Blowout Week 102

I kick off Blowout 102 with Justine Greening allocating £billions to save Britain from climate refugees. While she does not link the Syrian conflict directly to climate change it is held up as an example of what may happen. Confused? I think she is. Also a look at Storm Desmond and the floods – was Desmond caused by, caused partly by or not caused at all by climate change? Also the usual diet of diesels, blackouts, oil price crash, COP21 and breeder reactors below the fold.

Roger is to be away for another few weeks and so the office is very short staffed and the volume of content on the blog will inevitably fall. Blowouts may become occasional instead of weekly for a while. Guest posts are always welcome, but these must be written to a high standard and publication ready.

The Telegraph:  Justine Greening: Our choice is climate aid or more refugees

Britain risks having to take more refugees if it fails to spend billions of pounds tackling climate change overseas, according to Justine Greening, the international development secretary.

Helping poor countries to go green and adapt to the effects of global warming is in Britain’s “national interest” because climate change will render other countries unliveable, sending displaced people in search of new homes, she argues.

In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph, Ms Greening said Britain’s commitment to spend almost £6 billion on overseas climate aid in the next five years was “the smart thing to do”, because climate change could trigger refugee crises similar to that caused by the conflict in Syria.

Energy Matters:  Drought, Climate, War, Terrorism, and Syria

We have established that there was no drought of any unusual significance in Syria between 2006 and 2011, that climate change did not cause the crop failures which resulted in millions of farmers fleeing to the cities or that they triggered the Syrian uprising when they got there. The claim that refugees from Syria are in any way, shape or form “climate refugees” is therefore entirely without foundation, as is the claim that man-made climate change had anything to do with the Syrian civil war or the rise of ISIS.

The Guardian:  Storm Desmond rainfall partly due to climate change, scientists conclude

Manmade climate change was partly responsible for Storm Desmond’s torrential rain which devastated parts of Scotland, the Lake District and Northern Ireland, scientists have concluded.

The researchers at Oxford University and the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) calculated that climate change had made the flooding event 40% more likely, with the estimate of the increased likelihood ranging between 5% and 80%.

The Times:  Minister wrong to blame climate change

Scientists have contradicted a minister’s claim that last weekend’s flooding in Cumbria was unprecedented and linked to climate change.

They say that there have been 34 extreme floods there in the past 300 years and that lives had been put at risk by “grossly underestimating” the risk of floods and failing to consider evidence from records.

Liz Truss, the environment secretary, told MPs on Monday that Cumbria had experienced an “unprecedented weather event” that was “consistent with climate change trends”.
Dr Tom Spencer, a reader in coastal ecology and geomorphology at the University of Cambridge, said that analysis of deposits

The Met Office:  Climate change and weather caught in a media storm

On Monday, in a blog, we were very clear not to link the record-breaking rainfall with climate change. This is what Professor Dame Julia Slingo, Met Office Chief Scientist has said: “It’s too early to say definitively whether climate change has made a contribution to the exceptional rainfall. We anticipated a wet, stormy start to winter in our three-month outlooks, associated with the strong El Niño and other factors.

“However, just as with the stormy winter of two years ago, all the evidence from fundamental physics, and our understanding of our weather systems, suggests there may be a link between climate change and record-breaking winter rainfall. Last month, we published a paper showing that for the same weather pattern, an extended period of extreme UK winter rainfall is now seven times more likely than in a world without human emissions of greenhouse gases.”

The Telegraph:  Coal, nuclear and diesel to keep lights on in £800m scheme

Hundreds of millions of pounds in subsidies will be paid to diesel generators and old coal and nuclear plants to help keep the lights on later this decade, ministers are set to confirm on Friday.
National Grid is preparing to publish the results of the latest “capacity market” auction, a Government scheme that will pay energy companies to guarantee they can provide electricity in 2019-20.
On Thursday night, the company said the price of the subsidies would be £18 per kilowatt, to be paid for just over 46 gigawatts of capacity, giving a total subsidy bill of about £830m.

The Guardian:  Diesel power companies given big tax breaks under Osborne’s energy regime

Wealthy investors will earn millions from polluting diesel generators – and get lucrative tax breaks for doing so – under the government’s energy regime.

So-called “diesel farms” won contracts worth £175.5m to make power available to the National Grid as part of the capacity market auction that ended late on Thursday.

One of the major beneficiaries is Rockpool Investments, a private equity firm set up and chaired by former City fund manager Nicola Horlick, who is estimated to be worth £20m.

GOV.UK:  Securing future electricity supply

The second Capacity Market auction has successfully concluded, securing electricity generating capacity for 2019/20. The auction attracted enough bidders to secure the capacity needed at a competitive price for consumers. The amount secured – enough to provide almost all the capacity we need – cleared at a price of £18/kW, over £1 cheaper than last year. Buying capacity four years ahead of the delivery year maximises the range of participants that can compete in the auction, thereby promoting competition.

The Telegraph:  Dozens of new ‘dirty’ diesel generators to be built with £175m subsidies

Dozens of new highly polluting diesel generators are to be built in the UK after being handed consumer-funded subsidies worth £175m over 15 years.

Companies proposing to build 650 megawatts of new small diesel engines won subsidies through the latest round of the Government’s capacity market scheme, which is designed to ensure there are enough power plants to keep the lights on in 2019-20.

The scheme was originally intended to deliver big new efficient combined-cycle gas turbine (CCGT) plants to replace old polluting coal-fired power stations, but has so far failed to do so.

The Guardian:  Toshiba seeks financial help with £8bn UK nuclear project

Toshiba, the technology company at the centre of plans to build more nuclear reactors in Britain, is looking for outside help to fund its £8bn programme after a collapse in its share price.

The Japanese group is in talks with local financial institutions to support the construction of an atomic plant near the Sellafield facility in Cumbria, after running up losses following an accounting scandal.

The emergence of Toshiba’s problems will add to worries over Britain’s nuclear plans after the French energy group EDF, which plans to build the Hinkley Point C station in Somerset, dropped out of France’s CAC 40 index of leading shares.

Bloomberg:  Billions of Barrels of Oil Vanish in a Puff of Accounting Smoke

In an instant, Chesapeake Energy Corp. will erase the equivalent of 1.1 billion barrels of oil from its books.

Across the American shale patch, companies are being forced to square their reported oil reserves with hard economic reality. After lobbying for rules that let them claim their vast underground potential at the start of the boom, they must now acknowledge what their investors already know: many prospective wells would lose money with oil hovering below $40 a barrel.

Companies such as Chesapeake, founded by fracking pioneer Aubrey McClendon, pushed the Securities and Exchange Commission for an accounting change in 2009 that made it easier to claim reserves from wells that wouldn’t be drilled for years. Inventories almost doubled and investors poured money into the shale boom, enticed by near-bottomless prospects.

Utility Week:  Energy Managers’ Association head ‘wholly expects blackouts’ this winter

Redesdale wrote in an opinion column for City AM that last year saw a capacity margin of just 1.5 per cent with blackouts and brownouts expected this winter.

“Renewables have been built at an astonishing rate, but the chancellor’s policies mean very little will be built over the next few years to fill the supply demand gap. New nuclear plants, such as Hinkley Point C, will only come online in the mid 2020s”, Redesdale said.

Redesdale’s comments come after National Grid asked firms last month to reduce their power demand, issuing a demand-side balancing reserve (DSBR) notice for the first time.

City AM:  After several warnings over energy supply, should Britain expect blackouts this winter?

Jon Ferris, head of energy markets at Utilitywise, says No.

While it is easy to see where the concern stems from, I am confident that the UK will not suffer electricity blackouts this winter. There are several factors behind my conviction.

These include the reopening of mothballed gas plants following the fall in gas prices and the decade-long reduction in underlying demand.

Furthermore, additional regulatory change will come into effect this winter which will increase business awareness of energy costs even further. Finally, while National Grid is clearly under pressure, it has been evolving in tandem with the changes in generation, and it has now developed better forecasting tools and introduced new services to balance the system.

The Guardian:  Anger over threat of VAT hike on renewable energy

The government has shocked the renewable energy industry by proposing a massive hike in VAT on solar panels and wind turbines from next summer.

The moves, announced by the revenue and customs authority, HMRC, made “a mockery of (David) Cameron’s claims to climate leadership” say critics and come amid proposed cuts of almost 90% in some solar subsidies.

HMRC blamed the planned increase in VAT from 5-20% on a European commission ruling covering energy saving materials used in the construction trade and said the EC decision had been upheld by the court of justice of the EU.

The Telegraph:  UN climate change deal aims to limit global warming to 1.5C

A new UN climate change deal is expected to commit the world to trying to limit global warming to 1.5C – despite warnings the target cannot be achieved because people will never vote for the costly policies it would require.

The highly ambitious goal would require such a radical shift to expensive green energy that it would be impossible in a democratic society, a leading academic warned last night. It would also require as-yet-untested technologies to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, others said.

The Guardian:  Oil producers prepare for prices to halve to $20 a barrel

The world’s leading oil producers are preparing for the possibility of oil prices halving to $20 a barrel after a second day of financial market turmoil saw a fresh slide in crude, the lowest iron ore prices in a decade, and losses on global stock markets.

Benchmark Brent crude briefly dipped below $40 a barrel for the first time since February 2009 before speculators took profits on the 8% drop in the cost of crude since last week’s abortive attempt by the oil cartel Opec to steady the market.

The Guardian:  Why cheap oil is the key to beating climate change

Keeping the price of a barrel of crude at $75 or less will devastate the profitability of fossil fuel extraction – as the shelving of three tar sands projects demonstrates.

As world leaders enter the home stretch of the Paris climate negotiations they should keep in mind a key measure of success in limiting carbon emissions: cheap oil. The lower the global price of oil, the more it stays in the ground – due to the brutal, if counterintuitive, logic of the petroleum marketplace.

Most of the easily extracted oil deposits are long gone. What’s left are high-cost, high-risk long shots such as the Alberta tar sands, deep-water reservoirs off Brazil, and drilling the high Arctic. Companies hoping to profit from the last dregs of the petroleum age need to convince their investors to part with massive amounts of capital in hopes of competitive returns often decades down the road.

The BBC:  COP21 climate change summit reaches deal in Paris

A deal to attempt to limit the rise in global temperatures to less than 2C has been agreed at the climate change summit in Paris after two weeks of negotiations.

The pact is the first to commit all countries to cut carbon emissions.

The agreement is partly legally binding and partly voluntary.

Earlier, key blocs, including the G77 group of developing countries, and nations such as China and India said they supported the proposals.

President of the UN climate conference of parties (COP) and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said: “I now invite the COP to adopt the decision entitled Paris Agreement outlined in the document.

“Looking out to the room I see that the reaction is positive, I see no objections. The Paris agreement is adopted.”

World Nuclear News:  Russia connects BN-800 fast reactor to grid

Unit 4 of the Beloyarsk nuclear power plant in the Sverdlovsk district of Russia has been connected to the national grid. The BN-800 fast neutron reactor started providing power to the Urals region at 9.21pm local time yesterday.

To achieve this, the thermal capacity of the reactor was raised to 25% of its nominal capacity and its K-800-130/3000 turbine reached a speed of 3000 rpm. The generator was then synchronized with the electricity grid and the thermal capacity of the reactor was increased to 35% of nominal capacity. The new unit joined the energy system at a minimum power level of 235 MWe. (HT Syndroma)

The Telegraph:  Why we have to scrap the Climate Change Act

As it reaches its conclusion – without having come to any conclusions – it’s probably worth asking: what was the point of the Paris Climate Change summit? Ostensibly the politicians and officials met to discuss the effects of global warming and how to mitigate them.

Owen Paterson: “In the wake of the non-committal Paris climate talks we need to make sure we decouple energy policy from climate change policy”

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16 Responses to Blowout Week 102

  1. Syndroma says:

    Russia connects BN-800 fast reactor to grid
    “The BN-800 presented us with challenges, but the main thing is that, thanks to this unit we have restored our competence in the design and construction of fast reactors. Today marks another important step in the transition of Russia’s nuclear industry to a new technology platform.”

  2. Ed says:

    ” Why cheap oil is the key to beating climate change. Keeping the price of a barrel of crude at $75 or less will devastate the profitability of fossil fuel extraction”

    Is it just me, but I’m having trouble with the logic behind this statement ? Keeping low prices and low consumption. How does that work?

    While I’m at it. The next time I hear that electric vehicles are low carbon, uttered by a gormless newsreader, am going to throw a chair through the TV.

    • gaznotprom says:

      Price down – demand down – That logic comes from a Uni ‘Safe Space’ where stupidity is left unchallenged and critics thinking is a personal opinion best kept to yourself for fear of hurting ‘feelings’!

      Low carbon has been inserted into the language like ‘the’ and I – slap a low carbon sticker on something it becomes low carbon, instantly…

    • Euan Mearns says:

      It is of course utter bollocks, in line with much that the Guardian writes on Energy and Environment. The fact that they don’t understand the simple economics of low price boosting demand and consumption of FF is quite astonishing.

      • JerryC says:

        “The fact that they don’t understand the simple economics of low price boosting demand and consumption of FF is quite astonishing.”

        Astonshingly predictable, maybe. It’s the Guardian, after all.

    • robertok06 says:

      “The next time I hear that electric vehicles are low carbon, uttered by a gormless newsreader, am going to throw a chair through the TV.”

      Well, actually… yes!… they CAN be low-carbon, depends how you “re-fill” them… if it’s a Tesla in Germany charging at night then it most surely is not very low-carbon at all, but if the same Tesla is charged in France at night, with 95% CO2-free nuclear/hydro/wind (if there’s wind, of course) then I’d say that it is as carbon-free as it gets… after taking care of the embedded carbon, for its construction (which is a bit more than a fossil-fuelled car).

  3. gweberbv says:

    What I do not get: There should be emergency diesel generators all over the place (hospitals, critical infrastructure, industry, etc.). What is the problem with utilizing these emergency generators as a fast-response backup? Why do you need new ‘diesel farms’ for the job?

    • robertok06 says:

      Because the diesel generator in a hospital is connected to the network of the hospital, and can’t easily reverse the flow towards the network outside of the hospital… the present electric network has been built with a very specific direction of the flow in mind… you’ll have to wait for the (not so) “smart grid” in order to easily reverse the flow direction… so don’t hold your breath for it, Guenter!… cold be bad for your health… 🙂


  4. In the comments of your post on Drax there was a question about Uruguay, which led to Bishop Hill and there in the comments section to the UTE site. Looking around there a little I found the following graphing facility to be really good:

    It gives a plot of demand and generation on an hourly basis for any chosen period of up to 7 days in the years 2014 and 2015 (For 2013 I tried one week and got straight lines, so presume there are only average data for that year, not hourly).

    Renewables in the latest weeks run at 100% of demand. Looking at the very latest week, the plot shows that demand following is largely done with hydro. There are imports and exports (mostly exports), sometimes to export surplus wind, but also sometimes to load follow demand abroad with domestic dispatchable hydro (apparent on 11/12 at 14:00, where a spike in hydro coincides with a short export episode of two to three hours).

    Uruguay still have got thermal generation, but it now seems to serve only an emergency back-up function, which is interesting when seeing that a large proportion of new capacity secured in the most recent UK capacity auction seems to be back-up diesel generators.

    Using the capacity cost of the auction of 18 pounds per year and kW, I find it interesting to look at the importance of the number of hours that back-up is required.

    1 kW of wind generating for 3000 hours yields 3000 kWh, assume costs of 4 p per kWh and that is 120 pounds of electricity. The same amount of electricity would be generated by about 0.4 kW of nuclear generation. For a comparison of back-up costs between those two technologies, nuclear therefore saves about 0.4 kW of required back-up capacity for the same 3000 kWh of yearly generation. The additional back-up cost for wind is therefore 18 pounds times 0.4 or about 7 pounds per 120 pounds of electricity generated, or about 6%, based on capacity alone.

    The cost rises extremely rapidly, if that diesel back-up actually has to be used.

    For an average of 1 hour per year (early evening peak once per year for one hour when lots of things simultaneously go wrong and it is near windless and the sun does not shine), at 30 p of fuel costs per kWh, we add 30 p of fuel back-up costs, which is negligible. So sensible.

    For an average of 20 hours (10 early evening peaks in winter for two hours), it is 6 pounds and nearly doubles back-up costs to 11% or so (of the 120 pounds of wind electricity assumed remember). Still sensible.

    For more hours in a UK context it would rapidly appear to be a lot less sensible.

    For 1 kW of real baseload from wind and diesel generators the cost would be dominated by the fuel cost of the diesel generators (70% of 30 p, plus 30% of 4 p giving about 22 p per kWh). At which point it would be hard to put down a sensible back-up cost number (much easier to just compare the 1 kW of baseload from nuclear in terms of cost per kWh to 1 kW of diesel generators plus 1 kW of wind, or alternatively to 1 kW of diesel and 2 kW of wind which with geographic smoothing never gets above 50% of capacity eliminating any need for curtailment and driving the cost down to 30% times 30 p plus 70% 4 p = 12.8 p per kWh, or in the case of natural gas engines with a fuel cost of 10 p per kWhe to 30% times 10 p plus 70% times 4 p = 6.8 p per kWh for baseload power comparable to nuclear, or with Norwegian hydro output as a virtual battery sufficient to allow 85% wind with curtailment at 3% of wind generation, about 5.5p per kWh).

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Thanks for the link. The main point of course is that demand is 1500 MW, the population is 3.4 million and they have a heap of hydro and probably forests. The demand is one third to one quarter of Scotland’s demand. Bravo Uruguay for going 100% renewable but I don’t see that this is anything to make a gigantic fuss about. Another one of these niche examples of a small country with a large endowment of renewables.

      • Taking a cue from Roger’s Atlantis post, I will also talk about a made up country, North Sea Land (roughly Iceland, Norway, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, Northern Germany and of course the UK), population say 120 million.

        1000 TWh of demand, =114 GW average
        250 TWh of hydro
        50 TWh of biomass
        50 TWh of geothermal
        600 TWh of wind, 230 GW (roughly twice average demand, to give little curtailment with geographic smoothing)
        50 TWh of solar from 60 GW

        From Roger’s post:
        “raising the question of why Atlantis installed so much surplus wind capacity in the first place”

        Because of, from your post:
        “Renewables, however, do displace gas and coal generation, and in so doing, fuel stores can be preserved during winter reducing the risk of [3] system fuel failure.”

        Just replace the words “gas and coal” with dispatchable renewables (hydro, biomass, geothermal) which have sufficient capacity in terms of GW, but not in terms of TWh.

  5. For the UTE link, to get a plot you have to choose
    Composición de la generación uruguaya

  6. Lars says:

    About blackouts and brownouts in Britain, I just checked Gridwatch and the UK is at the moment of writing running 0,14 GW of open cycle gas turbines and demand is slightly above 49 GW. Prices must be high for those OCGTs to run? Weather is relatively mild with about 7 degrees C expected in London and the whole south of UK and even milder in northern UK at 7 p.m.

    The imports from France and the Netherlands are 1,44 and 0,98 GW respectively. I am sure the UK has other reserves but would the system cope with demand reaching the mid 50s GW and no imports from France and the Netherlands available?

    I find Lord Redesdale`s statement ominous: “Last month, National Grid asked firms to reduce their power demand immediately, issuing a demand-side balancing reserve (DSBR) notice. This was in the third mildest November on record. We do not have enough generating capacity, especially as coal power plants are closing, with two more to shut down in March.”


      Pretty good summary of the situation by Euan. The only thing I’d add is that natural gas or even diesel generators are fine for very rarely required back-up (the one or two hours of early evening weekday peak when there is no wind and it is cold and some coal fired plants have had an unplanned outage). They may need 20 pence worth of diesel fuel for that one hour, but that does not appear all that bad when compared to the alternative of spending 6500 pounds on one additional kW of nuclear capacity say.

      • Lars says:

        Heiko, I have watched Gridwatch for years and seen the decline in UK`s coal power. I have read that article by Euan before, but I still wonder where are all those 20+ of coal power blocks supposedly available in Euan`s graph for 2015? Are they on Christmas holiday? Today at the time frame I referenced the UK produced only slightly more than 12 GW of coal power. With demand reaching 49 GW+ and OCGTs coming online I also checked the spot price which reached 116,35 Euros/MWh between 17 and 18 p.m on the N2EX British power exchange. Still not enough to lure more coal power away from their holiday making?

        • I think the explanation is quite innocuous.

          It is only a single hour at that price (the hour before and after are nearly half the price). Coal fired power plants do not like to ramp up and down for that (though I can tell you that an awful lot of the research and development in Germany with regards to coal fired power plants is presently about changing that state of affairs.)

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