Decentralised energy: what are we waiting for?

Posted by bex — 11 January 2007 at 4:53pm - Comments

Update - July 2007: We've launched a new film about why nuclear power can't stop climate change and how a combination of renewables, efficiency and combined heat and power can: watch The Convenient Solution.


Decentralised energy. It can double the efficiency of our power stations. It's helped Woking Council cut its carbon emissions by 77 per cent. It already provides over 50 per cent of Denmark's electricity supplies.

But what is it? And why aren't we using it? What on earth are we waiting for? Let Clive Anderson explain (it's well worth the 18 minutes):

 

 

Download it: Broadband (60mb) | Dial-up (4.6mb) | Podcast (60mb, MP4)
(You'll need Windows Media Player or Realplayer to watch it.)

If it strikes home, please help us spread the word; the UK can slash its carbon emissions (without the need for dangerous and costly nukes). Digg this page, add it to del.icio.us, blog it, tell your MP...

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This film falls far short of telling the whole story. Ok, it is true that Denmark gets most of its electricity from CHP and wind power. But despite this its CO2 emissions per capita are still no better than the UK.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_carbon_dioxide_emissio...

Furthermore, its electricity prices are about the highest in Europe - more than double the UK price.
http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/05/nobody_wants_to.php

The film also gives an example of Sweden, but Sweden notably does not use much decentralised energy. It gets nearly half of its electricity from nuclear powerstations and the other half mostly from large centralised hydro stations. Consequently it has electricity prices that are a third of Denmark, and the CO2 emissions per capita are 40% lower - about the lowest in all of Europe.

I know it isn’t the message that Greenpeace wants to hear, but nuclear power along with centralised renewables provides a far better solution to climate change, and far cheaper electricity, than their decentralised/CHP solution.

And, for a further surprise, nuclear also turns out to be much less damaging to health and the environment than biomass or gas which are the main fuels proposed for CHP. This is demonstrated by its low external cost as shown in the European Commission's ExternE study.
http://www.externe.info/externpr.pdf

I've answered this here, posting again in full:

Hi ColinG

Sorry for the length of this but I'm trying to respond to all your comments across the site in one go, as they all repeat the same myths.

I’ll answer your points on air pollution below but first off, I have to point out that you haven’t provided a credible alternative to our energy solution.

We’ve clearly explained how renewables + efficiency + CHP can lead us to a low emissions energy system, using CHP as a transition to 100 per cent renewables, providing heat and electricity for the whole of the UK. Initially CHP would be partly fossil fuelled and it would then go on to use zero carbon fuels like biogas. Over time more, renewable heat like solar and geothermal can also be introduced into the district heating networks – as they have done in the 100% renewable district in the city of Malmö, Sweden.

As I’ve said before, a replacement programme of ten nuclear reactors in the UK that the government's endorsed will only meet about 3.6% of our total energy needs - because they won’t provide heat. Around half our energy need is for heat (mainly gas based), while the next biggest demand is for transport (mainly oil based). Electricity generation is the smallest portion, and any new nuclear would be a small portion of that, making its role in tackling climate change / ensuring energy security almost irrelevant.

That's why the nuclear plan causes much more air pollution overall, for the total system; it can't possibly displace the majority of fossil fuel use, and leaves us running on the same kind of wasteful and polluting coal plants we have today. (Don't forget, the same ministers and companies that want to build new nuclear plants are also proposing the horde of new dirty coal plants across Britain – the most polluting power plants of all.)

According to our report, a UK energy scenario with high levels of decentralised energy using CHP and big renewables leads to less fuel burn over all than the government and industry plan of a centralized scenario with ambitious nuclear build. Less fuel use means less overall air pollution.

Your answer to that is that you want nuclear combined heat and power. No one in the nuclear industry or government is proposing that anyway – they wouldn’t dare propose to put them near to densely populated areas. But even if they did, you still haven’t explained how you’ll get rid of fossil fuels.

Are you suggesting we’ll be able to displace all our fossil fuelled power plants and all our individual boilers with nuclear CHP? Do you have an estimate for how many nuclear plants you’d need to do that? (In China, with the most ambitious nuclear programme in the world, they will still only generate a couple of percent of their electricity from nuclear when and if they built all 30-40 reactors that have been mooted there. Most of the rest of their electricity will still be coming from coal.)

How can the UK possibly get enough nuclear power to displace all our fossil fuel needs? Specifically, how are you going to find the enormous funds required to build small nuclear power stations near every town and city (the smaller ones you suggest, which won’t benefit from the economies of scale)? Where will you find the sites fit to host N nuclear plants? How will you persuade local residents across the UK to accept nuclear power and/or nuclear waste sites in the outskirts of their towns and cities? If you don’t want the nuclear plants to be close to urban centres, how will you fund the phenomenal costs of piping heat from, say, Sizewell to London? How will you find the nuclear engineers to build all the plants (there’s already a huge skills shortage)?

How will you persuade the government that the building of your nuclear plants won’t run massively over time and over budget like every other nuclear construction project (the average nuclear power station is finished four years late and 300 per cent over budget)? How will you transport all the radioactive wastes between the sites without putting the public at an unacceptable risk? How will you protect every plant and transport route from contamination / accident / terrorist attack? How do you propose to make nuclear power a globally applicable solution (at the moment, some countries, like Iran, are being told they aren’t allowed to have it)? For nuclear power to realistically meet our future global electricity demands, 2000 - 2500 reactors will need to be constructed between now and 2075 - an impossible task. How will you guarantee the weapons grade plutonium doesn’t get into the wrong hands? How do you plan to get rid of the significant fossil fuel use in the nuclear lifecycle (mining, transport, energy use around facilities, waste storage)?

And, if you agree that nuclear CHP will never fill the gap alone and you want renewables in the mix, how do you envisage stopping nuclear from undermining renewables as global experience and technical grid limitations both show it does (nuclear and renewables may both be able to run on the grid as long as both are making relatively small overall contributions, but both can't expand beyond a certain point without there being operational conflicts)? The nuclear industry itself says there is a conflict between nuclear and renewables and has lobbied to get the European renewable energy target weakened. Vincent De Rivaz, the CEO of EDF Energy stated at the Adam Smith Institute in March that if the UK actually started to make significant progress in meeting its Renewables Obligations, the economic viability of the new generation of nuclear power plants would be undermined and nuclear would be marginalised.

The case for decentralised energy based on renewables, CHP and efficiency has already been made and proven – in countless reports and in other countries. Why would you want to use an outdated technology that is more expensive and more dangerous?

I’m guessing you’re going to say because of particulates/air pollution (and you are right that air pollution is a big concern and a killer, especially in places like China). But, for all the reasons above, nuclear allows continued and even increased air pollution because of its undermining effect on energy efficiency measures – the nuclear option is more likely to lead to more air pollution than a system of decentralised energy based on gas / biomass / biogas CHP. And going nuclear can’t lead us to a 100% renewables scenario. Decentralised energy can. All the new nuclear in China is barely going to touch the air pollution problems there.

On your comments about CHP and particulates, larger CHP falls under IPPC requirements, and these control emissions to air. (And, as from the start of this year, some large CHP plants are covered by Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD), specifically targetting NOx SOx and particulates.)

Before a CHP plant can be built, modified or continue to be operated, emissions to air are mapped, taking into account all existing sources of emission (not just those of the new/existing plant – let’s not forget that cars and lorries are a major source of air pollution too) to ensure local air quality standards are met. If the model shows that the emissions "on the ground" get near to breaching the local air quality standards then the plant will not be built or, if it exists, allowed to continue to operate unless its output is restricted/other measures put in place.

Then there’s the fact that a decent sized gas-fired CHP plant will displace many hundreds or thousands of individual gas-fired boilers. Therefore, it can actually improve local air quality, because:

- a large heat plant will be sized more closely to actual heat loads than individual boilers, which are typically oversized to meet peak demand load. (A district heat plant overcomes this problem by having in-line boilers that are switched on or off progressively as demand for heat fluctuates throughout the day or the year.)

- a large CHP plant will burn gas more efficiently than the combination of all those numerous small boilers and the power plants providing the equivalent heat and electricity.

- it’s cost effective and quick to add emissions cleaning equipment to large plant, or to switch it to cleaner fuels as they become available, but not with many small ones like boilers.

- the maintenance of large plants will be more effectively managed than individual boilers, impacting on the efficiency and cleanness of gas burn.

I hope that answers all of your points. And sorry for the delay. As you can imagine, we don’t have the resources to post dozens of comments on the same point – unlike some well funded industries… ;-)

Cheers,

Bex
gpuk

With the airline industry in a nosedive, airports are hitting turbulence. After years of growth, they are delaying capital projects, freezing hiring, and considering increases in everything from landing fees to parking. Concessionaires are hurting, and many expect to close. Airlines need to raise fares to cover their higher fuel costs. But doing so drives more travelers out of the market. That in turn forces airlines to reduce the amount of service they offer. Delta airlines have been limping along for years. They have begun eliminating flights, but not to worry too much as most eliminated flights are international. The likelihood that you won’t get as many flights down to Grandma’s house isn’t a real worry. Airlines have been hurting for years, as the spike in fuel prices a few years ago cut deeply into their coffers and profit margins. The largest airlines were among the most hurt – like Delta.

From the Guardian today, funnily enough, our climate campaigner Joss on the Heathrow runway and falling passenger numbers.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/mar/17/heathrow-third-runway

Cheers,

Christian @ GPUK

thanks for article, greenpeace is great!!

Thank you for awesome video! :)

This film falls far short of telling the whole story. Ok, it is true that Denmark gets most of its electricity from CHP and wind power. But despite this its CO2 emissions per capita are still no better than the UK. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_carbon_dioxide_emissio... Furthermore, its electricity prices are about the highest in Europe - more than double the UK price. http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/05/nobody_wants_to.php The film also gives an example of Sweden, but Sweden notably does not use much decentralised energy. It gets nearly half of its electricity from nuclear powerstations and the other half mostly from large centralised hydro stations. Consequently it has electricity prices that are a third of Denmark, and the CO2 emissions per capita are 40% lower - about the lowest in all of Europe. I know it isn’t the message that Greenpeace wants to hear, but nuclear power along with centralised renewables provides a far better solution to climate change, and far cheaper electricity, than their decentralised/CHP solution. And, for a further surprise, nuclear also turns out to be much less damaging to health and the environment than biomass or gas which are the main fuels proposed for CHP. This is demonstrated by its low external cost as shown in the European Commission's ExternE study. http://www.externe.info/externpr.pdf

I've answered this here, posting again in full: Hi ColinG Sorry for the length of this but I'm trying to respond to all your comments across the site in one go, as they all repeat the same myths. I’ll answer your points on air pollution below but first off, I have to point out that you haven’t provided a credible alternative to our energy solution. We’ve clearly explained how renewables + efficiency + CHP can lead us to a low emissions energy system, using CHP as a transition to 100 per cent renewables, providing heat and electricity for the whole of the UK. Initially CHP would be partly fossil fuelled and it would then go on to use zero carbon fuels like biogas. Over time more, renewable heat like solar and geothermal can also be introduced into the district heating networks – as they have done in the 100% renewable district in the city of Malmö, Sweden. As I’ve said before, a replacement programme of ten nuclear reactors in the UK that the government's endorsed will only meet about 3.6% of our total energy needs - because they won’t provide heat. Around half our energy need is for heat (mainly gas based), while the next biggest demand is for transport (mainly oil based). Electricity generation is the smallest portion, and any new nuclear would be a small portion of that, making its role in tackling climate change / ensuring energy security almost irrelevant. That's why the nuclear plan causes much more air pollution overall, for the total system; it can't possibly displace the majority of fossil fuel use, and leaves us running on the same kind of wasteful and polluting coal plants we have today. (Don't forget, the same ministers and companies that want to build new nuclear plants are also proposing the horde of new dirty coal plants across Britain – the most polluting power plants of all.) According to our report, a UK energy scenario with high levels of decentralised energy using CHP and big renewables leads to less fuel burn over all than the government and industry plan of a centralized scenario with ambitious nuclear build. Less fuel use means less overall air pollution. Your answer to that is that you want nuclear combined heat and power. No one in the nuclear industry or government is proposing that anyway – they wouldn’t dare propose to put them near to densely populated areas. But even if they did, you still haven’t explained how you’ll get rid of fossil fuels. Are you suggesting we’ll be able to displace all our fossil fuelled power plants and all our individual boilers with nuclear CHP? Do you have an estimate for how many nuclear plants you’d need to do that? (In China, with the most ambitious nuclear programme in the world, they will still only generate a couple of percent of their electricity from nuclear when and if they built all 30-40 reactors that have been mooted there. Most of the rest of their electricity will still be coming from coal.) How can the UK possibly get enough nuclear power to displace all our fossil fuel needs? Specifically, how are you going to find the enormous funds required to build small nuclear power stations near every town and city (the smaller ones you suggest, which won’t benefit from the economies of scale)? Where will you find the sites fit to host N nuclear plants? How will you persuade local residents across the UK to accept nuclear power and/or nuclear waste sites in the outskirts of their towns and cities? If you don’t want the nuclear plants to be close to urban centres, how will you fund the phenomenal costs of piping heat from, say, Sizewell to London? How will you find the nuclear engineers to build all the plants (there’s already a huge skills shortage)? How will you persuade the government that the building of your nuclear plants won’t run massively over time and over budget like every other nuclear construction project (the average nuclear power station is finished four years late and 300 per cent over budget)? How will you transport all the radioactive wastes between the sites without putting the public at an unacceptable risk? How will you protect every plant and transport route from contamination / accident / terrorist attack? How do you propose to make nuclear power a globally applicable solution (at the moment, some countries, like Iran, are being told they aren’t allowed to have it)? For nuclear power to realistically meet our future global electricity demands, 2000 - 2500 reactors will need to be constructed between now and 2075 - an impossible task. How will you guarantee the weapons grade plutonium doesn’t get into the wrong hands? How do you plan to get rid of the significant fossil fuel use in the nuclear lifecycle (mining, transport, energy use around facilities, waste storage)? And, if you agree that nuclear CHP will never fill the gap alone and you want renewables in the mix, how do you envisage stopping nuclear from undermining renewables as global experience and technical grid limitations both show it does (nuclear and renewables may both be able to run on the grid as long as both are making relatively small overall contributions, but both can't expand beyond a certain point without there being operational conflicts)? The nuclear industry itself says there is a conflict between nuclear and renewables and has lobbied to get the European renewable energy target weakened. Vincent De Rivaz, the CEO of EDF Energy stated at the Adam Smith Institute in March that if the UK actually started to make significant progress in meeting its Renewables Obligations, the economic viability of the new generation of nuclear power plants would be undermined and nuclear would be marginalised. The case for decentralised energy based on renewables, CHP and efficiency has already been made and proven – in countless reports and in other countries. Why would you want to use an outdated technology that is more expensive and more dangerous? I’m guessing you’re going to say because of particulates/air pollution (and you are right that air pollution is a big concern and a killer, especially in places like China). But, for all the reasons above, nuclear allows continued and even increased air pollution because of its undermining effect on energy efficiency measures – the nuclear option is more likely to lead to more air pollution than a system of decentralised energy based on gas / biomass / biogas CHP. And going nuclear can’t lead us to a 100% renewables scenario. Decentralised energy can. All the new nuclear in China is barely going to touch the air pollution problems there. On your comments about CHP and particulates, larger CHP falls under IPPC requirements, and these control emissions to air. (And, as from the start of this year, some large CHP plants are covered by Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD), specifically targetting NOx SOx and particulates.) Before a CHP plant can be built, modified or continue to be operated, emissions to air are mapped, taking into account all existing sources of emission (not just those of the new/existing plant – let’s not forget that cars and lorries are a major source of air pollution too) to ensure local air quality standards are met. If the model shows that the emissions "on the ground" get near to breaching the local air quality standards then the plant will not be built or, if it exists, allowed to continue to operate unless its output is restricted/other measures put in place. Then there’s the fact that a decent sized gas-fired CHP plant will displace many hundreds or thousands of individual gas-fired boilers. Therefore, it can actually improve local air quality, because: - a large heat plant will be sized more closely to actual heat loads than individual boilers, which are typically oversized to meet peak demand load. (A district heat plant overcomes this problem by having in-line boilers that are switched on or off progressively as demand for heat fluctuates throughout the day or the year.) - a large CHP plant will burn gas more efficiently than the combination of all those numerous small boilers and the power plants providing the equivalent heat and electricity. - it’s cost effective and quick to add emissions cleaning equipment to large plant, or to switch it to cleaner fuels as they become available, but not with many small ones like boilers. - the maintenance of large plants will be more effectively managed than individual boilers, impacting on the efficiency and cleanness of gas burn. I hope that answers all of your points. And sorry for the delay. As you can imagine, we don’t have the resources to post dozens of comments on the same point – unlike some well funded industries… ;-) Cheers, Bex gpuk

With the airline industry in a nosedive, airports are hitting turbulence. After years of growth, they are delaying capital projects, freezing hiring, and considering increases in everything from landing fees to parking. Concessionaires are hurting, and many expect to close. Airlines need to raise fares to cover their higher fuel costs. But doing so drives more travelers out of the market. That in turn forces airlines to reduce the amount of service they offer. Delta airlines have been limping along for years. They have begun eliminating flights, but not to worry too much as most eliminated flights are international. The likelihood that you won’t get as many flights down to Grandma’s house isn’t a real worry. Airlines have been hurting for years, as the spike in fuel prices a few years ago cut deeply into their coffers and profit margins. The largest airlines were among the most hurt – like Delta.

From the Guardian today, funnily enough, our climate campaigner Joss on the Heathrow runway and falling passenger numbers. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/mar/17/heathrow-third-runway Cheers, Christian @ GPUK

thanks for article, greenpeace is great!!

Thank you for awesome video! :)

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