Renew On Line (UK) number 72

Extracts from NATTA's journal
Renew, Issue 172 Mar/Apr2008
   Welcome   Archives   Bulletin         


1. Big UK wind push

2. Zero Carbon Buildings

3. Nuclear Decision

4. Energy Policy developments

5. Tory Green Energy Promises

6. Brown on Energy...and Climate

7. Biofuels and biomass get going

8. EU News: REFIT spreads

9. Global News: Climate High, Bali Low

10. World Round up: Oz, NZ, Canada try

11. Nuclear news: US and UK plans

5. Tory Green Energy Promises

‘By 2020, 1 million homes & businesses could be producing 2GW of electricity’. Oliver Letwin
The Conservative Party’s new policy on energy has been outlined in their report ‘Power to the People’. It’s essentially a charter for decentralised power, focussed on microgeneration, using a FIT system to promote it. It says they will:

* Change the architecture of Britain’s electricity supply, so decentralised energy can play a major part in satisfying our needs and enable every small business, local school, hospital and household in the country to generate electricity through micro-generation. Ensure smart meters, which measure electricity flowing out as well as into a premises, are available free of charge to anyone installing micro-generating capacity.
*Introduce a system of feed-in tariffs, so that a fixed price is paid for all electricity produced from decentralised, low carbon sources- such as wind power, photovoltaic, combined heat and power, biomass, waste and micro-hydro. Allow any individual or organisation using an accredited professional to install a certified low carbon generating appliance of below 250kW to be eligible to receive these feed-in tariffs. Empower the Secretary of State to set feed-in tariffs for each form of micro-generation, which will be added as credits onto the bill of every micro-generating producer according to the amount of electricity they produce.
* Create a Decentralised Energy Fund, so that the electricity supplier’s net cost in paying the tariff will be met by Government. Fund the scheme in the first few years through the abolition of existing grant schemes for micro-generation, with costs over the long term met by the revenues received from the auction of permits for the Emissions Trading Scheme. Work with the financial sector to develop long-term fixed-rate lending schemes so that the purchase of micro-generating capacity becomes easily affordable.
*Adjust the planning system to make the installation of micro generating equipment simpler and quicker, and oblige the regulator, Ofgem, to reduce carbon emissions through the encouragement of decentral energy.

TECHNOLOGY Their emphasis is on micropower but they define that as anything up to 250kW. That’s a lot bigger than any domestic unit (2-5 kW)- it’s up to ‘municipal power’ level. So its not surprising that the report can say that ‘CHP is efficient only if the generator is decentralised and positioned close to the point where the heat is being used, since much of the heat would otherwise be lost in transmission across long distances’, but not admit that domestic scale CHP is much less efficient.
On wind power, which they have indicated (see Renew 171) they want to throttle back on, at least on land, they say that while ‘the large-scale on-shore wind farms that play a part in the current, centralised architecture of the electricity supply industry can cause significant environmental problems in terms of their impact on the landscape, and can consequently be highly controversial’ but claim that small scale wind can be better. ‘If the architecture of the system is changed, and smaller-scale, decentralised wind turbines become more feasible, these landscape-environmental problems and objections from local communities can be reduced or eliminated. Small-scale wind turbines tend to be more expensive than their large-scale counterparts per unit of electricity produced and are not suited to all locations, especially low-lying urban areas. But, in the right locations, they can be carbon efficient, saving as much as one tonne of CO2 per year per home powered.’

And they say ‘Biomass is particularly suited to a decentralised electricity architecture, within which the generating machines (which range in scale from the size of a garden shed to the size of a barn) can be located on or near to the farms where the plants or trees are grown. Essentially the same constraint applies to energy from waste generation, which uses anaerobic digestion, incineration or gasification to produce electricity, thereby avoiding the use of primary fossil fuels. This form of low carbon generation is more efficient if it is located close to the point at which the waste is produced- since the bulky waste otherwise has to travel large distances, producing large amounts of carbon.’
And on solar PV they say ‘In the right locations, about 40 square metres of PV panels- roughly the size of a normal roof- will supply all the electricity for a medium-sized house’, while ‘in a decentralised system, micro-hydro-electric generation can be introduced, making use of the power from smaller rivers and mill-streams which are not sufficiently powerful to sustain major hydro-electric dams. Rivers with a fall (or ‘head height’) of three metres or more can support such generation- which can be used to provide low-carbon electricity for neighbouring areas.’
For the larger schemes like wind farms, they say they will ‘replace the Renewables Obligation Certificate scheme with a new system of support for large-scale decentralised electricity generation. Our proposals will ensure that contracts already made by electricity suppliers with generating companies that have invested in renewable energy on the basis of the Renewables Obligation Certificate scheme are honoured. But we will restructure the mechanisms of support so that they are less bureaucratic and provide proper incentives for forms of low carbon, large-scale decentralised generation which have not hitherto benefited from the Renewables Obligation Certificate scheme. We will also be bringing forward plans to encourage more efficient use of heat in large scale generating plants, and to promote greater carbon capture and storage for fossil fuel power stations.’ So- less wind farms.

Defining terms
‘Power to the people’ says that ‘by electricity micro-generation, we mean low carbon generators of below 250kW- roughly the size of generator that is required to provide electricity for 120 medium sized homes, a large school, or a medium-sized business’. This is a revision from the ‘50kWp’ limit mentioned in the Party’s earlier ‘Quality of Life’ working group report (see Renew 171). Even that is larger than for any house. The new report also has a classification for ‘Large-scale decentralised generation’ which they say consists of ‘CHP plants, medium-sized or large single wind turbines, biomass generators, energy from waste generators, photovoltaic panel arrays and micro-hydro plants which are big enough to generate electricity (and in some cases heat) for whole housing developments, large factories, large office blocks, large retail outlets, universities and large public buildings’.

Basically it seems they wish to blur the distinction between individual and ‘local’ decentralised generation, and separate that out from ‘larger scale’ generation- including on-land wind farms, which they want to throttle back on.

The battle over terminology is not just of academic interest. It reflects real differences. The Tories are seeking to reflect and presumably exploit local discontent about on-land wind farms and have proposed that the Renewables Obligation be revised to redirect funding towards other larger scale renewables.
The Labour government by contrast believes than wind power, both on land and offshore, is a vital element of its renewables programme. Both Labour and Conservatives also however no doubt want to capture any popular enthusiasm for domestic micro-power & community energy projects. At the launch of the new report David Cameron said ‘By enabling people to generate their own electricity, we are literally giving them more power over their own lives. This really is power to the people. Once people start generating their own electricity, they will become far more conscious of the way in which they use it- they will become more responsible about energy use and their own environmental impact.’
He put this in Party political terms: ‘there is something of a philosophical divide here. I know that the Labour government pays lip service to decentralised energy, but really it has only tinkered at the edges. There’s still a ‘big government knows best’ attitude- straight out of the bureaucratic age. Still an impulse to tangle everything up in bureaucracy which just holds back innovation and progress.’

However progress may not be as simple as he might hope. Hostility to the requirement for on-site renewables from the building industry arguably presents the Tories with more of a problem than it does Labour, since the construction industry has traditionally supported the Tories. Nevertheless, they seem willing to persevere and also to take on the large electricity utilities, in its pursuit of local micropower. At the launch of the new report Oliver Letwin, chair of the Party’s review committee, commented ‘By changing the architecture of the electricity supply industry and opening the way for decentralisation, we can open up opportunities for a range of technologies that are more carbon efficient and which waste less’. Sadly he seemed to misunderstand the argument, since he then added: ‘Part of the reason why our centralised supply industry produces so much carbon is that a large amount of the power it generates is wasted. A staggering two-thirds of energy used in power stations never reaches the consumer. It is lost in the wires that transmit it.’ Oops- it’s more like 9% max. The rest is wasted as heat from cooling towers...
* Power to the People makes much of Germany’s success with REFIT, but links that to micropower, whereas in fact it’s mainly been wind which has benefitted. Micropower is only at about 0.4%

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