Welcome to the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC)'s Youth Advisory Panel (YAP)'s blog. The DECC YAP is a group of young people aged between 15 and 25 from all over the UK, with a wide-range of backgrounds, from academia to activism.

Our aim is to inform everyone and anyone about DECC's activities and likewise to help DECC understand and take into account the concerns of young people. We are a medium of consultancy and conversation. Much of our work looks at finding a 'Pathway to 2050', reviewing how energy with be supplied and used in the next four decades, so follow us and join us on the journey!

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Youth Panel Makes Recommendations on Bioenergy for Upcoming DECC Strategy

At the end of October, members of the youth panel got together to respond to the latest government consultation on Bioenergy - renewable energy made from material of recent biological origin derived from plant or animal matter, known as Biomass. By the end of this year DECC aims to publish its framework for the use of Bioenergy, to meet the UK's EU-directed binding target to source 15% of our overall energy from renewable sources by 2020.

There were quite a few issues surrounding various forms of Bioenergy that we were concerned about. So, we put together some top tips to help DECC along in making a sustainable, yet ambitious plan for Bioenergy in the UK. Here is a basic overview of how and why we responded:

The DECC Youth Advisory Panel submission of recommendations for the forthcoming Bioenergy Strategy

OCTOBER 2011

Introduction

The supply chain of bioenergy is extremely complex compared to other renewable energy technologies, so ensuring the sustainability of bioenergy is particularly complicated. Bioenergy does offer significant potential for emissions reductions, however, its inherent connection with the natural environment and livelihoods of vulnerable people means a multitude of potentially damaging, longer-term impacts of bioenergy use (both in the UK and abroad) must be considered.

Concerned primarily with the issues of inter-generational and international justice, the DECC (Department of Energy and Climate Change) Youth Advisory Panel (‘the Panel’) has resolved to put forward its opinion on this subject in advance of the forthcoming Bioenergy Strategy. The Panel have come together to formulate this response: the collective opinions expressed are independent and should not be taken as the views of DECC.

We are concerned that there is currently no mandatory social impact criteria for bioenergy and call for this aspect to be immediately introduced into bioenergy sustainability assessments. Biofuel demand is contributing to increasing food prices globally, which has resulted in wider food insecurity among children and young people, an issue that has not been adequately addressed. Land-use change due to the farming of biofuels, particularly from palm oil, has also had a worrying impact on rainforests and other unique habitats. We are also concerned that, as it stands, bioenergy is often more carbon intensive than perceived by the public, and often not as low-carbon as it has the potential to be. Since the viability of many projects depends on financial support, the panel calls for stricter eligibility criteria for government funding.

The role and purpose of the panel
The Panel has a dual role; the Panel will advise DECC on the thoughts and proposals of young people in the UK whilst also relaying information from DECC out to the wider youth communities and organisations that support the Panel.

Inter-generational equity is a vital component of democratic and responsible governance. The Panel is a body that advises DECC on climate change matters relating to young and future generations, in particular on how the UK will reach its target of an 80% emissions reduction by 2050. The Panel will have the interests of safeguarding their future at the heart of their work, and will ensure that DECC and wider Government proposals made on behalf of young and future generations stand up to scrutiny.

Response:
This response builds on work from the Panel’s first report, Energy: How Fair Is It Anyway?, which included a consultation on bioenergy with opinions gauged from youth groups. The response is structured around key issues of concern to the Panel, that are all bound by the themes of inter-generational and international justice...

For the full recommendations, you can read the document here : http://bit.ly/uXPHW3


Countdown to COP17: UK Youth gather for ‘Climate Change Question Time’

Members of the DECC Youth Advisory Panel were invited to a Climate Change Question Time event hosted by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office on Tuesday.

The event also had an international focus, given that we’re less than a month away from this years UN climate change summit (COP17) and was also webcast live to the nation (now available to watch online) as well as international viewers. Audience members were all young people, representing organisations such as PlanUK, UNICEF, UK Youth Climate Coalition and Oxfam.



[Pictured above: DECC YAP panellists, Helena, Elizabeth, Ella, Reuben and Sasha with Chris Huhne (centre)]

We were joined by an interesting line-up of speakers: William Hague (Foreign Secretary),Chris Huhne (Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change), Ambassador Mxakato-Diseko (South African Ambassador for COP17, Durban), and Martin Davidson (Chief Executive at the British Council).Rick Edwards (of Channel 4 fame) chaired the discussion and put questions from the international audience to the panel.

Audience members got to ask questions on a number of topics, including: the UK’s key role in the international climate negotiations, the need for engagement of the wider public (especially young people) on climate change, and most importantly the expected outcomes of this year’s UN climate summit.

Here are just a few of the things to emerge from this discussion.

Climate Change: Still an Inconvenient Truth?

Whilst the entire panel acknowledged the severity of the current economic downturn is extremely relevant in the approach to tackling climate change, it was also agreed that this could not be used an excuse not to act. The South African ambassador described our “opportunity as humanity to stop and think and reassess how we’ve been doing things.” .

“What I do know is that it changes everything we’ve ever known, about economic prosperity, the emancipation of women, and the freedoms that young people have enjoyed in Africa; and will undermine the basis for achieving the Millennium Development Goals” [Ambassador Mxakato-Diseko]

In South Africa they must know all too well of the importance of securing ecnomic growth without jeopardising vital efforts to end poverty. As the only female panellist and the only representative from a developing country, she stressed that although all countries will struggle with the effects of climate change in some way, these effects would be felt first and worst by vulnerable groups of people, particularly women and those in poverty.

Martin Evans, of the British Council, also agreed that the challenge in climate change actually gives us the opportunity to encourage innovation and supporting extraordinary young visionaries and social entrepreneurs who offer new ways of running businesses and operating in our world.

“Future economic growth will depend upon us tackling the issue of climate change successfully”. “The Economic costs of climate change globally [could be] between 5-25% of GDP... but it would only take 1% or 2% of GDP to tackle it.” [William Hague, in reference to shocking figures from the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change.]

The Future of Renewable Energy

Other questions to the panel, raised an interesting debate about the future of renewable energy here in the UK. The UK is known in international circles as a leader on climate change- but there was definitely a sense that greater ambition and consistency is needed as far as our domestic energy policy is concerned. Chris Huhne responded by sharing his hope that new low-carbon goods and services industries would push forward a “New Industrial Revolution”, allowing our economy to thrive whilst moving away from fossil fuels for good.

Chris Huhne was proud to announce that DECC has a “4 pronged strategy” for tackling energy security. He explained that his department’s main policy priorities would involve: reducing energy consumption in homes , government support and targets for increasing UK renewable energy production and developing Nuclear power and Carbon Capture and Storage technologies too.

However, this proved to be a contentious topic, given the recent announcement of drastic reductions on Feed-in-tariffs for solar photovoltaic technology in the UK, a decision which many believe will cripple this important and rapidly growing industry. Investment in renewable energy is widely accepted as an essential step towards ending our unhealthy reliance on fossil fuels and grow the economy. It was unfortunate that the climate secretary’s comments did little to reassure the audience of the government’s commitment to support them with financial incentives.

Climate Change & Conflict : A threat to global peace & security?

Another interesting question was asked about the potential for conflicts over natural resources (water & fossil fuels) to intensify under runaway climate change, threatening international security now and in the future.

The foreign secretary agreed that the UK government would be actively “supporting countries working together to manage scarce resources in a co-operative way”. Young people should be engaged more than ever before in “the evolution of a new diplomacy”, given their unique positions as the future stewards of the world, according to Ambassador Mxakato-Diseko. She was hopeful that young people would be integral in solving global problems such as climate change and that conflict could be successfully avoided by planning ahead and “banking on the future”, harnessing the ideas and dynamism of youth.

Countdown to COP: Hope or despair??

Finally, the panel expressed mixed feelings on the outcomes of the upcoming UN climate summit. This year could be our last stop on the road to climate catastrophe, as far as civil society activists and the scientific consensus are concerned .The pressure must therefore be kept on negotiators to make something happen, and fast, if we are to avoid dangerous levels of warming. For the world’s poor and vulnerable people, the outcomes of COP17 simply must be fair, ambitious and binding, if they are to have any chance of survival.

Unfortunately, the panellists conceded that COP17 is unlikely to yield any unilateral agreement-somewhat understandable if we remember just how many BIG issues are on the table- but agreed it should be recognised as a ‘signpost’ towards the framework we need to achieve. With climate change threatening the quality of life that young people will experience in the near future, it was hardly surprising that this consensus left us in the audience less than satisfied. But, there were some promising elements of the discussion, for example; it was encouraging to hear Chris Huhne reaffirm the UK government’s commitment to a second term of the Kyoto Protocol, with plans to push for this amongst the EU member states, although this is by no means the only action required.

The clear message from this discussion, was that it is essential that we keep up the pressure on our policy-makers here in the UK, before and during the UN climate talks in Durban.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

What is the Green Deal? Have your say.

Put simply, the Government is creating a financial system to enable private firms to offer consumers energy efficiency improvements to their homes, community spaces and businesses at no upfront cost, and recoup the cost (with interest) through a charge in instalments on the energy bill.

The panel will be meeting with policy experts on the Green Deal on November 3rd. We will look at how we can formulate a response to the consultation and how this will benefit young people and future generations.

You can view the government's explanation of the Green Deal here. Some organisations, such as RenewableUK, have strongly welcomed the plans. Others such as WWF have been more critical.

The full government summary of the proposals embodied in the Green Deal is available here: decc.gov.uk/ ... /1010-green-deal-summary-proposals.pdf

Please leave a comment below to give us your thoughts! We will feed them into our response to the Green Deal's consultation. Alternatively email: youthpanel@think2050.org

Panellists speak in the House of Lords

Five members of the Youth Advisory Panel were delighted to attend the Commonwealth Youth Parliament 2011 as members of the Commonwealth Diaspora. Bringing together representatives from across the Commonwealth, the Youth Parliament invited Diaspora Parliamentarians to attend their closing debate on Friday 9th September, on achieving complete carbon neutrality by 2050 in the state of 'Commonwealthland' - described as a developing nation. The debate was hosted within the Chamber of the House of Lords, only the fifth time the Chamber has been used by external groups.

The debate covered a number of standpoints, with key points made by Panel members including that now was the time to act to generate green jobs and green entrepreneurship - leading to green growth - with climate change as the catalyst for action (Elizabeth Anderson, below), and the need to ensure a thriving environment for graduates within key disciplines (Stephen Marshall, left).

The debate was hosted by Baroness D'Souza, Lords Speaker, and was attended by MPs including Conor Burns and Stephen Pound.

The motion - to reduce carbon emissions by 100% in Commonwealthland by the year 2050 was successfully carried. In reality, in the UK, the road to reducing carbon emissions by 2050 by 80% is a major challenge, but one which many of the young people of the UK are committed to seeing put in place.

Only through the decisions taken now to promote renewable energy supplies and reduction in both consumer and industry energy supply can this be achieved. But the need is real. The dangers of not tackling this far outweigh the immediate preferences of an energy intensive growth plan. Instead, we must focus on developing a sustainable, secure and low cost energy supply for all, with a fair level of energy use by all.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Scottish National Discussion Days


In early July as part of the Scottish Government National discussion days 'Low Carbon Scotland' campaign- YoungScots hosted a collaborative event with different youth groups from around Scotland. I was honoured to be asked to co-host this event; as a Department of Energy and Climate Change Youth Advisory Panelist and as UKYCC Government Liaison for Scotland.
By morning the new Scottish Minister for Climate Change, Stuart Stevenson joined in on the discussion. He genuinely open armed the youth perspective reiterating a need for a long term strategy for tackling Climate Change that exceeds beyond a short term governmental lifespan. A strategy that can only logically be youth led.
The Local Investigation Teams represent urban, semi-urban and rural regions of Scotland and have been looking at different elements within Climate Change.
The teams came from Balfron High School, Rathbone Training and Lochgilphead Joint Campus and all used film to communicate the impact of Climate Change on their local communities. I was astounded by the end product from all those involved and the creativeness used to portray their individual messages.

The afternoon took on another flavour and while the expert panel; Minister Stewart Stevenson, Fiona Page, Catriona Chalmers, Angus Duncan and Ian Williams gave critique the highlight for me was the roundtable discussions. There was mixed opinion between the groups. The discussions, I believe, even started to make the pessimists consider their own energy use The day ended with ‘Top 3 Action Points’ in relation to what they the teams could do to tackle Climate Change, and what barriers they might face in doing this.
The teams cast votes throughout the day sharing their opinion on Climate Change and the results alongside the Scottish Government survey will be available in August this year.

Grabbing the Ministers attention is only half the battle. If we truly want to meet our Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 then we need to align and unite all young people.
This YoungScot event stood testament to this. The event kept young people at the heart of the debate with young representation on the expert panel, young presenters and creatively capturing the top actions of the day by cartoon.
The messages were relevant and this simplicity opened up Climate Change to a wider young audience.


If you would like to know more about YoungScot please follow link to their website http://www.youngscot.org/
If you would like to know more about Graeme's wonderful cartoons http://www.ogilviedesign.co.uk

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Keeping The Lights On: How will Britain transform its electricity market?

This week members of the youth panel attended the official launch of DECC’s White Paper on Electricity Market Reform (EMR) and the Renewables Roadmap- the government’s strategy to transform the UK’s electricity market by 2020. Here’s what we found out:

Over the next few decades, our country faces MASSIVE challenges in supplying us with electricity how and when we need it. [Lest we forget, that the UK must meet its EU targets of producing 15% of all energy from renewable sources by 2020 AND reducing our carbon emissions by 80% by 2050]. So, we were pretty hopeful that this eagerly awaited document would clearly map out the road to low-carbon energy heaven!

Overall, EMR aims to revitalise the UK electricity market, by encouraging a wider range of investors to provide up to £200 billion for improvements by 2020. We desperately need this investment to: revamp our old power stations, build shiny new renewable energy centres and make sure our electricity is distributed across the country efficiently over the foreseeable future.

Not to mention, that the more £££ invested in the UK market, the lower electricity prices could eventually be for consumers.. sounds good to us! This could also lead to more competition between energy providers to see who will be in the ‘energy mix’, with low-carbon technologies - like onshore wind and Carbon Capture & Storage(CCS)- given more financial support, and a chance to thrive.

The government believes that they have created the best possible plan to bring about real progress whilst addressing some of the concerns that many people have over how exactly the changes will happen. Any changes to our electricity market must consider DEMAND for electricity (which will continue to rise in future), AFFORDABILITY for consumers and ENERGY SECURITY (ensuring adequate supplies of energy now and in future) and DECARBONISATION (using way less fossil fuels and way more low-carbon sources of energy).


Key features of EMR strategy will be:

  • The Carbon Price Floor: Setting a (higher) price on carbon, that will make investment in low-carbon technologies more cost effective and therefore increasing the incentive to invest in renewable energy now.

  • Feed in Tariffs with Contracts for Difference: Additional long-term, fixed level payments would be made to energy providers for selling their electricity, as long as it is sold at a reasonable price to consumers. This guarantees the energy provider a profit, but also keeps prices from spiralling. Consumers could receive payments back from the provider IF prices rise above the agreed level.


Other interesting points from the White Paper launch:

The Emissions Performance Standard (EPS) limits the amount of carbon dioxide that any fossil fuel plant can emit for each unit of energy they produce. This will be set at 450g CO2 per kWhr- unless the new plant is fitted with CCS technology, and this level will not be allowed to change in the future.

DECC officials suggested, that no new unabated coal power stations should be part of this strategy. However, the plan clearly shows the UK government is prepared to go it alone and will commit strongly to developing CCS (for coal and possibly gas power stations) as a big part of the transformation. By 2020, they could invest up to £1 billion in this technology, through projects across the UK. So, this means we will be living with coal-fired power in at least some shape or form, as a ‘transitional energy source’, according to the Secretary of State.

We were also delighted to hear from DECC that as part of the transformation, they will aim to make it easier for communities to take control of their energy supply – producing their own electricity, in their own way. Otherwise known as Microgeneration, this would potentially mean much smaller scale, community-owned electricity production in some areas.

Both Chris Huhne and Charles Hendry (Minister for Energy) seemed hopeful that lesser known low-carbon technologies such as Anaerobic Digestion, Bio-energy and Onshore Wind will also be able to play a much greater role in the energy mix, in the near future.

The minister also reaffirmed his commitment to TRAINING AND SKILLS DEVELOPMENT in addition to the above measures. The UK obviously needs a whole new workforce or enthusiastic, highly skilled people to make the energy revolution happen..

Bring on the Green Jobs!

The youth panel will be looking further into all of these plans over the coming months, through our work with the CCS and Land Based Renewables teams in DECC..watch this space!

Sasha-

Monday, 11 July 2011

Towards a Good Energy Future

Last week, the panel met Juliet Davenport, CEO and Founder of the 100% renewable electricity company ‘Good Energy’. In her inspiring talk, Juliet reminded us that renewable energy is also about energy security for the future. It was security of supply that led Sweden and Norway to promote renewable energy back in the 1980’s. By contrast the UK has a long way to go; the UK has 40% of the EU’s wind resource, but still has almost the smallest percentage of installed renewable energy out of any country in Europe!


There are arguments against all types of energy, for example the human cost of coal power is massive as miners often suffer from ‘black lung’ and severe health problems. If these social costs were factored in, we would see the true cost of the different forms of energy generation. This reminded me of our Panel report on the fairness of different energy options. Juliet reminded us that for wind power, planning is still a problem in the UK as it can take almost 3 years to get planning permission. By contrast, solar takes only about 3-4 months.

Wind power could be encouraged by community-owned wind farms which offer local residents a share of the benefits of having wind turbines nearby. They could issue bonds or provide a local tariff so communities have a share of the cheaper electricity generated. Renewable energy is getting cheaper as fossil fuel prices continue to rise. Juliet suggested that wind turbine developers need to reach out to the local community, perhaps offering benefits such as a free electric mini-bus for elderly residents. Overall we need to make it easier for people to invest in renewable energy. Perhaps the launch of the ‘Green Investment Bank’ and the ‘Green Deal’ by the government next year will build on this opportunity?

We found it inspiring to meet a female head of an energy company in an industry that is often male-dominated. As part of our upcoming ‘women in energy’ project, some of us are planning to research this topic. Juliet told us she had not encountered any particular problems; but agreed there is a need to encourage more girls to study Physics and Maths to have the opportunity to work in the energy sector. In an inspiring closing comment, Juliet encouraged any young women interested in energy to “push yourself out of your comfort zone and take risks” – and to have a vision of “what we need to do” to get to a sustainable energy future.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Carbon Capture and Storage












The United Kingdom needs to reduce its carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, creating energy from renewable sources is not enough to meet these high targets. However the idea of CCS can provide an effective route that can dramatically reduce CO2 produced in the air from the various pollution sources.

It is argued that without adopting the CCS initiative the UK would need to build between 5-7 Nuclear power stations or 13,000 wind turbines in order to match the current demand for energy. Energy security has never been more important, where some supplies are being affected by political whims of one country towards another (Eastern Europe to name one). Thus it is in the UK’s interest to create as much energy as possible where the government can ensure its stability and ensuring long term security.

The ethical question is an interesting but an important one to note, the question being why should we take action when countries like China are building more coal stations per year than we can reduce? The important point is that China is still a developing nation and will become the largest user (using 27%) of the world’s coal. China although polluting heavily, is one of the biggest spenders on green technologies, there is a lot to be seen yet in where China is seen to improve its Carbon footprint over the next decade. The fact that the UK is leading the way in such initiatives can provide more job security as more research can pave way to new opportunities by where the UK could be the first and thus able to export new ideas. The UK already exports various types of marine energy, and where it may improved via revenue created from exporting such technologies .

The main aim of CCS will be to capture at least 90% of emitted fumes and store underground 700-5000m under the North Sea, filling the empty areas left where oil had been taken. The storage of carbon will continue to be held offshore to address any fears of safety to the populace. Storage facilities have a life of 100 years where after this time it is hoped better technologies will be in place. The carbon will be stripped from other chemicals via a chemical solution wash and captured for transportation to the offshore storage areas. Storing Carbon can prove to be expensive and dangerous, but it needs to be done to meet EU Law.

There are many arguments against CCS which suggest that the process is an easy way out in meeting targets. The argued lack of efficiency can be noted, the process of Carbon storage consumes a third of the energy the plant produces in the first place. The cost is another important issue and the costs of the process does not necessarily outweigh the benefits, but it is a cost that has to be applied in order to address the Carbon problem the UK faces but is also an opportunity for the UK to lead the way and export new initiatives.

Sunday, 26 June 2011




There are various methods of how electric energy can be created may it be through nuclear, wind or bio-energy and which are currently in use. Such sources of energy generating are set to increase in the United Kingdom over the next few years . The next generation will need to combat a seemingly increasing demand for electric power, while our actual generation is lacking clarification of how the UK will fully address the issue at this time. There is legislation in effect taking the form of an EU Directive, which states that all members must generate 15% of their energy needs through renewable energy sources by 2020. The UK currently generates 7.5% of its energy through renewable sources thus far, in spite of that there are plans in action to increase the percentage.

One noticeable way of how the government is attempting to meet the EU Directive is by enforcing regulation where energy companies source their energy from, they have a so called “grandfather” scheme whereby energy companies are tied in, and where they have to purchase/produce a specific amount of energy from renewable sources, or face costly fines.

Bio-energy creation is the current chosen route the UK will follow in attempting to provide for its energy needs, bio energy in this case means anaerobic digestion and /or capture gases from burning waste (otherwise would be landfill) or sewage, both of which can be used to generate electricity while remaining ethical. The ethical debate is raised over using/growing crops for energy usage rather than for food consumption. The government is currently planning to be generating at least 50% of energy from this source, while this is a high percentage the government will find gaining public support tricky, as many fear such methods create toxic fumes. This however is not the case, as the method the government wants to use will create water vapour only, this is due to the other gases/chemicals will be either burned for energy or captured and stored.

Wind power has been and continues to be used to generate energy, yet the source still faces many difficulties more specifically NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) and the military (radar interference). NIMBYs are mainly worried over the visual pollution and noise the turbines allegedly create, while a number of others believe it decreases the value of their properties. This method of generating power to many is see as a temporary measure until something more substantial is found, and will continue to have vast public outcry over where they should be located.

Why should we generate our own renewable energy ? Well academics as well as the government argue that renewable energy creation can ensure energy security which can be maintained without fear of external factors affecting supplies. In the current economic market, the government hopes to create several thousand jobs within the green energy sector. Britain in its current place as a world leader on green energy , thankfully has the ability to export many initiatives across the world while continuing research into more effective ways to generate more energy from renewable sources.

The next decade will prove to be interesting to see how the UK manages to achieve its goal in abiding the EU Energy Directive. The usage of bio-energy seems to be the way forward, but by no means must it be considered as a full answer to the UK’s needs. Wind power is effective but only arguably on a short- medium term basis and the need for a more substantial source to replace big scale wind farms should be highly considered. The UK seems to be doing well in comparison with other nations, nonetheless must continue on the path as a world leader ,setting a prime example to the rest of the world in what the UK as a developed nation can do.


Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Visit to E.ON's new Smart Metering Centre of Excellence

Energy minister Charles Hendry (left) at the centre

As you may all know by now, the foundation stage of the nationwide smart meter rollout has begun, and will continue until 2014 when the mass rollout stage begins. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has stipulated that energy suppliers will be required to buy and install the smart meters for their customers. This obligation has led to E.ON developing their Smart Metering Centre of Excellence at Wyvern House, Nottingham, and I was fortunate enough to attend the opening of the centre on 9th May, accompanying Charles Hendry, the Minister of State for Energy and Climate Change.

Upon arriving at the centre, the managers and directors involved with the smart meter programme presented us with the overall framework for the rollout, covering the number of planned smart meter installations, to customer eligibility for the programme. The smart meters are free to E.ON customers on combined electricity and gas tariffs, however, the availability of trained personnel to fit the meters has restricted the foundation rollout to the East Midlands and North West regions of England. At the end of the trial period, E.ON aim to have 1 million smart meters fitted into customers’ homes with approximately 7 million more installations between 2014 and 2019.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Give Burning Rubbish a Chance


It was refreshing to discuss the merits of biomass incineration with the DECC Land-Based Renewables Team at the DECC YAP meeting 02/06/11, as this form of biomass energy, in my opinion, too frequently is the object of unwarranted hostility.


The government is under legal obligation to make 15% of energy produced renewable by 2020. For many people, wind and solar are the forms of renewable energy that spring to mind. It is not so widely known that producing energy from incinerating waste is also a renewable form of energy, one which produces a third of the UK's renewable energy, according to the most recent statistics.

Unlike solar or wind power, both popularly conceived of as a ‘clean’ means of generating energy - even if people may oppose, for example, having a wind turbine or farm in their locality for other reasons - waste-to--energy incinerator plants are highly contentious. In general, the idea of incinerating waste is met with opposition and mistrust. People are wary about ‘dirty’ pollutants caused by combustion of waste, and suspicious of local authorities whom they think may divert collected household recyclables from recycling plants to waste incineration plants, under a smokescreen of sustainability.

Producing energy from municipal waste provides a solution to two pressing problems; increasing landfill tax charges and methane gas produced as a consequence of waste decomposition in landfill. By diverting waste from landfill local authorities are able to save money. In essence, biomass energy from municipal waste makes use of waste as a saleable resource from which money can be made, rather than costly taxes incurred.

When rubbish is landfilled we have effectively given up attempting to extract any further resource from it. However, the landfilled rubbish will continue to have a detrimental effect. As it decomposes it will emit methane gas which is a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 (produced by combustion).

Incinerating garbage that would otherwise be landfilled maximises its inherent resource value. To convert waste to energy forms a logical part of the waste hierarchy - reduce, reuse, recycle, recover, disposal – for which I feel waste-to-energy deserves recognition among environmental circles that are rash to criticise and reject. As long as it doesn’t occur to the detriment of recycling (higher up the waste hierarchy) biomass from waste makes sense economically. It also makes sense politically, because the UK produces enough of its own reliably replenishable garbage.

According to the Land-Based Renewables Team stringent regulations exist to ensure plants do not emit toxic pollutants into the atmosphere while combusting waste; indeed, regulations on incineration are 10 – 100 times stricter than those on fossil fuel power stations. In fact, so strict are the rules about emitting harmful gases, ‘that many times more dioxin [the principle objectionable chemical] is now released from home fireplaces and backyard barbecues than from incineration’. Yet despite this, such plants are still persist to be considered ‘dirty’ in the public imagination. This is especially unfair, I feel, considering that waste to energy plants offer a solution to the expensive and escalating problem of municipal waste.

In Amsterdam the public tram system and street lighting is powered by incinerating the city’s garbage. I especially like how a public resource (we all contribute to producing waste, after all) is converted into electricity that is used to power a public service. If waste incineration plants in the UK were seen to have some public benefit, like in Amsterdam, surely the public would be more receptive to the idea?

If you would like to view my other posts on energy please view my blog WasteAM

Friday, 10 June 2011

June Meeting: Carbon Capture and Storage

The new team outside DECC
Last week was the second meeting of our re-launched panel, with still more new faces. We quickly learnt each other's names thanks to Rose's hilarious 'burger & fries' ice breaker. After whizzing through administrative discussions, we split into 5 groups to discuss what we want to achieve this year relating to our 5 themes - SMART meters, Carbon capture and storage (CCS), Land-based renewables, Consumer perceptions and Women in energy.

Below is what the Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) team hope to do this year, and what we heard from a member of DECC's office of CCS later in the afternoon. There'll be more about the other teams soon.
Carbon capture and storage does exactly what it says on the tin: you burn coal or gas; you stop the carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere and contributing to climate change; you stick it deep underground instead. Simple! Oh, actually there's a lot more to it than that... For a start, one option is to capture the carbon dioxide after the fuel has been burnt (post-combustion), another is to remove it from the fuel before it's burnt (pre-combustion), or a third option is to burn the fuel in pure oxygen which makes capturing the carbon dioxide afterwards a lot easier (oxy-fuel combustion). Then there's the issue of compressing the carbon dioxide once you've 'captured' it, then transporting it, then storing it in a safe place for... well forever, I guess! Basically, the technology can seem complicated. So our first project is to produce simple explanation, probably in video and printed format, of how CCS actually works and what the technology really involves. That's aim number one.

Aim number two is to evaluate the potential of CCS as a route to affordable, low-carbon energy. There are quite a few CCS-sceptics on the panel, but as DECC currently supports CCS research, we're going into this with an open mind. We'd be more than happy to have all our concerns completely dismissed. So we're going to do lots of research, and report what we find back to you in the form of a mini-report. It will inform you about the following so you can make up your own minds, as well as giving our own overall opinion and recommendations:

Feasibility. To date, there are no commercial-scale CCS plants in operation. A few small pilots exist, including one at Longannet power station in Scotland, which also looks likely to host the UK's first commercial-scale pilot set to be operational by 2015. The fact that the technology hasn't yet been proven to work is of some concern, but already we've seen that research is taking place around the world, and the industry seems confident.
Economics. How much will CCS cost? How can you even guess how much it will cost when the technology is still largely in development? We heard that the International Energy Agency estimates that reducing emissions and tackling climate change will cost 70% more if we don't use CCS. Yet, other estimates claim that CCS will 'probably be cheaper than offshore wind' per MW produced. A lot depends on what you take into account... for example the cost of development, the profits from exporting British technology, and the increasing cost of coal.
Environmental impacts. Ok, so CCS will reduce a power station's carbon dioxide emissions by 90% which is obviously great, but what about everything else - Coal mining, lots of pipelines, the risk of carbon dioxide leaks, and everything else that comes from burning coal. Happily, coal power stations already have very strict pollution controls. And we heard that 'on-land' pipelines will actually be 2m below ground, so natural landscapes are off the hook. Plus there is lots of research currently being done into the potential impacts of leaks and how to deal with them or prevent them. But none of this addresses where the coal and gas is coming from in the first place.
Health. Again, fuel extraction (coal mining etc) and the rest of a power station's emissions are our main concerns. But we'll also look into if there's anything else to worry about. Nothing has jumped out at us yet!
Sustainability. Taking into account all of the above, even if CCS is perfect, how long can we rely on it for, and is it fair to the rest of the world and future generations for us to do so? We learned that in 100 years maximum, the UK will run out of space to store our captured carbon dioxide! So we'll have to find another solution then anyway. Which brings us onto another question... Why not just invest in renewables instead?
Policy. We're also going to look closely at DECC's policies on CCS. How and why have they been created, and are they good enough to reduce the UK's carbon dioxide emissions in line with the 2050 pathways.
So if you have any concerns you'd like us to look into, if you think you can reassure us about CCS, or if you happen to be awarded £1bn from the government to develop CCS and want to help us, we'd love to hear from you. Just comment below or email elizabeth@think2050.org
- Tom M

Thursday, 9 June 2011

YAP takes forward 2011 agenda

The Youth Panel met last week to take forward its plans for 2011, with very exciting results. As the new Chair of the Panel, it's fantastic to see everything taking shape so well and so quickly!!

We have been asked to make one of our intitial focusses working with young people across the country to gain an understanding of what the energy and climate change debate means to them - do they feel involved? Do they feel it affects them? And where do they seem information when they want to know - or do - more? It would be fantastic to hear more from everyone on this topic - get involved!!

The Panel is spread all round the country, and will be visiting sites of nearby interest - if you'd like us to come and see you - or you'd like to come and see us, do get in touch via elizabeth@think2050.org.

We were then really grateful to two DECC policy teams who met with us to discuss CCS (carbon capture and storage - mainly used for capturing the carbon emissions produced by burning coal) and land-based renewables.

CCS is being trialled in Scotland at Longannet, with much testing taking place. The carbon is extracted from emissions using a chemical wash, with the carbon then transported either as liquid or gas through pipelines. The test pipeline runs from Longannet to the Goldeneye Platform at sea, with carbon travelling 200km past Aberdeen. The aim is to cluster coal fired power stations and other industry together, to minimise the number of pipelines required. DECC believes that CCS is essential, and the Panel will be learning more about this emerging technology, and challenging the policy makers with key questions.

On land-based renewables, our major focusses will be around bioenergy, which can be produced in a number of different ways. Renewable energy presents exciting new ways of providing clean, fair energy, but sometimes comes with its own challenges. It can be created through waste, sewage, forestry, crops ... but we have to understand how land will be used, and how this will effect local communities. Jade Mitchell, one of our new panellists for 2011, has a special interest in waste and will be publishing a blog talking about that side in more depth very soon!

If you have any comments or feedback, or want to get involved in our work, do get in touch at the email above.

Elizabeth

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Royal Electricity Surge: why 'grid balancing' is important

Electric smile: there was a 3000MW demand drop as the Royal couple appeared on the Buckingham Palace balcony.
The Royal Wedding may have been all over our TV screens for months, but here's some coverage of it you probably didn't see. National Grid reported soon after the wedding on the dramatic changes in electricity demand they had to deal with. When the live coverage returned back to the television studio and viewers reached for the kettle, a 2400MW surge in electricity demand was experienced. This is equivalent to boiling nearly one million kettles.

This perfectly demonstrates the problems the National Grid face when dealing with electricity supply. This surge is the same size as the capacity of two a half Hinkley Point B nuclear power stations, nearly two thirds of Drax coal power station (the UK's largest single emitter of Carbon Dioxide) and 1200 Scroby Sands-size wind turbines at peak output. You can easily imagine how finding this sort of energy for only a few short minutes presents a problem for the grid.

It also demonstrates the changes the electricity system will have to go through to see increased renewable energy output. You can't determine when the wind will blow, and the tides aren't going out all the time, so demand will have to be made to work around the environment or energy will have to be stored. This 'Smart Grid' that can manage this will revolutionise the way we use energy and smart meters, which we'll be looking more closely at over the next few months, are the first step on the way to this.

The next steps are more complex. Already the UK has grid connections to Europe so it can buy and sell electricity when supply and demand between nations is favourable. Electricity is already at cheaper at night, when demand is low, and more expensive at peak times; with smart meters, electricity prices may be on 'time-of-use tariffs', fluctuating more precisely depending on overall supply and demand. Electric cars may become giant batteries that spare energy can be stored and sourced from. Hydro-storage such as at 'Electric Mountain' may become more common. Appliances such as washing machines may turn on automatically when energy is more readily available - and cheaper.

This surge in demand wasn't the largest ever experienced by the grid - that was a 2800MW spike at the end of England's penalty shoot-out against West Germany in the 1990 football World Cup. Not even the Royal Family can compete with football, it seems.