What do you think - are renewables limitless energy or a precious resource?

Following the publication of the report ‘UK renewables – limitless energy or a precious resource?’ which examines the renewable energy sources available in the UK and gives a high level overview of the UK’s energy system transition to net-zero; the Energy Policy panel is looking to find out more from colleagues working in the energy sector.

We are seeking views of engineers in the energy sector on a range of issues, from timescales for net-zero, to the scale of transition, energy efficiency and skills.

If you would like to contribute to this timely debate on some of the key issues facing the energy sector ahead of its net-zero targets, please complete the survey here.

The survey will take place from 25th July to the 12th August and the findings will be published at the Renewable Power Generation conference, taking place at the end of September in London. During the conference, author of the report, Jeff Douglas, will be discussing the report and the outcome of the survey.

If you are interested in renewable energy and the transition to net-zero, we encourage you to read our other blogs and find out more about the work of the Energy Policy Panel at the IET.

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  • I believe the climate has changed, is changing and will continue to change. I believe that we should minimise our impact on the planet, minimise our use of finite resources and that fossil fuels are a too valuable chemical feedstock to just be burnt.

    Renewables (wind and solar PV) are neither limitless energy nor a precious resource. They are a parasitical system optimised to allow the rich to get richer via various open and hidden (such as a guaranteed market and not having to pay for backups) subsidies.

    Some people, including one of my colleagues, have installed small scale solar PV systems that they are happy with but still expect the grid to be available as a backup. Combined small wind, solar and battery systems are an excellent solution for remote communication systems (emergency telephones etc.) but these also need a backup system to come and replace an exhausted battery when the weather conditions are not suitable for an extended period.

    Why parasitical? Solar PV and wind are not dispatchable, when the wind blows or the sun shines there is electricity, when it is dark and still there is no electricity. Our current way of life requires a continuous source of electricity in many areas, healthcare, communication, transport etc. This may have to change , but it won’t happen overnight. Would you prefer your operating theatre and ICU to be powered by renewables or conventional thermal power stations? Currently the power distribution operators are required the take every kWh generated by renewables and pay them to shut down if there is a surplus. The power distribution operators also have to fill any shortfall with other generators who are required to turn off and on according to the vagaries of the weather.

    There is an argument that every kWh from wind and solar PV is a kWh not produced by burning fossil fuels. This is true to an extent but is not the whole picture. What ever is needed to back up renewables has consumed resources to be constructed and requires resources to keep it operational, hot standby and spinning reserves for example. These resources are not charged to the renewable energy sources, if they were the energy payback for renewables would be significantly longer or possibly negative.

    When renewable energy suppliers have to arrange and pay for their own back up or storage systems they can be considered a resource, whether this is precious or not will depend on the true economics and energy/resource balance.

    With the current parasitical renewables there is limited incentive to invest in any other form of generation which is being shown by the current energy problems. For years the green movement has been forcing the shutdown of nuclear power plants and blocking the building of new ones as much as possible by forcing in increasingly stringent regulations. They then continued the attack on coal again forcing the shutdown of viable plants without offering any viable alternatives.

    The current gas supply problems are highlighting the lack of investments as old coal fired plants are being reopened and nuclear plants scheduled for closer are being offered life extensions. It is unfortunately too late for Tihange unit 2 in Belgium due to the extreme regulatory burden.

    So what do we do? The first step is a reliable base load supply, at the moment nuclear is the best option. Next we need some sensible storage systems, where geographically possible pumped hydro is certainly the best, but many countries have limited options. Some of the thermal storage systems look quite interesting. What of the other possibilities?

    Bio mass as carried out by Drax and similar is a joke. Small local heating systems using local waste wood are sensible as long as the emissions are monitored and controlled. Our apartment is heated via a district heating system using waste wood from the local forestry operations.

    Carbon capture is currently just a waste of energy. You burn some fossil fuel and then burn some more to extract the CO2 and put it somewhere. A completely pointless exercise which merely increases the consumption of resources.

    Hydrogen is just a rather inefficient energy transfer medium with losses all along it’s production, distribution and consumption pathways. Once again a means of consuming more resources for limited/zero benefits.

    Tidal is a possibility but due to the long cycle times requires huge areas of trapped water with unknown ecological effects. It also requires back up when the tides are turning unless you use multiple basins which reduces the overall efficiency.

  • The fact is that the subsidy transfers wealth from those who can least afford it.

    OK, you are claiming a fact. Let's take this step by step. As in an exam.

    What is the subsidy, precisely? 

    What is the "wealth" you are speaking of, and how does the subsidy transfer it?

    Which class of people is "those who can least afford it"?

    Can you provide an argument that they can "least afford it"?

    Can you provide an argument that they are the only class of people for which the subsidy "transfers wealth"?

  • The subsidy is derived from a levy on everyone's energy bills regardless of income level. It is currently at 25% of the total for each billing period.

    The 'wealth', or rather the money is the income earned by people either working, or from their retirement income which is taxed. Perhaps the term 'wealth' was used incorrectly. Allow me to substitute it for the term 'Income'.

    The 'class' as you put it, comprises of those on sub-average wage levels. With energy bills at their present levels and rising, it is becoming a choice to either eat or heat your home this coming winter.

    Removing the 25% premium on energy bills would make them more affordable, and that should be on top of removing the 5% VAT which no longer has to be applied post-Brexit.

    I'm sure there are many official UK Govt and charity sources who have conducted studies into the future affordability of energy use in homes across a wide cross section of society, you are free to research them yourself.

  • Thanks for the explanation. It is now much clearer to me what you meant. I wasn't aware that the subsidy came from a levy on energy bills.

    Is that *all* energy bills? Gas as well as electricity? Is that the only subsidy for the energy transition?

    The levy is an energy tax - it is money raised over and above the price for the product supplied. I agree with you that requiring those on low income who have trouble paying their energy bills to pay the same 25% energy tax as everyone else is a questionable move. A progressive tax seems to me more appropriate.

    But I also doubt that the tax income from very-low-income households constitutes the majority of the revenue from the energy tax. Does anybody have numbers?

  • The only 25% levy in the UK  is this one

    https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-energy-oil-and-gas-profits-levy-bill

    that is aimed at taxing the profits of the oil and gas producers based in UK.

    There are other charges that appear directly on the bill, such as environmental and social obligation costs  that currently make up about 10% of a typical bill, but as the per-unit rate is rising that fraction is falling ! It is the pink 'policy cost' in this graph from OFGEM. Actually this covers a mixture of subsidy funds, things

    like Warm Home Discount, a social policy which offers rebates on energy bills to very low-income households., and  a range of other environmental schemes, including improvements to the energy efficiency of homes and business by subsidizing cavity wall insulation double glazing etc,  making it affordable to poorer households and smaller businesses, as well as the more obvious Feed in Tariffs paid to households for surplus energy generated from renewable sources (like solar panels).  These latter arguably do benefit larger households more, as small ones do not have solar panels.

    So the money isn’t really all spent on building wind and solar farms as some have claimed, though of course some of it is, nor is it anything like 25% of the bill, unless you cherry pick an all electric flat in the summer of 2019 as your example ( as one MP Robert Halfon recently did !)  But in some more typical cases it has been around 10% until prices recently took off, now more like between 5% and 8%.

    Mike.

  • Mike, thanks for the further detail. It has saved me some work, for I didn't quite believe the flat 25% tax that was asserted.

    There are good reasons to move off fossil-fuel burning of which those of us of a certain age are (still) viscerally aware, but younger people not necessarily. Namely, public health. Life expectancy in the Manchester of 200 years ago was under 30. And it was obvious to anyone why; that is one of the main origins, I believe, of public health as a discipline. The London pea-souper of 1952 led to the Clean Air Act 1956 and then the Clean Air Act 1968, both of which had an effect on domestic energy generation and I can remember that from my childhood. (Both have been superceded by the Clean Air Act 1993, I believe.) I remember pea-soupers in the West Midlands whereby I had to get out of the car on occasion and walk along the kerb so my Dad could see where to drive and have me indicate obstructions. During such events the hospitals filled up with people having respiratory difficulties.

    It is hard to imagine there would any deniers of such things even in this forum.

    More recently, the effects of big-city pollution on the health of its residents have been well documented, and here there is no doubt what the effects are, in general, because one can compare with controls in unpolluted or less-polluted areas. It was sobering to see the difference in severe cases and death rates from Covid in the first wave in cities with air pollution. Again, stark and clearly documented. Getting fossil-fuel-burning vehicles off the roads in British cities, and moving to non-polluting forms of electricity generation would be a big plus for British public health (same goes for here in Germany). The expected effects can be quantified on the basis of the existing comparison studies. 

    So moving away from fossil-fuel burning is a good thing for public health, and can be seen even by those eccentric enough to think that it has had no effect on the earth's climate. Putting taxes on fossil-fuel burning in order to subsidy clean energy generation is worthwhile, even for those who have a hard time getting their head around climate science.

  • I am in full agreement with you on the reduction in real pollutants by not burning fossil fuels, I also think that they are a valuable resource for the petrochemical industry which we will always need for lubricants, plastics, paints, drugs etc.

    Why couldn’t this have been driven by reduction in real pollutants rather than the CO2/Global Warming stuff. People can appreciate cleaner air and water. They are not interested in some future threat based on uncertain mathematical models.

    I see that the apocalyptic/extinction projections are now appearing in the press .

    https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-62378157

    Climate change: More studies needed on possibility of human extinction

    Quatsch

  • Whilst you may 'not be interested in having a habitable planet' the vast majority of the population are, so that's why Climate and Ecological Emergency is the strongest driver for the changes needed.

  • Roger is a climate-change sceptic. He doesn't deny anthropogenic climate change; he just thinks it is less extreme than the IPCC says. Others here are full-blown deniers.

    Many sceptics and deniers say they don't trust the models. The models make predictions about what will happen, and they say "we don't believe that". Well, fine, but what is their own view? Roger says that anthropogenic climate change is happening, but a lot slower than the IPCC models. Others say anthropogenic climate change is not happening.

    What many fail to notice is that these are predictions, with exactly the same force of prediction as the carefully developed scientific models. The models say "this and this"; the deniers say "no". They are predicting the future just as much as the models are, as is Roger. But on what scientific basis? Trying to get them to say is like trying to get blood out of a stone. In other words; little or no basis that they can explicate. 

    Then there are people who just can't read and analyse data. One says "sea level rise is not increasing"; then cites data which is one node of a 300+node dataset which shows that it has, up to the present. The same entity (and others) deny that the world temperature is rising. Atmospheric CO2 is rising (the Keeling curve) and it has been known for 150 years that this leads to an increase in global temperature. This is not abstruse science; this is basic stuff which school kids can grasp. Two scientists won the 2021 Nobel Prize in Physics for refining the calculation of atmospheric temperature rise from CO2 levels. 

    The thing that most worries me is extreme events. A decade ago, when I was discussing climate change with colleagues, I held the view that differences would be second-order, in other words not affected us very much day to day, but slowly turning into big changes over decades. That is manifestly not the case. Unprecedented catastophic events have been increasing in frequency. Scientists are looking at this hard, of course: e.g. the WWA. There is a useful overview in The Guardian today https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/aug/04/climate-breakdown-supercharging-extreme-weather

  • "Whilst you may 'not be interested in having a habitable planet' the vast majority of the population are, so that's why Climate and Ecological Emergency is the strongest driver for the changes needed."

     

     

    Oh dear, where have I said I don't want a habitable planet? I certainly think we have an environmental problem but not an emergency. The difference is that you deal with a problem in a planned sensible way rather than throwing money around in a blind panic which is what the alarmists seem to want. Unfortunately there are a lot of doctrine driven people who can't see reality for their green tinted spectacles. Most of their dogma is based on badly calibrated mathematical models where they then take the extreme outlier, RCP8.5, as the  minimum result. There is very little reality in this. The longest measured temperature series is the CET.

    https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/hadobs/hadcet/

    There was a faster and longer temperature rise between 1690 and 1725 than between 1975 and 2000. Were both due to man? Were neither due to man? After 2000 the curve flattens off to show the ‘Pause’.

     

    The other number series we have is the Mona Loa(Keeling) CO2 series that started in 1959.

    https://keelingcurve.ucsd.edu/

     The correlation between this and the temperature series is non-existent. Here is an extended version using ice core data to go back to 1700, covering a similar period to the CET series.

     

    Written  records of agricultural history show that there was a medieval warm period where the temperatures were higher than today. I know Michael Mann has tried to hide this because it doesn't agree with his views. He has also tried to sue various people about it and failed.

    The proposed warming effects of trace gasses in the atmosphere goes back to the Swedish scientist Arrhenius. There is an interesting piece on the NASA website about his work:

    https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/features/Arrhenius/arrhenius_2.php

    “Using the best data available to him (and making many assumptions and estimates that were necessary), he performed a series of calculations on the temperature effects of increasing and decreasing amounts of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere.”

    “As Arrhenius predicted, both carbon dioxide levels and temperatures increased from 1900–1999. However, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased much more quickly than he expected, but the Earth hasn't warmed as much as he thought it would.”

    The current temperatures are starting to expose people and thing buried by glaciation between 5 and 8 thousand years ago. If we are entering the warmest period since the end of the last ice age how is this so? The coral reefs and polar bears seem to be doing fine. If you wish to quote your alarmist dogma I suggest you find some real evidence. Start by looking at the IPCC comments on the non-increase of extreme weather events when viewed over a sensible time frame, at least 100 years.

    This will be my last post on this thread as the structure is getting too complicated. Please feel free to start a new thread if you want to discuss this further.

  • I discussed the CET series last year with Roger, as I also discussed the Keeling data.

    Karoly and Stott wrote in 2006 that the observed temperature rise in the CET is "very unlikely to be due to natural climate variations and is consistent with the response to anthropogenic ... forcing." https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/asl.136  (the article is open-access). Roger disputed that the data showed an "observed warming.... of about 1.0°C since 1950." I found this very odd. Both people are talking about the exact same data set, and they say contradictory things about it. One difference is that Karoly and Stott are publishing in a reputable peer-reviewed scientific journal under the auspices of the Royal Meteorological Society, and Roger is writing on an Internet forum in which people say all kinds of silly things without consequence.

    I suggested that if he was serious about his assertion contradicting Karoly and Stott, he should write it up and publish it. I doubt that has happened.

    Concerning the Keeling data, he affirmed that CO2 is increasing, but suggested we don't need to worry about it for a century or so. Now, there is lots of work on what kind of temperature increase a given increase in CO2 will engender; a history usually starts with Arrhenius a century or so ago, but it also includes the 2021 winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics and a lot more besides. But it took a very long time indeed for me to get Roger to give his reasons why he thought CO2 quantity was not rising as fast as others have said. It turns out he wanted to perform a straight-line extrapolation, which is inappropriate. A linear two-spline, i.e. two straight line segments, which is about the next simplest approximation, gives you CO2 estimates for the near future which are pretty much in line with IPCC estimates. This is just basic undergraduate numerical analysis. 

    It is a shame he brought up the CET and the Keeling data again but didn't choose to include these previous discussions of his scientific contentions. When scientists have something new to say, they conventionally refer to such previous work.

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  • I discussed the CET series last year with Roger, as I also discussed the Keeling data.

    Karoly and Stott wrote in 2006 that the observed temperature rise in the CET is "very unlikely to be due to natural climate variations and is consistent with the response to anthropogenic ... forcing." https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1002/asl.136  (the article is open-access). Roger disputed that the data showed an "observed warming.... of about 1.0°C since 1950." I found this very odd. Both people are talking about the exact same data set, and they say contradictory things about it. One difference is that Karoly and Stott are publishing in a reputable peer-reviewed scientific journal under the auspices of the Royal Meteorological Society, and Roger is writing on an Internet forum in which people say all kinds of silly things without consequence.

    I suggested that if he was serious about his assertion contradicting Karoly and Stott, he should write it up and publish it. I doubt that has happened.

    Concerning the Keeling data, he affirmed that CO2 is increasing, but suggested we don't need to worry about it for a century or so. Now, there is lots of work on what kind of temperature increase a given increase in CO2 will engender; a history usually starts with Arrhenius a century or so ago, but it also includes the 2021 winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics and a lot more besides. But it took a very long time indeed for me to get Roger to give his reasons why he thought CO2 quantity was not rising as fast as others have said. It turns out he wanted to perform a straight-line extrapolation, which is inappropriate. A linear two-spline, i.e. two straight line segments, which is about the next simplest approximation, gives you CO2 estimates for the near future which are pretty much in line with IPCC estimates. This is just basic undergraduate numerical analysis. 

    It is a shame he brought up the CET and the Keeling data again but didn't choose to include these previous discussions of his scientific contentions. When scientists have something new to say, they conventionally refer to such previous work.

Children
  • Can I just thank Peter and Mike, as ever, for giving detailed evidence based responses. Of course others have the right to disagree with them. However I wholeheartedly agree with Peter on a basic point which I've made at various times on these forums over the last 17ish years: If anyone here has a cast iron argument that climate change is significant slower than predicted, or is not related to man made CO2 emissions, or simply does not exist, then please do no waste that knowledge posting here: it is enormously important. As the discussion above hints at, solving man made climate change through what ever combination of methods (alternative energy, energy efficiency, reduced energy usage) is going to be phenomenally expensive. Now, the present scientific models show that the alternative, i.e. not combating climate change, in terms of impact to our climate is going to be even more phenomenally expensive (to put it mildly). But if you can prove those models are flawed, and that money doesn't need spending, then every government in the world wants to hear from you. I'm being absolutely deadly serious. Whoever can prove that climate change does not need resources poured into it will be the hero of our age (and will almost certainly become incredibly wealthy if they're interested). 

    "Ah, but the scientific community won't let that happen." Well, for a start, there's no such thing (in that sense) as "the scientific community", as I'm sure Peter will support from his experience: put any two academics in a room together for long enough and they will start arguing. Most senior academics would be delighted to find the evidence that proves they know something none of their peers do - that's how scientific reputations are made. But let's put that to one side, since many climate change deniers simply won't believe it. That's why I'm saying go to governments directly - most governments of whatever colour are basically trying to avoid spending money and maintain the status quo, which climate change won't allow.

    Until someone has the magic evidence that makes that happen (and my opinion, which may of course be wrong, is that it is not going to happen) I will base my personal and professional activities relating to climate change on the following: in the 1980's I had a (one step removed) connection with a team of researchers at Oxford University who were modelling the potential climate changes into the 2020's, and now we are in the 2020's I have a (one step removed) connection with the British Antarctic Survey who are seeing these models play out as predicted in real, and quite disturbing, life. We don't even need to rely on the pure standard of the theoretical modelling any more - we're seeing field evidence that fits the models.

    I'm well aware that I'm an electronics engineer, not a climate scientist, so I'm no more prepared to argue the rightness or wrongness of the underlying science any more than (I would hope) a climate scientist would try to argue that a SIL4 electronics design of mine was unsafe. Hence I would rather those debates (which of course do need to happen constantly) should be on e.g. the IoP site. But what would concern me is the idea that because a few dissenters want to argue the science we stop debating different ways of meeting the engineering challenges it raises. Because meeting the challenges is what we are qualified to do. Taking an arbitrary figure of 95% consensus amongst knowledgeable scientists that the models are correct, basic risk management principles say that - given the consequences - we keep working hard at finding mitigations. (Very High Probability x Very High Consequences = Unacceptable Risk, by any risk matrix calibration.) If those 5% are proved right then their colleagues will follow (and hence we will drop down the "probability" axis) and then we stop.

    P.S. I wouldn't claim to have much of an informed view on the actual topic of this thread either - anything involving environmental audits (which this is a huge example of) is incredibly complicated. But it would be a very interesting one to know the informed outcome of, and very important for where we expend our engineering effort.