Tuesday 23 June 2015

Tory Windpower Policy - What's Cooking?

True to its manifesto, the government has signalled an end to onshore windpower development.  That is, of course, unless the wind industry somehow delivers on its claim to be 'near to grid parity with costs falling all the time', in which case they won't need subsidies ...  I needn't go on.  Even then, with increased powers - nay, obligations - for local planning authorities to take local protests into account, a hypothetical 'economically viable' windfarm might struggle to get consent.

This will piss off several noisy groups in no uncertain terms:
  • greens, obviously
  • developers who pretend to be hippies but are as uninterested in the environment as the average coal producer, and considerably more hypocritical
  • landowners hoping to join the great game
  • the SNP, as their entire energy policy is predicated on a very significant increase in Scottish onshore wind capacity, haha.
So in political terms it's quite a development - and an opportunity to surmise what's going on in renewables policy as a whole.  The Tory manifesto isn't much help beyond the fate of onshore wind: "We will cut emissions as cost-effectively as possible, and will not support additional distorting and expensive power sector targets."  The first half of that is fatuous - see the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon - but the second is interesting ...

The UK is more or less on course to hit its 2020 renewables targets.  (I put aside the issue of whether 'achieving the target' is anything more than an arbitrary feat of civil engineering.)  So beyond that, where does the government imagine it is headed with the 'green crap'?  A cynic would say: no politician looks beyond the next election and - given the lead-time of big new developments - the die is already cast for 2020: in which case, the next 5 years is all about (a) keeping the lights on and (b) spin. 

But I suspect there is a bit of a longer-term plan there somewhere.  The Paris jamboree looms large and at least something will emerge from that with implications for the next while.   If forced to guess where the government is going (which has nothing whatsoever to do with where it ought to be going), I reckon:
  • momentum / pride will lead them to continue trying, for a while, to get the EDF nuke deal away without conceding anything extra, on the grounds that (as far as we know) there isn't much to pay until the damn things actually start generating - which won't be in Cameron's political lifetime, to put it mildly
  • ... but if EDF plays its usual trick of saying, zut alors, the cost has gone up by another EUR 2 billion, we need some more £££ - then the whole thing will be allowed to fold
  • Osborne intends to fend off any actually difficult targets for the 2020-2050 period: even though Paris will be an insufferable piety-fest, Merkel has shown how the can may be booted clear over the horizon
  • they think offshore wind + biomass is, in practical terms, enough to meet whatever will end up being the 2030 targets - and quite a good job-creation scheme for British industry
  • they will attempt to ensure the UK is there or thereabouts in any nascent CCS industry that might one day come into being (don't hold your breath)
  • they will manipulate the new Capacity Market to ensure new gas-fired plants get built. 
Any other reading of the runes?



K said...

It seems like solar is advancing very quickly and could be affordable for every household in about 20 years. If batteries also get good the only use for the grid would be to channel excess power to industry.

So why is everyone obsessed with wind turbines? Even if you're into green energy, wind turbines seem to be the wrong bet?

I was always very sceptical about green energy but it now seems like we're in the equivalent of the 70s or early 80s of the computer boom. At some point it's all going to come together like in the late 90s and the change will probably be quick when it happens. This will also give the climate alarmists a get out of jail card because instead of admitting they were wrong they can instead claim they saved the world.

Blue Eyes said...

Apparently Lockheed Martin have made a potential fusion breakthrough as well.

As for the Scots, they control the planning system so there's nothing to stop them covering all those lonely glens with beautiful turbines. What a pity for them that there isn't some way of gleaning power from rain? That could provide year-round energy!

I would say this, but as things move on so rapidly in technology terms, it makes even more sense to promote a free market and a diversity of investment, rather than pick a handful of "winners".

Jer said...

Er.... BE, Hydro power does come from rain, and the Jocks do indeed have quite a lot of it.

rwendland said...

I go along with K (and previous ND comments) that solar PV looks likely to hit big time economics in a decade or so. It is pretty silly funding the enormously expensive Tidal Lagoon now, but stop the cheapest expandable green leccy generation (onshore wind) - but that's politics for you.

Another rune is what happens to the post EDF EPR nuclear rush? The world's nuclear industry has been drawn to the UK like moths by the absurd prices the DECC nuclear lobby is willing to pay. Cambridge prof and ex-MD of of Rolls-Royce Nuclear claims the 5 Hitachi ABWRs at Wylfa and Oldbury + 3 Toshiba (Westinghouse) AP1000s near Sellafield will need a CfD price of around £76/MWh. The likely future Chinese proposal for Bradwell probably less. This is slowly moving toward a not-insane price for low-carbon base load.

If the CfD lobby funds much of this, it will have a big impact on the rest of the generation industry:

6.7GWe Horizon/Hitachi (5 ABWRs @1.35GWe at Wylfa and Oldbury)

3.3GWe NuGeneration (3 AP1000s @1.1GWe near Sellafield)

3.4GWe China (guess: 3 Hualong One/ACPR1000+ @1.15GWe at Bradwell)

13.4 GWe TOTAL post-EDF nucs possibility, or around a quarter of UK production

(Russia also wants to build some VVERs, but that is unlikely to fly in current politics)

CityUnslicker said...

CFD's in Energy at that rate RWE will easily bankrupt the UK in the 2030's. Sadly I plan to still be alive then...better get building an overseas property portfolio.

andrew said...

I bought some shares in LMT on reading that news about a year ago and as it seems to have gained in profile but no production date still - however, they are quite good at delivering complex things that kill people, so the sp has risen rather well and one lives in hope they can deliver something complex that helps people.

On the swansea barrage, on RTFA, they have got outline pp, but no agreement on subsidy.
Noting the subsidy there for nukes, I expect that any sane person would rather the money would be spent/wasted on this as the worst that can happen to a tidal barrage is that is does not work, whereas if there was if there was a tsunami like there was in 1607, the chances are bits of hinckley point would end up spread across south wales, somerset and Bristol and up to Gloucester.

Indeed solar power has got to parity on a LCOE basis across many sunny countries already (not France!?) but the UK is not one of them. Even with another projected 40% drop in costs over the next 2 years there still needs to be base load.

Perhaps Greece could export electricity.

Reading tealeaves, I think deals with foreigners of any sort apart from the Chinese are a bit non-u (the evil things they do are a long way away).

Small scale biomass seems to be a nice approach especially if it can accept the waste we produce rather than woodchip from estonia and it could produce baseload.
Exactly how it is carbon - neutral escapes me.

Nick Drew said...

Exactly how it is carbon - neutral escapes me

because it's deemed to be - so there!

actually biomass falls into lots of different categories:

- if it would break down & escape as methane anyway, burning it for power can be OK (though that's just vis-a-vis CO2: watch out for the particulates etc)
- if it is a crop that re-grows annually, AND it doesn't wreak havoc with some other part of the eco-system or food-chain, burning it for power can be OK
- if it is otherwise destined for a long-term, carbon-fixing future (e.g. as furniture or building materials) it is NOT OK
- if it is mature forest that would otherwise be sitting there breathing CO2 in, and takes 50+ years to re-grow, it is NOT OK

etc etc - the counterfactuals, particularly on land-use, get very complicated: DECC's 'BEAC' calculator is good on this. Using it, you can show that some biomass-for-power is considerably worse than coal (sic) for CO2 emissions in any timeframe that matters. Needless to say, DECC don't enforce the use of their own calculator on the big biomass burners ...

available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/biomass-calculator-launched

Anonymous said...

Solar PV can get as cheap as it likes, but there's one slight problem that seems to be ignored... It doesn't work terribly well at night (except in a couple of Spanish plants) and we get an awful lot of night in the UK in wintertime - when the load is at its heaviest, so PV can really only be seen as a "top up" system and is completely useless for anything else.

Biomass? Wonderfully eco-friendly as long as you ignore the only way it can work is by razing Canadian forests and shipping the chipped wood across the Atlantic in big smelly poluting ships. The deforrestation of the South of England in Elizabethan and later times was largely caused by the need for wood for ship-building, and burning the stuff in quantities necessary to power a modern economy would need the complete reforestation of the UK to have any chance of keeping up.

Tidal lagoons - a joke that doesn't even reach the "sick" stage.

Fission - a damned-good solution. Base load, somewhat dispatchable, suffers only from HMG's ineptitude in negociating contracts at a sensible price (and maybe from over-heavy regulation).

Basically, until fusion becomes a reality we need gas, lots of it.. That lovely stuff sitting under our feet.


stick said...

What is this 'lovely' gas sitting under out feet is this you talk of?

Anonymous said...


I happen to live above part of the Bowland shale. :-)