Saturday 25 April 2009

The Triumph of King Coal: a Neat Handbrake Turn by Ed Miliband

This week's statement on the future permitting of coal-fired power-plants is good, worldly-wise strategy: the type we appprove of hereabouts.

Firstly, as
we've been saying for a long while, high-tech coal has a major role to play. Second, the lead-time for implementing so much of the Carbon Capture concept, 'CCS' (which is only medium-tech, but requires a huge amount of infrastructure) is considerable. Third, our needs for new generating capacity are more urgent than that protracted timetable can allow.

So the strategy needs to be stepwise, and that's what Miliband (Ed) has
announced, allowing the industry to get on with it. In particular, he's set a very low barrier for what 'CCS-ready' means:

"The Government will only consider applications if they:

- Confirm sufficient space available to retrofit CCS

- Identify a suitable potential offshore area to store carbon dioxide

- Map a feasible potential transport route from the power station to the storage area and

- Do not have foreseeable barriers to retrofitting CCS.

Together, these criteria will prove a power station is ‘carbon capture ready’."

To put it mildly, these criteria need not be *ahem* very difficult to satisfy. So (provided electricity prices are high enough - and they probably will be) the power companies will crack on with developing new coal plant, which is exactly what they really like to do; and the future can look after itself. If CCS demonstrators work out OK - and the government of the day sees fit to line their pockets with silver - the companies will retro-fit CCS. If either of these two criteria never come to pass, we'll still have the new capacity.

The realpolitik of all this is driving poor Mr Monbiot to distraction, but there it is, George old son. In amongst the wreckage of Brown's hapless, hopeless government Miliband has cleverly squared an awkward circle. He's even spinning it as a victory for the green lobby !

Yes, Miliband (Ed) may indeed be the man to watch for in 2010.



Demetrius said...

Quite apart from all this 'ere climate stuff, there are a couple of other problems. First, is if the coal to be used is UK coal, it will have to be dug from under people's homes, moreover a lot of the coal that was coming out by the early 1980's was pretty filthy stuff, and took a deal of cleaning. The other is that if the coal is to be imported, given the UK's parlous financial situation, we need to be importing a lot less. Any road on, as they used to say in the Yorkshire coal districts, it is all going to take a deal of investment, and with real money, not this funny southern stuff they invent in banks.

hatfield girl said...

The minute the northern rockers are expected to get back underground again and start digging coal they'll be away with why it can't be done.

Still lots of Polish and former GDR coal miners about though who haven't had their heads turned by D.H. Lawrence.

Bill Quango MP said...

Comment on ES.
"CCS is not proven, yet; it is also reducing the efficiency (output) of future coal plants by appr. 40% and will make electric energy much more expensive."


Mark Wadsworth said...

Yup, that announcement cheered me up on end (and I guessed it would get the approval of my Energy Minister Designate, i.e. you).

What worries me is that this is just the latest grandstanding announcement in an endless series of flip-flops. Will this turn out to be the final 'flip' into a coherent policy or yet another 'flop'? That is the real question.

dearieme said...

"if the coal to be used is UK coal..": good grief, what a mad idea (a little bit of open-cast aside).

AntiCitizenOne said...

Now the suns cool, and "totally coincidentally" so is the earth, we might be seeing the last of that abomination of science that says that a plantfood that stays in the atmosphere less than 8 years is a long term pollutant.

Nick Drew said...

Demetrius, HG - the greater part of any UK coal used will be opencast, as dearieme says; and most will be imported anyway

but it will certanly take £££, as you say. Fact is, however, a whole range of energy projects that seem quite mind-blowing to the layman (lengthy pipelines, including undersea pipes being an example that comes to mind) are actually quite easy, and surprisingly quick to do

Bill, this is absolutely correct, though it's not usually as much as a 40% hit, that would imply a very long distance between the power plant and the storage location.

There's a helpful phenomenon at work here: the rock strata associated with coal-fields turn out to be very suitable for CO2 storage - and existing coal-fired power stations naturally tend to have been built near coalfields (even if, later on, they import their coal from abroad)

talk of pumping it expensively out to the North Sea is kind of understandable - because the oil co's have been pumping CO2 in reservoirs for decades, to force out more oil & gas - but it's an unnecessarily long way to go (unless the oil co's positively want to buy the CO2 for oil-recovery purposes - which happens extensively in the USA, though it's not (yet) CO2 from power stations that gets traded and transported there)

Bottom line, however, is that CCS isn't the great prize in the medium-term, it's moving to ultra-efficient new coal-burning technologies which alone will cut CO2 emissions greatly and are a much more practical immediate prospect

Anonymous said...

it's moving to ultra-efficient new coal-burning technologies which alone will cut CO2 emissions greatly and are a much more practical immediate prospectThose technologies were available in the late'70s/early 80s.
I was in them!
Fuck-brained politicians placed them in the morgue

dearieme said...

"it's moving to ultra-efficient new coal-burning technologies which alone will cut CO2 emissions greatly": what's the trick? On the face of it each atom of C needs a molecule of O2 and yields a molecule of CO2. Do you mean that you can push thermodynamic efficiency up and so burn less C per MW of electricity produced?

dearieme said...

Oops, that should be "per MWhr".

Nick Drew said...

dearieme - the trick is, it increases the thermal efficiency of coal-fired generation very greatly (see the second link in the post)

- from around 30% efficient (1960's technology as used in existing plant) to well over 40% (using 'new' technology, but see anon's comment above !)

thus you use 30% less fuel, = 30% less CO2, for the same MWh output

this is significant ! and a lot more readily attainable than CCS

BTW, the parallel trick was achieved for gas-fired generation in the late '80s - improving from less than 45% efficiency of the previous designs to nearing 60% today - which (along with the liberalisation of the gas and electricity industries) brought about the 'Dash for Gas'

It is by very real tech advances like these that we progress !

Sackerson said...

All I want is an open fire and a place to store 20 tons of coal.

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