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.

A sustainable city needs to be smart

A sustainable city needs to be SMART.

In order to reach sustainability, SPECIFIC targets need to be set and met: e.g. reaching climate neutrality within a certain time frame. Those targets need to be MEASURABLE. It is not enough to just talk about sustainability and a transition. It is very important that the targets can be quantified and that results are shown. Reaching sustainability demands a lot of effort. Therefore it is important to make a time-plan and split up the final target into small steps that can be reached more easily and which can be measured. This introduces the 3rd aspect, i.e. targets need to be ATTAINABLE. When dividing the final target into smaller steps, results of the measures taken become visible one by one. It is also important to involve local stakeholders, e.g. inhabitants, local companies, governments, etc. Each step in the plan towards final sustainability can be celebrated, giving a boost to the people involved, showing that their actions result in something positive on the way to the final target. The measures need to be REALISTIC. It is good to dream about sustainability and about the transition to a sustainable city, but it will be reached by taking one step at the time. When going too quickly, without a plan to follow, problems can be created and it may become difficult to reach the final target. The approach needs to be TIMELY. It is important to develop a good plan towards a sustainable city. This means going step by step, and choosing which step/measure to take at which moment in a smart and innovative way. Thus, use what is available at a certain time and apply this measure to the best knowledge. Furthermore, try to find ways to improve these measures to bring cities to a next, sustainable level.

There are many examples and I will name a few. On the island of Samsoe in Denmark, they reached energy neutrality in 2005 (started in 1997). Some general facts: surface is about 110 km², and about 4000 inhabitants. The energy system of the island is based on wind and solar energy for electricity, biomass (straw and wood chips) and solar energy for heat and measures are taken for the fossil fuel use of the ferries and cars on the island. Güssing, Austria, is a nice example of how a complete village and region can transition from a fossil fuel based system with high costs to a system based on renewables, keeping more of the money in the region. General facts: surface is about 50 km², and about 3700 inhabitants (region 27000). They started in 1992 with the transition. Güssing has reached a 71% self-sufficiency in 2010 (100% if industry is not taken into account) and they are working on also reaching energy autarky within the Güssing-region. The energy system is based on local available biomass (wood, grass, rapeseed), via a CHP-plant and district heating, and solar energy. I will name one other example: the work that is done in the city of Wageningen in The Netherlands to transition to a climate neutral city by 2030. Wageningen has about 36000 inhabitants on about 32 km². In this initiative the municipality involves also local stakeholders like inhabitants and companies. The targets are: 25% local renewable production, 50% energy saving, and 25% import of renewable energy. Many more examples can be mentioned.

Furthermore, a SMART sustainable city needs to include the following aspects:

A sustainable city needs to be SUSTAINABLE. When taking a measure, this has to be done in a considered, clever way. A measure has to be ecological, economical and socio-cultural. This means keeping in mind also the future perspective: think about here and there, current and future generations (UN-Brundtland commission 1987, definition Sustainable Development). A sustainable city needs to be MULTI-functional/disciplinary. It is important to use the mixture of functions to find the most efficient and effective solutions for problems in the city. The multi-functionality needs to be seen as an opportunity and not as a problem. Another important aspect is AFFLUENCE. This means that people need to be able to live good and in the way they want, but they have to be aware of the consequences of their actions. A sustainable city has to inform its inhabitants about smarter ways to reach their targets, better for both the environment and the city. Those measures have to improve the quality of life in the city. A sustainable city needs to be RENEWABLE. This is/seems logic, meaning that the use of resources should be renewable. The measures taken need to be renewable or from residual origin. It is important to divert away from the old way of thinking: it is not possible anymore to use fossil fuels/resources as we currently do and think that we can compensate for the emissions and other negative effects. A last aspect for a sustainable city is the TECHNOLOGICAL one. This implies using the available knowledge and not always throw it away immediately because it seems not worthwhile or too expensive. Those new methodologies/measures need to be given time to develop. The technologies for fossil fuel use did not come out of the blue either and needed a lot of support as well.

The following figures show results of a study applied to a municipality in the south of The Netherlands, Kerkrade.

Fig. 1: Energy demand for different urban functions

Fig. 2: Energy supply potential for the studied district (solar: PV/solar boilers; hydrogen production demands electricity which is supplied by extra wind turbines).

The results are based on research described by the author in a published paper. Available by author on request. Reports on Samsoe, Güssing or Wageningen on which results are based, on request by author.

Wouter Leduc

How Much Energy Do We Actually Need?

This posting is rather philosophical than technical. Whenever we talk about energy, we tend to think in terms of oil, gas, nuclear, electricity, and the like. But throughout the longest part of its history mankind has been living without any of these “modern” energy types. And yet, throughout its entire history humanity has been dependent on energy, even without knowing it to the degree we are aware of it.

Why is that so? Every living being needs energy, just to stay alive. From a very basic point of view, what you essentially need to keep yourself alive is food, the nutritional value of which is measured in kcal which, in turn, is a measure for energy.  So we have to supply our body with energy if we want to stay on this planet.

The basic energy need of a human being is about 2000 kcal per day. This is an average value which may vary according to age, sex, physical activity etc. Our basic value is meant to be valid for no or little physical activity. Thus, for people who are physically active it may be significantly higher (30 – 50 % or more). Since in the energy business it is rather uncommon to use kcal as a unit we may remark here that the above-mentioned 2000 kcal are equivalent to 2.33 kWh. From this we may calculate that the annual energy needs of a human being are about 1 MWh, taking into account a slight level of physical activity.

However, even for a society where technology has not yet developed to the level we are used to, the energy requirement per capita may well exceed 1 MWh per year. For the sake of simplicity let us consider a human being living in the Middle Ages. This means that the technological standard of that society is still much lower than nowadays, whereas at the same time its living standard is much more sophisticated than the one of, say, a society of Stone Age people.

In the Middle Ages, the vast majority of people were living an agricultural life. Thus, their energy needs reflected their living conditions. The technology of that time made extensive use of animals which was essential in order to produce a sufficient amount of food. Needless to say that the animals themselves had to be fed, too, and were thus energy consumers. The most important labour animals in such a society are horses and cows (oxen). Since they are, in general, bigger and doing much more labour than the humans, they also require more energy. Let us assume that, on average, we have one cow or horse per human being. A horse requires about 12000 kcal (14 kWh) per day, and the same is true for a cow (ox). This corresponds to about six times the energy requirements of a human. A largely inactive horse will need some 5 MWh per year. In case the animal is used for labour purposes this value will increase dramatically.

In our simple model, the minimum energy needs of a human being (plus his/her labour animal) may be estimated to about 6 MWh per year. In practice, this value might be considerably higher (30 % or more). Life was not easy then and certainly more physically demanding than in our times.

What we have considered so far was a very basic life mostly devoted to producing food and satisfying the elementary needs only. In some parts of the world, however, an additional factor comes into play: heating. Especially during the winter and the colder seasons, people need to keep a certain temperature for survival. In order to get an idea how much energy we need for heating purposes we may take the corresponding value from Switzerland which is about 6.5 MWh per person and year. This is a modern value. Linking it to a society several centuries back we have to take into consideration that on the one hand people living centuries ago might have been happy at a lower average temperature than today. On the other hand, however, we may also consider that then heating was not as efficient as it is in our times. Thus, taking the present day values may be a justified approach as the correcting factors go into opposite directions and may cancel each other.

Putting everything together leaves us with an energy need of about 13 MWh per person and year in an environment with present day climatic conditions in central Europe. One should not forget that all those basic energy needs (with the notable exception of heating) may be coverd by solar energy. In our model society it´s the sun which makes the crops grow which, in turn, serve as essential food for both humans and animals.

It goes without saying that the average energy requirements per person will increase with technological progress. Not only do we produce a number of goods nowadays which simply were not existing in the distant past, but we also enjoy a higher level of mobility. Thus both the production of goods other than the ones needed for satisfying elementary surviving conditions and mobility lead to additional energy requirements.

The above considerations are far from being simply of an academic nature. We may compare our estimates with present day statistical data. Let us look at some countries with different economic development. Taking the UN figures for energy per capita from 2008 reveals the following (GDI = gross domestic income per person):

Zambia    6.9 MWh   (GDI: 950 USD)

Zimbabwe 8.9 MWh   (360 USD)

Paraguay   8.1 MWh   (2110 USD)

Mongolia   13.7 MWh  (1670  USD)

Romania   21.3 MWh   (8280 USD)

Uzbekistan   21.5 MWh   (910 USD)

UK     39.5  MWh  (46040 USD)

US   87.3 MWh   (47930  USD)

There is a clear correlation between the level of industrialization and energy consumption. In addition, there is a climatic factor which must not be neglected. As we climb up the economic ladder we require more and more extra energy.

However, by using energy in a smart and efficient way we may limit the extra requirements. The average energy consumption per capita in the UK corresponds roughly to the EU value (40.8 MWh). Whereas the GDI of a US citizen is only slightly higher than the one of a UK citizen, his/her energy consumption exceeds the one of a person living in UK more than twofold. Thus, energy efficiency in the US is only half as good as it is in the UK.

Where are the limits? On the one hand we have to live with the fact that getting wealthier comes at a price in terms of energy consumption, on the other hand we want to squeeze as much wealth as we can from every MWh. As I have discussed in some of my previous posts (here, here and here) there is a clear tendency to become more energy efficient. Extrapolating those tendencies may give us a clue where we are heading to.

Should Business Trips of Researchers Be Compensated for Their Climate Impact?

There is no doubt that business traveling contributes significantly to Co2 emissions. One of the largest groups of business travelers are researchers. In the following we will examine their contribution to carbon emissions in more detail and give an estimate how those emissions might be compensated.

According to Eurostat there are more than 2 million researchers in Europe. The vast majority of them are actively traveling to conferences, meetings etc, some of them very actively, making 10 or more trips a year. The most significant climate impact is to be expected by air travel. Staying on the conservative side, we estimate that each researcher is traveling by plane at least once a year for propfessional purposes. Thus, we have a minimum of 2 million business trips per year. That is a substantial number which, in turn, generates a huge amount of carbon emissions.

Currently, there is a discussion among several European countries to charge all airline travelers in order to compensate for the climate impact of flying. And indeed, there is widespread agreement in Europe as far as this topic is concerned.

However, it is a bit bizarre that, to my knowledge, most of the countries are not willing to set a good example by compensating the business trips of their employees with carbon charges. Since the vast majority of researchers are working in the public sector, there should be no problem to automatically compensate for their climate impact.

How much CO2 is emitted by those travels? Let us take the distance Berlin – Lisbon as a reference. Of course, many research trips will go over much longer distances (e.g. to US, Japan, etc.) , but some will also be shorter. During a round trip Berlin – Lisbon each passenger emits about half a ton of CO2. The corresponding carbon compensation cost would amount to some EUR 10.0 (USD 15.0). Once again we stay on the conservative side with our estimate.

Thus for some 2 million business trips per year the respective compensation cost would be of the order of EUR 20 million (USD 30  million). This is a very tiny amount compared to the total financial expenditure for research which in 2010 was more then EUR 245 billion. Thus carbon compensation of business flights of researchers would correspond to a mere 0.008 % of research expenditure.

We may conclude that compensating carbon emissions by research staff would come at a relatively low cost while at the same time setting a good example in order to promote climate policies.

Measuring Heat Flow

Measuring the flow of heat (or energy, in general) is a tricky task. Generally speaking, one has to know the temperature on both sides of a wall, window etc. The temperature difference provides a measure of the drop in temperature and, consequently, the flow of energy through the object. So in principle one has to keep an eye on both sides of the object in question.

But what happens if only one side is accessible, like in a storage tank where measuring the temperature on the inner side of the vessel proves to be very difficult if not impossible? So how much energy does a hot water storage lose?

Luckily, there are solutions for measuring the heat flow by using a simple gadget. With a thermal flux sensor one may easily determine how much energy goes through a wall or a window or any other object. The sensor is attached to one side of the object and yields a signal which is directly proportional to the heat passing through the object and thus makes it possible to determine how much energy actually penetrates a window, wall, etc.

Performing such a measurement is easy and exciting as it may reveal some unexpected features of energy leaving or entering a dwelling.

We have performed a series of measurements in a house in Sweden over a couple of days and discovered some really interesting features. And yet, no sophisticated equipment was necessary. A heat flow sensor and a multimeter, that´s all it takes. The measurements took place during the last week of February 2012. Let us have a look at the results before we start discussing them in more detail (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1 Measuring the heat flow through a window.

The red curve shows the heat flow through a window facing a westerly direction. The outside temperature was approximately 7 °C in the morning. During the entire morning until 12:30 hrs the heat flow was relatively stable at about 3 W/sqm. Then shortly after 13:00 the sun slowly started finding its way through the window leading to a massive change in energy flow. In fact, we even observed an inversion of the energy flux, i.e. more energy was entering the living room than leaving it. This situation when the sun was delivering free energy through the window lasted until 15:30. Then it disappeared behind a nearby forest, and the energy flux got back to its normal behaviour which was governed by the temperature difference between the living room and the exterior. It goes without saying that during those hours of direct sun exposure the heating could effectively be switched off.

During the late afternoon a significant drop in outside temperature occurred (blue curve) while simultaneously the flow of energy was rapidly increasing reaching a plateau at almost 15 W/sqm after 18:00 hrs. Since at that time it was already dark outside the heat flow was no longer overlapped by indirect solar irradiation.

Now we are in a position to calculate the net heat flow during the measurement period. The heat loss was strongest in the evening when the outside temperature dropped drastically. During the early afternoon we had a net inflow of energy. The overall heat flow balance amounts to 0.063 kWh/sqm going through the window. Thus, by using relatively simple means we could perform a thermal analysis of a window.

The experimental setup is shown in Fig. 2.

Fig. 2  Measuring the heat flow via a heat flow sensor

More information and/or quotations please contact:  manfred.jacobi (at) gmail.com

Energy Efficiency – Potential Household Savings in Sweden

In a recent report we analysed the savings potential of the Swedish housing sector. Sweden has committed herself to save some 12.8 Mtoe of primary energy up to 2020. Taking into account that the country used some 51.4 Mtoe in 2010, and with a consumption goal in 2020 of about 41 Mtoe, this means that savings of some 20 % within the remaining decade are at stake.

One of the biggest savings potentials is supposed to be hidden in the building stock. Household energy use accounts for 23 % of the total final energy consumption in Sweden and the largest part of it is eaten up by heating purposes. In the following we look into the consumption figures for heating and warm water in Swedish households. The raw data for our investigation have been taken from Eurostat, Statistics Sweden and the Swedish Energy Agency.

The average energy consumption in kWh/sqm according to year of construction is distributed as follows:

Fig. 1 Average annual energy consumption for heating and warm water in Sweden.

The latest construction types use significantly less energy per sqm than the older ones. This is in line with our expectations. For single dwellings average consumption has dropped by some 40 % from 153 kWh/sqm to 91 kWh/sqm. For multi-dwellings the decrease was not as dramatic. Nevertheless, average consumption went down from its maximum value of 170 kWh/sqm to 125 kWh/sqm (26 %).

The consumption figures per category are displayed in Fig. 2.

Fig. 2 Energy consumption for heating and warm water by year of construction.

Taking the latest construction technology as a reference, we may calculate how much energy could be saved if the entire building stock was refurbished according to that standard. The results are shown in Fig. 3.

Fig. 3 Calculated savings potential by year of construction.

As regards the single housing sector refurbishing the oldest part of it would account for 50 % of the total savings potential of that sector. Obviously, the younger part of the building stock would only contribute very little (2 %) to the entire potential.  In total, we could expect to save some 9.9 TWh for single dwellings and 5.5 TWh for multi-dwellings. Thus the entire savings potential from the housing sector would amount to 15.4 TWh which corresponds to 24 % of all energy used for heating and warm water.

This is an impressive number although in terms of Mtoe its equivalent is a mere 1.3 Mtoe. Thus we may conclude that renovating the Swedish housing stock would provide savings of about 10 % of the entire reduction goal set by the Swedish government (12.8 Mtoe). Having said that we have to admit that the biggest part of the task is still to be done.