That onshore / offshore UK / not UK plan in full

On the subject of interconnectors, I had a presentation made to me last week of a scheme called ‘Greenwire’ that is … er… about interconnectors but it isn’t. It’s also about offshore wind, but it isn’t. It’s also about on-shore wind, but isn’t really either. What it does seem to do is deliver possibly 3gw of installed capacity of renewables to the UK’s arsenal of low-carbon power, so the hand of the developer should be bitten off  just for that, but I suspect there will be a lot of protocol to be worked through first before any hands can be proffered up for biting.

So let’s see if I can describe the plan in one breath. It essentially entails developing  up to 3gw installed wind power at about twenty sites in the centre of Ireland. These sites are connected between themselves and then onto two large interconnectors  of 2.5gw capacity running across the Irish Sea to land in north and south Wales, and from thence feed into the Grid.  Good news, apparently: the UK gets two new interconnectors.  But… this possibility is for the future: in the immediate term the wind farms only would be connected to the interconnectors and not to the Irish Grid. That is, they would exclusively provide power for the UK, which is why I have described it as I have.

It is,  in essence a large offshore wind farm, with landing interconnectors of shorter distance than those that will be landing round three wind farm power from the Dogger bank. But of course the offshore wind farm is on shore: just not our on-shore.  And because it will in the first instance be connected exclusively into the UK, it will perform exactly the function that a large round three wind farm does, except that the power can be delivered, it is estimated at about two-thirds of the cost:  a little higher in price than UK onshore turbines, but much cheaper than ‘proper’ offshore.

So now to the protocol: would it be ‘imported’ power, like any import from a Norwegian or Icelandic interconnector might be? Clearly not, since it is not , as it were, touching the ground anywhere else other than the UK, although other, future supplies through the interconnector would be. So if it isn’t would it qualify for UK ROCs, or later for CfDs?  I would have thought so, except that, as matters stand it can’t since the ROC regime specifically excludes reward to power sourced beyond UK boundaries.  But if it did qualify, what kind of ROC/CfD would fit the bill? It is offshore , so would it get 2 ROCs? Probably not, because it … er… isn’t eventually actually offshore. But then it lands on the coast, so it must be. And it is more expensive to deliver, because it is landed, so perhaps 0.9 ROC wouldn’t be appropriate. My head hurts. I would think that a smart government might provide for some intermediate system to accommodate it. And there is some very, very buried indication that government might be thinking about this. This is what appears on p88 of the CFD Operational Framework document:

“CfDs may also be used to support generation that is located outside of the UK should the Government make the decision to do so. Before taking that decision, consideration would be given to how the CfD could apply to low-carbon generating plant located outside of the UK“.

The Irish government certainly is:  here’s what the Irish Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte said on May 28th:

“Given the scale of our wind resources, in the medium term we could be exporting wind energy on a scale that matches the total electricity consumption of the country. “We use 6 to 7 Gigawatts ourselves each year and I believe we could be exporting the same quantum to the UK and beyond in the coming years.”

Quite whether this means a ‘captured’ export remains  to be fully clarified, and there is at first thought, something odd about planting large number of turbines on someone else’s land and then taking all the product – but then I’ve just advocated doing almost that with Iceland’s geothermal energy, so there isn’t really a difference in principle. It would be interesting to see whether this sort of proposal gets the support of the 101 Conservative anti-winders. Is onshore wind OK so long as it’s someone else’s onshore wind?

I think that the bottom line of all this would be that the UK would gain two substantial interconnectors and a very large secure and permanent addition to low carbon capacity, probably well before 2020 so we should go for it. We just need to lock several very smart DECC officials in a room with wet towels wrapped round their heads to work out the details.

Politics in the Goldfish Bowl

Does this remind you of anyone?

Here’s how green politics works now in our ruling coalition.  We’ve just had two good examples of said politics at work this weekend, so it’s not a bad sample to look at.

‘Conservatory Tax’

Story is started by some of the madder / climate change denying newspapers that you are going to have to have ‘up to £10,000’ of  insulation and energy efficiency work done on your house if you replace your boiler or add a conservatory.  The fact that this is not true, that the proposals as they stand would not cover conservatories but only home extensions, and that the works consequent on a new boiler would amount to perhaps £300 financeable under the ‘Green Deal’ doesn’t really count for much when a good story is at stake.  The claims then migrate to the Sunday broadsheets, which are full of nameless Tories briefing that ‘it will be stopped’ (whatever it actually is).  No-one stands up for the real proposals which are modest and sensible, and have, by the way been previously advised by the Climate Change Committee itself, which has been concerned that, without widespread but relatively cheap home insulation improvements over the next few years, many of the projected savings in energy use (and hence adherence to climate change targets) would literally go out of the window. Indeed, they are placed firmly at the door of favourite man to hate right now, yes the man who as the broadsheets serially reminded us ‘resigned as Energy Secretary to fight a court case that he perverted the course of justice’ – Chris Huhne.  So it can’t ever have been a good idea can it?

Roll forward a couple of days:  No 10 sniffs the air, and realises that there could be a problem.  Cue David Cameron, who we are rapidly realising, has the attention span of a goldfish, to opine that he ‘didn’t understand how it got into the consultation document in the first place’ (your Government put it there, Dave) that it is ‘bonkers’ and ‘it will not happen’. [‘And, another thing about this that’s very important is…oh look, there’s a really juicy worm over there….what were you saying?’]  So that’s the end of a policy that actually was quite well thought out, joins up existing programmes with some added value and potentially contributes substantially towards energy efficiency and emissions targets.  Pathetic really.

Hats off, incidentally to the Times environment correspondent Charles Clover (£), who did produce a very good op-ed piece about the policy over the weekend. But that was on p. 23 of the Sunday Times and not p.2, so it doesn’t count.

On-shore wind turbines

Also the subject of some rather longer term briefing and destabilisation by the same group of Conservatives who, probably, have been briefing about the so-called Conservatory Tax.  Energy Minister Greg Barker, over the same weekend  appeared to give an interview to one of the same broadsheets  (the Sunday Times) suggesting that there is to be a ‘change in policy’ on wind turbines, since ‘the wind we need’ onshore is already being built developed or in planning.

No such thing, of course, since the policy of having a large number of turbine applications in the planning, development or construction phase  (almost 7300) sufficient to make onshore winds planned contribution to 2020 renewable energy targets remains exactly on track.  As does the present policy of equivocating on what happens AFTER 2020, where there is precious little indication of what support or assistance will be available to onshore wind to enable the industry to plan for a regular flow of work over the longer term. That is a problem for future investment, but not one for the next stage of on-shore wind development. Everything remains exactly as it is.  But Greg, who does pass the goldfish test, will no doubt be pleased about the headline ‘no more windfarms’ he achieved with his obfuscatory interview. Indeed, he tweeted on Monday about the ‘spurious ST headline’ so he knows what this is about.

And the moral of all this? Well, Greg Barker looks like he is a bit smarter than some in keeping policies intact.  But the fact of the matter is that the Government as a whole are now buckling seriously and possibly catastrophically in the face of some concerted mischief making on green policies by an alliance of disgruntled cabinet ministers, climate change deniers in the press and many of its own backbenchers who think all this is a costly mistake and wish it had all never happened.  Not a good weekend at all for the ‘Greenest Government ever.’

There’s inefficient, and then there’s really inefficient

The one hundred and six mostly Tory MPs who think wind power is a bad idea have had their day in the Sunday Telegraph, and new  Secretary of State Ed Davey has been robust in his defence of wind as part of a mixed renewable portfolio. It is, of course, local planning that these MPs are after, as well as subsidies, and rumours are that the Government is to produce guidance that ‘rebalances’ national and local planning considerations when it comes to the siting of onshore wind.

Rebalancing, that is, …er… the shredding of planning guidance by the Government down to just fifty odd pages, thereby, among other things giving national policy planning guidance a sharp tilt AWAY from local vetoes on planning.   The localising of planning demand is set out in an annex to the MPs letter not apparently published in the Sunday Telegraph and is well dissected  in a ‘mole’ piece in ‘the Week’.

But stick for a minute with the central letter.  ‘In these financially straightened times’ the MPs declare, ‘we think it is unwise to make consumers pay, through taxpayer subsidy for inefficient and intermittent energy production that typifies on-shore turbines.’

There are two points to think about here. One is dealt with very well by Damian Carrington in his Guardian Blog, who points out that the consequence of  these MPs wanting to  ‘spread the savings between other types of reliable renewable energy production’ could well mean energy being far more expensive since these other ‘reliable renewable’ generation devices produce electricity at far greater expense per kilowatt hour than does on-shore wind.

The other point has not to my knowledge been dealt with at all. This is that, on analysis, the confident assertion by our 106 antiwinders that consumers are paying for all this ‘inefficient and intermittent’ wind through the nose doesn’t look quite so clear. Not, that is, if you look at electricity production in the round, or at least enough in the round to take into account how efficient other forms of electricity production actually are by comparison with wind.

To make this calculation, you have to take into account the thermal efficiency of other forms of power   – that is the extent to which fuel that goes in is actually produced as electricity, and doesn’t just go up the chimney in hot air.  Then you have to look at how often the plant itself is not producing at all, because it is closed, or broken down, or is being maintained.  The resultant figure is the ‘effective energy delivery’ of the technology.

Hard to find out? Not really: it’s all there on Table 5.10 of the Digest of UK Energy  Statistics’ (DUKES) a fine publication that our antiwinders would be well advised to consult more often.

So, our starter. Wind, we can generally say, has about 25% ‘effective energy delivery’. It produces electricity to about 25% of its theoretical installed capacity, but when it does the fuel is free and none is wasted.

So it’s gas next up. Very efficient, one would think. But is it? Load factor of 60.6%, thermal efficiency  of 47.6%, so it slides in just ahead of wind with an ‘effective energy delivery’ of 29% (but not very low carbon).

Nuclear – that’s low carbon, isn’t it?. Runs all the time. Must be the winner. Well, no: load factor in 2010 of 59.4%. Thermal efficiency just 38.3% – down there  in third with ‘effective energy delivery’ of 22.75%.

And coal – well, it’s not only very high carbon, but very inefficient. Much more so than wind:  a 40.9% load factor and thermal efficiency of just 36%: A poor last with ‘effective energy delivery’ of only 14.7%.

I doubt whether these ‘facts’ will  stop any of the antiwinders or their allies going on about how hopelessly inefficient and unreliable wind is.  But it is a largely groundless prejudice, and ought to be recorded as such. I am indebted to Edward Hyams, former chairman of the Energy Saving Trust for pointing me at this: it should be more widely disseminated, I think.