Thursday, November 03, 2016

Loose Ends and Warm Homes

Hear the podcast at

Hello, this is Anthony Day with your Sustainable Futures Report for Friday 4th November.

This week we follow up on a number of stories and introduce some new ones. On the podcast you'll hear Donald Trump on Climate Change and his environmental awards. ( He has lots of environmental awards and it's not climate change it's weather like we've had for millions of years.) This time next week we’ll know exactly what he’s going to be doing with those awards. But first, Client Earth had another day in court, and Spain is set to get hotter - much hotter. On the energy front, Big Energy Saving Week had little impact, Ceres Power offers another route to a hydrogen future, we look at how Canadians are holding on to heat and what’s that out there in Swansea Bay? Finally, how well is the world doing on renewables in 2016? And sorry, Prime Minister Theresa May, the UK isn’t doing nearly as well as you’d like us to think.

Client Earth
I reported two weeks ago that Client Earth, a group of campaigning lawyers, had taken the government to court. On Thursday, yesterday, ClientEarth won its High Court case against the Government over its failure to tackle illegal air pollution across the UK.

Mr Justice Garnham agreed with ClientEarth that the Environment Secretary had failed to take measures that would bring the UK into compliance with the law “as soon as possible” and said that ministers knew that over optimistic pollution modelling was being used.
The case is the second the government has lost on its failure to clean up air pollution in two years. In April 2015, ClientEarth won a Supreme Court ruling which ordered ministers to come up with a plan to bring air pollution down within legal limits as soon as possible. Those plans were so poor that ClientEarth took the government back to the High Court in a Judicial Review.

ClientEarth CEO James Thornton said: “I am pleased that the judge agrees with us that the government could and should be doing more to deal with air pollution and protecting people’s health. That’s why we went to court.
“I challenge Theresa May to take immediate action now to deal with illegal levels of pollution and prevent tens of thousands of additional early deaths in the UK. The High Court has ruled that more urgent action must be taken. Britain is watching and waiting, Prime Minister.”

Don’t hold your breath. Oh I don’t know. That might be the safest option.

Desertification of the Mediterranean Region

A new report featured in the magazine Nature this week warns that large parts of Southern Europe and North Africa could become a desert by the end of the century. 
“Everything is moving in parallel. Shrubby vegetation will move into the deciduous forests, while the forests move to higher elevation in the mountains,” says Joel Guiot, a palaeoclimatologist at the European Centre for Geoscience Research and Education in Aix-en-Provence, France, and lead author of the study. Cities like Lisbon in Portugal and Seville in Spain will be surrounded by desert. Patrick Gonzalez, principal climate-change scientist at the US National Park Service based at the University of California, Berkeley says, “This study shows how essential it is for nations to meet their Paris commitments.”

The situation in southern Europe is similar to the US southwest, Gonzalez points out: temperature increases drive droughts. More carbon dioxide in the atmosphere means rising temperatures, less precipitation and then more drying that leads to desertification.
Humans may adapt. After all, northern europeans have always been travelling south to the sun. But plants and animals will find it more difficult and agricultural yields will fall and eventually fall below the level of viability. People will move. There are already tensions in Europe as migrants flee from wars in Africa and the Middle East. We could soon see migrants from much closer to home. Of course in the UK we can pull up our drawbridge  and reinforce our border controls, but is that a moral solution or even a practical solution?

And so to energy. I spoke last week about decarbonising the transport fleet and reported that some predict that by 2050 about 30% of UK vehicles will be powered by hydrogen fuel cells, but that’s not all that fuel cells could be used for. 

British company Ceres Power describes itself as “a world leading developer of next generation fuel cell technology”

The company has just announced that the latest iteration of its SteelCell platform (version 4) has been released to customers on time and on budget,
Mark Selby, Chief Technology Officer at Ceres Power said:
“A year ago Ceres Power committed to delivering SteelCell version 4, and the latest advancements successfully incorporated are testament to the team’s ability to execute. The primary objective to reduce manufacturing costs was achieved through removal of over 20% of the processing steps and improved material utilisation. The performance of the platform has been further improved to deliver in excess of 50% net electrical efficiency in prime power applications.”

The company claims that  its Steel Cell is unique in the fact that it operates at temperatures of 500-600 °C. This allows the use of low cost steel and abundant ceramics with cost-effective mass manufacturing, at the same time as delivering high performance. A single cell can power a low-energy light bulb. Approximately 100 cells are combined to create a stack. One stack could supply up to 90% of a home’s electricity needs and all of its hot water. The Steel Cell is completely scalable, for example 200 stacks could supply a large office, apartment block or supermarket.

Fuel cells run on hydrogen, which can be created using excess energy from wind turbines, such as when there are high winds but low demand. Cells can also use natural gas. The outputs are electricity, heat and water. 

Fuel cells are another example of a low-carbon technology which can help us meet our energy needs.

Meanwhile, in Missed Opportunity Corner…
Big Energy Saving Week is a joint initiative between Citizens Advice, the Energy Saving Trust and the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. To be honest, the website - a subset of the citizens advice site - is disappointing and seems to be aimed at sponsors or partners rather than consumers who are the intended audience. Most pages have not been updated to say that BESW is now on; they talk about what will be happening and what partners can do to prepare for it. There’s a link to the Big Energy Saving Network. That has a list of events - again for organisers - which all took place in September. There are 9 events listed for consumers,  but the most recent of these was over in October. Back to the main site. There’s a link to events here, but it seems to be a page for organisers to register their events. No, wait, there’s a link marked “You can see a map of all events here.” Yes, another click and here’s a map of the UK covered in blue dots. Find your location on the map, click on a dot and there’s the information. Unfortunately the information is too wide for the window, so you have to keep scrolling from side to side. It’s not very user-friendly. And isn’t there some rule about minimising the number of clicks from the home page to the desired information?
The home page of the site has resources to help you check what you’re paying for energy and guidance on how to switch providers. And here we also have: “Simple steps for making your home more energy efficient” Ten top tips, but there’s not much new here. “If you have a timer on your central heating system…if you have a hot water tank…” What? You mean some people don’t have timers? I thought timers were obsolete anyway. Haven’t they heard of programmers which will switch the heating on and off up to six times a day with a different pattern at weekends? It’s not futuristic - I’ve had mine for nearly 10 years. Haven’t they heard of combi boilers which deliver as much hot water as you need on demand but don’t have a tank full of water which needs heating up all the time? Ditto. Don’t mention home automation! 
The most important message from the site - and this is serious - is “Did you know that approximately 33 per cent of heat is lost through the walls of your home, and 26 per cent through the roof?” If we can control these major losses we can make a dramatic difference to the nation’s energy consumption, principally gas, and improve both our balance of payments and our energy security. Previous governments tried to achieve this through the Green Deal, a scheme which had all the right ideas about installing energy saving measures but basically never worked. The problem of wasted energy has certainly not gone away. Sadly it doesn't look as though Big Energy Saving Week will do much to tackle it.

Talking of heat, they don’t waste it in Canada. Listener Eric de Kemp from Ottawa sent me a link to an article in Natural Resources Canada about the Drake Landing Solar Community.It’s at Okotoks in Alberta. which is further south on the globe than London, England, but the continental climate means that conditions are much harsher. The average low temperature is below zero for seven months of the year, and falls to an average minus 14℃ in January, but the community uses solar thermal energy and seasonal heat storage to meet over 90% of its space heating needs.

There are 52 suburban detached family homes of approximately 220m2 in the community. They have higher insulation values than Canadian standards, with low-e argon-filled windows and improved airtightness. This reduces the space heating load by some 30%. Behind each row of houses is a row of garages, and on these is mounted a row of solar collectors. They are steeper than you might expect, to maximise performance at this latitude. Alberta gets long summer evenings which means it gets more sun than Florida. The collectors heat water which is pumped into the BTES, the borehole thermal energy store. This is a circular area 35m across containing 144 boreholes 35m deep. Pipes in these boreholes transfer the heat to the soil, and in winter the process is reversed. Hot water is pumped to the houses and each house uses an air handler, which combines the space heating function with that of continuous ventilation using a heat recovery ventilator (HRV). 

This district heating system is owned by the site developers, who have built the Energy Centre which includes short-term thermal storage tanks, the pumps and an emergency back-up gas boiler. (Not used very much) The homeowners pay for their heating at a rate roughly equivalent to the cost of natural gas heating. That revenue pays for ongoing operating expenses, and Natural Resources Canada has been covering the cost of ongoing monitoring and analysis as part of a larger research project on seasonal heat storage. 
The project development team understood from the outset that the Drake Landing system was too small to be economically competitive with the extremely low cost  (some would say artificially low cost) of natural gas. However, subsequent feasibility studies show that larger systems of similar design can deliver solar energy at about half of the cost compared to Drake Landing, and additional work is underway to improve cost performance further. 

If they can do this in Canada, think what we could do in the UK where it doesn’t get nearly as cold. Space heating is a major energy user. Solar heat is another way of achieving the comfort levels we expect, but with no greenhouse gases and no imported gas or other fuel. The cost of the infrastructure has to be counted, but the low-carbon benefits have to be counted too.

Last week I promised you an update on Swansea Bay. Tidal Lagoon Power plans to build a barrier across Swansea Bay in South Wales to hold back the tide and release the water through turbines to generate electricity. Predictable power twice a day, no carbon emissions and no fuel costs. The government made the construction of the Swansea Bay lagoon a manifesto commitment  at the last election. But now they seem less sure and they’ve asked for another value for money report.

The project will cost £1.3bn, most of it spent in Wales and the rest of the UK. That’s less than a tenth of the cost of Hinkley C, the planned nuclear power station just across the Bristol Channel. The output would of course be very much lower than Hinkley C which is planned to produce 8% of the nation’s electricity. However, with similar lagoons at Cardiff and Newport and in Cumbria and Somerset the total output could be the same. The cost of construction would be significantly lower, there would be no emissions, no hazardous waste to dispose of and the life of the plant would be very much longer.

The key obstruction to progress seems to be the negotiation of the strike price. This is the guaranteed price for the electricity produced by scheme. Initially it was estimated at £168 per megawatt, which is very much higher than the figure of £90 agreed for Hinkley C, which itself is at least twice the current wholesale price. However, if the government takes into account the longer life of Swansea Bay, expected to exceed 100 years, and offers a guaranteed price for 90 years, then the figure can be cut to a comparable £89.90. A spokesman for Tidal Lagoon Power told the BBC’s File on Four programme that building the Cardiff Bay tidal lagoon as well could bring the cost down to £60. Of course subsidies would be involved, estimated at 30p-40p on a bill, but what price energy security?

The government seems have an irrational objection to renewables. It may please Tory voters in the short term, but it seems symptomatic of the lack of a long-term energy strategy.

Renewables 2016, the latest report from REN21, looks at how nations across the world are dealing with renewable energy.

REN21, the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century, is the global renewable energy policy multi-stakeholder network that connects a wide range of key actors - governments, corporates, interest groups and NGOs. REN21’s goal is to facilitate knowledge exchange, policy development and joint action towards a rapid global transition to renewable energy. REN21 is an international non-profit association and is based at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Paris, France. 

REN21 has just published its 2016 Global Status Report,. 

The summary of key findings covers all uses of renewable energy - power, heating and cooling and transport, and all sources from solar PV, solar thermal and wind to biomass, tides and geothermal. It describes 2015 as a remarkable year, despite hard competition from a very low oil price. The graphs throughout the document show an upward trend - in installed capacity, investment and consumption. Incidentally, Europe bucks the global trend. New investment in renewable power and fuels in Europe has declined since 2011and by 2015 had fallen by half. All other areas of the world show a steadily rising trend.

The US and China are top of most tables. The UK comes in at number 4 for investment in renewable power and fuels in 2015 and also at number 4 for solar PV capacity. It’s not placed in the top 5 on the other 23 criteria. Remember, all of this is based on 2015 data. Quite a lot has happened in the 10 months since then.

The summary report is well worth a browse.Find it at

I reported last week that Theresa May had announced that the UK was the second best country in the world for tackling climate change. That may be so, but on the renewables front the news is not so good. Each year consultancy EY, formerly Ernst & Young, publishes its Renewable Energy Country Attractiveness Index. 
The purpose of the index is to identify countries where investment in renewables is most likely to succeed. The index is calculated taking into account factors including government policy, availability of natural resources, infrastructure and finance, track record and project pipeline. China, the US, Germany and Japan have remained in the top 4 for the last three years. In 2014 the UK was at number 7. Last year it slipped to number 8 and in 2016 it slid down to number 14. Commenting on the UK’s slide the report states:  “Uncertainty caused by Brexit, the closure of the Department of Energy & Climate Change and the approval of Hinkley Point C all dealt a sizeable blow to the UK renewables sector. Some respite came when the Government approved 1.8GW Hornsea 2, which will be the world’s largest offshore wind farm if completed as planned.” This really only confirms what we already knew: that the British government is hostile to most forms of renewable energy.

With the approval of Heathrow expansion and defeat in the courts over clean air, is this anti-renewables policy still tenable?


“Ultra-low cost renewables are on the horizon”, says Lord Turner

“We need negative emissions to avoid 2C warming” says Lord Stern

Listen up, Theresa!

Yes, that’s it for yet another week and this is Anthony Day thanking you for listening. You can find out more and access other podcasts on sustainability and other topics at the Better World Podcast Collective site. You can find it at Find the text of this podcast at where I’ve included links to my sources.

Your feedback to is always eagerly received. 

I’ll be back next week. By then we’ll know who’s going to be the next president of the United States. We’ll know what hope there is for the Paris Agreement and for all the other measures for the safety of our planet. I’ll have news of planned interviews and news of… well I’ll let you know next week.

Until then this is Anthony Day. 

Bye for now!

No comments: