Archive for the ‘renewable energy’ Category


The chancellor has allocated £300m to heat networks. What happens next matters – a lot.

When I started working in the low carbon sector in the early noughties, it felt like we had all the time in the world. You could tinker about with gizmos like earth pipes and building-mounted wind turbines and feel like you were doing good. Hockey stick carbon graphs seemed a bit abstract and rarely got people’s blood pumping.

The intervening years have flashed past. Now in 2016, Governments, businesses and communities around the world have woken up to the scale of the threat from climate change. Pressure to act is mounting.


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Final energy

UK Energy by End Use

Nearly all of the primary energy we use in the UK is in the form of  coal, oil and gas. This energy is the source of almost all our emissions – emissions which must be slashed to reduce the risk of catastrophic climate change.

When considering this challenge, rather than look at the primary energy, it’s useful to look at what we use the energy for.

Given the recent press about “keeping the lights on” you might think most of our energy is for generating electricity for lighting and appliances. But you’d be wrong. Using DECC’s energy consumption statistics for the UK, I put together the pie chart above to illustrate.

The result? We mainly use energy for just two things: heat and transport. In other words, almost all the energy we use is for warming things up or moving things around. And only a tiny proportion is for lighting.

So the next time you hear the word energy, don’t think electricity. Don’t even think oil and gas. Think heat and transport – this is where we’ve got to innovate to meet our carbon targets.

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pllWith the election looming, it’s time to nail your colours to the mast. Ain’t no purdah round here, so here’s my contribution…

If I were Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, my mission would be to put us firmly on the path to zero carbon heat and electricity. Only by doing this will we meet our legally binding promise to decarbonise the UK economy and mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

As you’ll see, I also wouldn’t get too hung up on where my remit officially stopped.

To get back on the path, we’ll need to radically improve energy efficiency, develop our ability to shift electricity demand, enable renewables to meet the bulk of our electricity requirements, and rapidly develop our district heating market.

First: ramp up energy efficiency


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Heat network at Sønderby – images from linked design guide


When writing a recent post about the low temperature DH network at Lystrup, I contacted the author of the related technical report, Jan Thorsen. In Jan’s response he kindly included a copy of Guidelines for Low-Temperature District Heating (PDF).

This guide is essential reading for designers and operators of DH systems. It shows how DH with flow temperatures of around 55 and return temps of around 25 (also called “fourth generation” or “4GDH”) can be used to serve high efficiency homes as well as buildings on low heat density networks.

At this point you might say, hang on a minute – what are we doing considering 4GDH when we struggle to deliver decent 3rd generation (70/40) networks in the UK? And I’d say you’ve got a point. In fact, I spent a depressingly large chunk of last week trying to help salvage the efficiency of another new network that is horrendously oversized and was probably doomed to low efficiency before it even left the drawing board. So I’m sympathetic with the view that UK engineers need to get our houses in order before moving onto the cutting edge stuff.

But looking ahead to the strategies employed in more advanced, lower temperature systems helps to highlight the design principles that we should be focusing on, even on today’s projects in the UK.


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It’s been a long and protracted death, but the Queen’s Speech finally spelled the end for plans to drastically reduce emissions from new build.


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In my last post, I said that “between a quarter and a third of current UK electricity generation capacity will come offline by the end of the decade.”

In a subsequent comment, Mel Starrs asked me for my sources. It’s such an important fact, I think it’s worth fleshing out.


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Sometimes a tweet just won’t do. Yesterday I tweeted this:

DECC cnsltn out on gas gen. Um, 25% of UK elec gen lost by 2020. 20 yrs to new nuclear. No coherent RE strat. #DoneDeal #Fracking #3Degrees

…but somehow it doesn’t immediately convey the whole point. So here’s an expanded version:

DECC has today published its call for evidence  to “to inform a gas generation strategy to deliver a secure and affordable route to a low carbon economy.”
It’s lovely of them to ask. But consider the backdrop to this consultation:

  • Between a quarter and a third of current UK electricity generation capacity will come offline by the end of the decade. (It’s worth reading that sentence again – the implications are massive.)
  • New nuclear will not fill the gap. It will take at least 8 years to build each new nuclear power station and the stable of new UK nukes is struggling get out of the gates – that 8 year clock hasn’t even started ticking. In a massive setback to new nuclear, last month RWE and Npower abandoned plans for two new power stations in the wake of the collapse of the German nuclear market.
  • Without a radical change in policy, Renewables and energy storage will not grow at a sufficient rate to fill the gap.

So what does that leave us?


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The EU won’t publish its data on emissions from biofuels and tar sands until the spring but the working figures have been leaked to EurActiv and published on line.

The figures show that, once Indirect Land Use Changes are counted, biodiesel from palm and soybeans is roughly as polluting as Canadian tar sands. And rapeseed oil (which OFGEM has classed as “renewable”) is nearly as bad. And all three are worse than crude oil.


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Here’s the promo video for the Sol-evo PV carport we’ve developed over the last 3 years or so. One of several reasons why this blog has suffered! I try and console myself that at least there’s a good reason.

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The quango cull was announced today. Quick headlines:

HCA – “Retain and substantially reform – smaller enabling and investment body working for local communities. Intend to devolve London functions to Mayor of London. Taking on regulation of social housing.”

Renewables Advisory Board – abolished

Sustainable Development Commission– under consideration

Committee on Climate Change – retained

Where the heck is is Energy Saving Trust?


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