology. Technologies such as wind power, for instance, are awarded a lower per-kWh price, while technologies such as solar PV and tidal power are offered a higher price, reflecting higher costs.

[1] [iii] Solar power is the conversion of sunlight into electricity, either directly using photovoltaic (PV), or indirectly using concentrated solar power (CSP).

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[1] In 2010, 34 per cent of natural gas demand (371 TWh) was for electricity generation reports the DTI.

Efficiency vs. Effectiveness – towards sustainable cities

An important concept in this discussion is exergy, or the quality of energy. This follows from the ‘laws of thermodynamics’. The first law states that energy can never be lost, that it will remain. The second law introduces the notion of quality: although energy cannot be lost it loses quality and entropy is created when used (google for exergy and ‘laws of thermodynamics’ to learn more).

Using resources – energy, water, materials, etc. – in an efficient way means using these resources while trying to limit waste, trying to do things in the right manner. The concept of ‘Trias Energetica’ will be used to explain and some examples will be given. Trias Energetica was developed by Lysen and Duijvestein (1997). It consists of three, consecutive steps:

  1. Limit energy demand and energy use;
  2. Use renewable energy sources;
  3. Use fossil fuels as efficiently and cleanly as possible to fulfill remaining demand.

The first step is the most important, because each amount of energy that is saved does not have to be produced. An example of this first step is to insulate dwellings properly so less energy is needed to heat the dwellings. Remaining demand should be fulfilled by applying renewable energy sources, like solar or wind. The third step talks about the efficient use of fossil fuels. For example, the introduction of fuel-efficient cars or even hybrid cars. These cars still need fossil resources, but they use these resources more efficiently, see graph 1.

Graph 1: Fuel-efficiency of some car types, gasoline use

It is important when looking at efficiency and energy-saving measures that they do not result in a rebound effect. So, e.g., changing non-efficient light bulbs with efficient ones (LED, fluorescent light bulbs) is a good measure. The pitfall though is that people leave the lights on, because they know it is more efficient, so they think that it does not matter. This results in the end in more energy use anyway.

For a true sustainable system, the Trias Energetica should be adapted. Measures to save energy may not result in loss of comfort or health problems. A system can only be sustainable if it uses renewable resources. The rate in which we use fossil fuels, is not renewable. The resources of oil, coal and gas are not regrowing. Another point to consider: is it nowadays cheaper to invest in more insulation or to invest in renewable energy production systems? The importance of re-use, re-cycle and manufacturing, keeping the end of products in mind, is also growing. Therefore, a new concept has been developed ‘the New Stepped Strategy’ (Dobbelsteen and Tillie, 2009). In this strategy, the last step is replaced:

1.   Reduce consumption without loss of comfort and health;

2a.  Exchange and re-use waste energy systems;

2b.  Use renewable energy sources and ensure waste is re-used as food.

Applying those steps to a city or region towards sustainability can be seen as a sign of effectiveness. This means trying to use resources in the right way, trying to reach the result, to do the right things. Think with the result or purpose in mind and do not start from the means. For example, do you need your laundry cleaned or do we need the best, most energy-efficient laundry machine to clean our clothes? The question is ‘what is the most resource effective way to clean our clothes’ (we can come back to that another time)?

Reduce consumption still is the most important step. The New Stepped Strategy introduces also the importance of different scales, from dwelling level to neighborhood to city level. Before a decision is made, it has to be studied what is the most effective step to take at which level. Some things can be arranged very effectively at dwelling scale, like insulation, but others will be more effective at a larger scale, like cascading remaining qualities. An example is the remaining heat of a power plant or industry. Nowadays, it will be the remains after fossil fuel burning, but in the future it may well be the remains of renewable fuel burning or use. The idea is that the remaining heat of this industry is not a waste product, but can still be useful for another purpose. For example as processing heat for an industrial facility that needs only heat of lower temperatures. After use in this industry, it still has some heat quality remaining that can be used in, e.g. green houses. A last step can be heating of houses that needs only  a low energy (in the form of heat) quality, see graph 2.

Graph 2: Example of a heat cascade in an urban system

So, in order to reach sustainable cities, it is important to reduce energy consumption and to apply the local available renewable and residual resources in an effective way. The urban metabolism has to evolve to a circular metabolism in which any waste product is seen as a remaining quality that can be used by another function within the city. This will decrease dependency on foreign resources. It will increase the search for local potentials and characteristics. Cities are multi-functional entities. The different functions should and need to be connected and in close proximity to effectively use the local potentials towards sustainable cities.

Wouter Leduc

References:

Dobbelsteen, A., van den, Tillie, N., 2009. Towards CO2-neutral Urban Planning: Presenting the Rotterdam Energy Approach and Planning (REAP). Journal of Green Building, 4.

Duijvestein, C.A.J., 1997. Drie Stappen Strategie. In editors D.W., Dicke, E.M., Haas, Praktijkhandboek Duurzaam Bouwen. WEKA, Amsterdam, pp. (20) 1-10.

Wind Energy – The European Top Producers

Most European countries are now investing into wind energy. Only very few of them may be considered as “old” players in the field. Among those which used wind power already back in 1990 were Spain, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and Sweden.

Unfortunately, the data quality of some countries in the beginning stages was rather low so that we confine ourselves to comparing the average output in MWh/MW installed over the period 2000-2010. Taking this as a reference we get the following ranking among those countries which have a relatively long tradition of using wind energy:

Netherlands 2273 MWh/MW (low: 2077 high: 2473)

Spain 2233 MWh/MW (low: 1921 high: 2621)

Sweden 2080 MWh/MW (low: 1784 high: 2625)

Denmark 2028 MWh/MW (low: 1760 high: 2293)

Belgium 1929 MWh/MW (low: 1022 high: 2750)

Germany 1586 MWh/MW (low: 1392 high: 1785)

As indicated these are average values over the first decade of the 21st century. Needless to say that these mean values are rather virtual figures since in reality the availability of the driving force behind the facilities, i.e. the wind, is rather varying by nature. By the way, these figures have been calculated using our specific model which enables us to smooth out distortions due to capacity changes during each year.

The graphics below shows the evolution of wind power in those countries since 1990. The missing data points for some countries refer to the fact that the quality of those data does not fulfil our standards. Thus, we omitted them rather than doing guesswork.

Specific output of European wind farms in MWh per MW installed capacity.

It is quite remarkable that the mean performance between different countries can vary a lot. The most striking feature, however, is that Germany is seriously underperforming when compared to the leading producers in Europe. This may well indicate that selecting the location of a wind farm may not always have been the best choice. Other countries have apparently done a better job.