A Tale of Two Islands



Here are two islands. Both are British. Off each island are good quality tidal flows. One island, however, has particularly strong tidal flows, getting on for as strong as one of the world’s strongest flows, in the Pentland Firth in Scotland.

Both islands are now looking to develop marine farms harnessing those flows to produce electricity for the National Grid. Both islands need to connect to the National Grid via a subsea interconnector. One island has an existing but underpowered interconnector: the other is at an advanced state of negotiation to build a powerful interconnector that links the island to France and the UK, and links its tidal stream array programme into the grid in the process.

Both islands have got really good schemes for tidal stream power, but one, perhaps because of the enormous potential of their offshore tidal race, is much larger than the other. In fact ten times as large, with the possibility of a further tenfold increase in capacity.

So far so good, eh? Well here it stops, because one island, because of its location and history, looks like it will be denied access to the Contract for Difference it will need to get its tidal flow scheme under way, even though there looks to be scope in future auctions for ‘further from market’ CfD allocations. The other will not, and I hope it succeeds shortly in gaining a supportive CfD allocation.

Oh all right, that’s the end of the mystification. The two islands are the Isle of Wight, British through and through, and looking to develop a 30MW array 2.5km off the south of the island in a joint development between Perpetuus Energy and the Isle of Wight council. Good for them: it looks like it will work really well.

The other one is Alderney. Alderney Renewable energy are promoting the FAB Link, one of the interconnectors identified by the Government as promoting greater resilience for the UK system, and proceeding well through the process of gaining agreements with Ofgem, National Grid and with their French equivalents. The Link would be from a site neat Cherbourg to Alderney, and then to a landing point near Exeter.  Feeding into this could be the product of the Alderney Race tidal array, initially comprising a consented 150 turbines about a mile off Alderney, and coming to about 300MW but with the prospect of an eventual 3GW deployment – which would be about the installed capacity of Hinkley C power station (if it gets built, that is). In fact, its initial deployment and future potential is in some ways similar to the much more trumpeted Swansea Bay tidal lagoon, which will have an initial installed capacity in the first lagoon of about the same amount, but will benefit from larger and cheaper subsequent installations. And on the basis of the way things are going, and especially if Hinkley C doesn’t get built or is further delayed beyond 2025, we surely need both schemes to get going. Alderney, by the way, could deploy from about 2020, using pretty uncomplicated technology – proven technology turbines sunk on sturdy supports to the seabed.

So what’s the problem? Well I mention the two islands because, as it happens the Isle of Wight is a county authority and really ‘British’ (and therefore gets to bid for a CfD) whereas Alderney, not far away, counts as British but not British, in that it is a ‘crown dependency’, and therefore doesn’t get to bid for a CfD because that privilege is reserved for, well you know, proper British places. In fact, I understand that the Secretary of State has written to Alderney Energy telling them that there is no go at the moment on a possible CfD because of the not-really-British problem. The fact that the development could have a huge impact on the UK’s electricity market and that Alderney WANT the power to go to Britain because they are, well, British as far as they are concerned is, I suppose, beside the point.

I know that DECC have thought for a few minutes about the issue, and indeed, when it appeared that some developments in Ireland might produce captured power for use in Britain (but based on wind blowing in Ireland) they actually wrote a consultative document on it (here), but nothing has transpired and the issue remains in limbo. So much so that there is clear danger that one of the single most potentially beneficial renewable energy projects there is for the UK based on one of the most potent and reliable sources of renewable energy which just so happens inconveniently to be sited off a crown dependency might not happen:  because it is not possible to transport the power of the Alderney race to, say, three miles off the coast of the Isle of Wight.

The Green Gas Book

Yesterday we launched The Green Gas Book.

The Green Gas Book is a series of essays exploring the development of “green gas” (or more accurately, “green gases”), written by experts in the field. This book looks at the range of those green gases – biomethane, hydrogen, bio-substitute natural gas (bioSNG) and biopropane – their uses, benefits and potential challenges in their application. While no one of these green gases is the perfect solution, we may think of them as “10% solutions,” which, together with developments such as district heating schemes, would go a long way towards helping us decarbonise the heat sector.

This book was commissioned by Labour’s frontbench energy team and has been produced in co-ordination with the PLP’s energy and climate change committee. We hope that it can serve as an important contribution to policy discussion.

You can view an online version of the book here, or request a hard copy by emailing alan.whitehead.mp [AT] parliament.uk

Green Gas Book cover

CCS – Norway to the rescue?

This piece originally appeared in BusinessGreen on 9th May 2016

I’m still coming to terms with the supreme act of folly that constituted the government’s recent decision to ditch the entire carbon capture and storage programme just at the moment when the two projects that could have led to early full scale capture and sequestration demonstration were about to submit their detailed proposals for the use of the funding for the projects. And, in one instance at least, with indications of considerable international investment for future development in the pipeline.

The National Audit Office has launched an investigation into the decision to end the competition early, at the request of the Shadow Secretary for Energy and Climate Change, Lisa Nandy. However, with one stroke of a pen, the prospect of becoming a world leader in CCS technology with all its consequential advantages for future supply has gone, leaving the UK with a few million pounds invested in some very marginal research efforts, and precious little else.

Despite this, the government is still making generally supportive pro-CCS noises, although that has not extended as far as producing a revised CCS strategy which was the subject of some amendments moved by the opposition during the passage of the Energy Bill, and rejected by the government. Activity has been restricted to the insertion into the Bill of some mildly more favourable approaches towards the prospects for a future North Sea sequestration industry, and the establishment of a CCS task force under the redoubtable chairmanship of Lord Ron Oxburgh.

So we might say that CCS, as far as the UK is concerned, is not dead, but merely resting. But we really do need some kind of roadmap as to what direction UK CCS is likely to take now that the pilot projects are gone. Indeed, we already know that the text of the Fifth Carbon Budget – which the Government has to respond to and (hopefully) accept as our future climate change action framework – will contain some very strong assumptions about the relationship between effectively operating CCS by the early 2030s and the maintenance after that point of viable decarbonisation plans.

I do not know what the Oxburgh task force is going to say, but one area they will undoubtedly be thinking about is whether we can pull out at least some of the momentum from previous programmes by perhaps sharing the load for full CCS with one or more international partners. Here, by coincidence comes a prospect for just such a possible international partnership right in our backyard, or more precisely in the Norwegian zone of the North Sea oil fields.

I recently met with Statoil, the Norwegian state energy company with long experience in CCS activity, and at the meeting, they outlined to me a project they were embarking on with the support and commissioning of the Norwegian government, namely to identify and establish a repository from among the depleted fields relatively close to the Norwegian coast. They are looking at several depleted fields and will be reporting formally back to the Norwegian government in June.

The government itself has said that it wants to get at least one fully operating full scale plant up and running by 2020. Sequestration in the first instance would be by ship, not by pipeline, and the facility is envisaged in the first instance as one to sequester emissions from Norwegian heavy industry, but the potential is far larger than that: it really calls out for some international collaboration to establish the full chain of capture, transport and sequestration, with at least the latter two being substantially de-risked by the activities that are already in the planning stage. It opens the prospect, with such co-operation, of the UK concentrating on establishing capture clusters that are within reach (by ship) of the chosen Norwegian field and are capable of exploring the commercial aspects of such clusters (such as hydrogen production and possible enhanced oil recovery) whilst a partner looks after the potentially more tricky issues around transportation and sequestration.

It would require some investment by the UK. But it would probably need far less investment than envisaged in the original plans for the pilot projects, and would, for that smaller level of investment, revitalise the CCS momentum in the UK. I would like to think that the government is, at this moment, actively engaged in the process of early phone calls that could give this collaboration life: I will certainly be pressing ministers to do so at an early date. After all, if a stroke of a pen can cut our CCS programme, the dial of a phone might equally revive it again: well, that and an indication from Treasury that the reinvestment of even a fraction of the money captured and sequestered from the pilot projects might be on the cards. How about it? Tomorrow, perhaps?