Monday, April 1, 2013

Shale gas battles - and local power

Shale gas is the way forward, the boom it will create can fund the shift to renewables and it will provide the power for CCGTs to back up variable wind. That’s one view (maybe DECCs), although there are more extreme variants (maybe the Treasury’s)- it will avoid the need to bother with renewables, if linked to CCS.  A rival to both these views (from fundamentalists greens) is that as a fossil fuel, with environmental and safety issues surrounding fracking, it had no place in a green energy mix. We should be cutting all fossil fuel use-via renewables and energy efficiency. A new dash for gas will just delay that. A pragmatic green variant on that is the vjew that, if we need gas to backup wind, then what’s wrong with AD biogas?

However, really it’s more complex than any of these views suggest  (the academic view!)   It is not clear how much shale gas there is, or how much it will cost, or whether we will need a lot of backup for wind beyond what exist, given a bit of replacement of old plants. After all there is storage, smart grid DSM, imports via interconnectors. If we ignore or limit all these, then yes we may need more CCGT and more gas  at some point, but not for a while- after 2030 maybe. We would also need more CCGT if we opted for wind –to-gas, i,e. hydrogen production from excess wind, but again not maybe until after 2030.
Then again all this sits in a wider frame of the debate over electricity v gas.   DECC seems to want is to phase out most of the use of gas for heating, replacing it with (excess) electricity from wind and nuclear, powering heat pumps.  You can see why the gas lobby may want to  fight back and call for more electricity from gas.  Some greens would also  like to see ‘green gas’ being the main distribution vector, not electricity - since it can be stored, and the gas main already transmits four times more  energy than the power grid, with lower loses.   They would also like to see heat being piped around from biomass fired CHP plants
Ah, but then we come to the reality check (the pessimists view). There may not be enough green gas around to do much of this, given land use and cost constraints, and renewables may not expand enough to matter much. Nuclear neither.  So, as old coal and gas and nuclear plants close, we will need some new gas plants and shale gas to run them. 
More positively (the optimists view) all these problems could be resolved if we just accelerated renewables, CHP/DH and energy efficiency. Wind, wave and tidal can provide most of the power. Biomass, geothermal and solar fired CHP/DH, with backup heat stores, can help balance variable wind and replace gas for heating. Efficiency and smart grids can tame (and retime) demand. And to top up we have wind to gas and supergrid imports. The only issue then is can we move fast enough. But that still leave open the question of  how many CCGT we would need!. Maybe not a lot. Unless you want them for insurance-, and to leave shale gas where it is, as a strategic reserve!
You could argue that if Carbon Capture and Storage  was ready then maybe we could think about more gas and even shale gas, but it does not look very likely for some while. The UK first attempt at finding a competitor for its £1bn CCS prize failed miserably. It ‘s now having a second go.  European plans for  CCS have also been much delayed and, if they do finally get going on a significant scale, will require a network of 22,000 kilometres of CO2-pipelines to be built across Europe, to transport 1200 million tons of CO2 per year by 2050, at a cost of €50 billion. This is conclusion of an international consortium of companies and research institutions, CO2Europipe,
Nevertheless it if often claimed that that without CCS, fighting climate change will be much harder . James Smith, chair of the Carbon Trust and former chair of Shell UK, wrote in the Guardian (17th Dec) that, around the world,  ‘like it or not, relatively cheap coal and gas will be the major fuels for the next few decades in generating electricity. Unless CCS is used to stop the resultant carbon dioxide getting into the atmosphere, man-made climate change cannot be contained’.
However, Brad Page from the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute  says that it’s unlikely there will be 130 in CCS projects in operation globally by 2020, the number his organisation. But there might be some: ‘ I think you’ll see by 2015 16 plants’ and ‘ we’re probably on track for 20 by 2020’.
According to Vaclav Smil ‘To sequester just 25% of carbon dioxide emitted in 2005 by large stationary sources of the gas (9.6 G cu m at the supercritical density of 0.468 g cu cm), we would have to create a system whose annual throughput (by volume) would be slightly more than twice that of the world's crude-oil industry, an undertaking that would take many decades to accomplish.’ (Nature 453, 154 8 May 2008)
Should we really bother? Why not get stuck into the renewables and energy efficiency?
It is true that, despite having the best wind, wave and tidal resources by far in the EU, we are lamentably behind in developing them. While the leaders are at 30 and 40%  (of total energy coming from renewables) we are at about 4%, only just beating Malta and Luxembourg.  See
It’s embarrassing and shameful. But if the government doesn’t want to, then maybe we had better do it ourselves. That is what is helping push to government on in Germany; they are now 600 local energy co-ops there. We could do the same. Last year’s report ‘Co-operative Energy in the UK’ written by Rebecca Willis and Jenny Willis provides some inspiring UK case studies,
And 'Community Energy in the UK' by Seyfang, Park and Smith (2012)

Also The Rough Guide to Community Energy