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!

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.


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.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Video: "What do you think? - My 2050"

This stunning video was recently released, featuring members of the Youth Advisory Panel, aiming to open up the energy debate. Have a watch and go to decc.gov.uk/my2050 to join in.