Spending $200 Billion



$(US) 200 billion is the sum which Germany has reportedly spent subsidising solar photovoltaics (PV) in the last 15 years. The figure was quoted by Prof. Dieter Helm – as a professor of energy policy, he should know 1 – on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on 17 December. At present exchange rates, it equals £130 billion.

We should always be aware that resources are finite. We cannot spend the same money twice. I admire Germany’s rate of progress, but even with that, solar now supplies 7% of its electricity. That is under 2% of its delivered energy.

Just perhaps, some of the £130 billion should have gone into areas which offer a higher ‘bang per buck’ and need to be kick-started? I might suggest thousands of energy efficiency measures 2, low-CO2 renewable heat in general and certain renewables which are proving more ‘institutionally’ difficult to get going 3.

Perhaps ‘new’ energy efficiency measures might include commercial LEDs and the more efficient DC motors which are now used in many small ventilation and pumping systems. Those were known in laboratories 40 years ago but only entered commerce in the last 20-25 years.

Dieter Helm also referred in his interview to ‘new renewables’. I would be fascinated to know what these are considered to be! ‘Old’ renewables, as one might put it, have nearly always been classified in terms of the following list: solar heat, solar electricity, wind, tidal, geothermal, hydro and bio-energy. (A few further ‘old’ renewables were said to offer promise; e.g., wave energy, but have not yet become significant, probably due to the technical difficulty.)

This seems to sum up one issue in moving to a more sustainable energy future. What we mostly need are not ‘glitzy’ new technologies; i.e., so-called ‘bling’, but more thorough and careful application of the technologies that we already know.

Too many policy makers are reluctant to support the ‘lower-tech.’ priorities. We need to spend resources on a par with Germany’s £130 billion. We need to prioritise the right areas.



1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dieter_Helm

2 See for instance the blog www.onlyelevenpercent.com

3 Biomethane from waste materials, for instance, including domestic ‘putrescible’ refuse, has not made much progress. Councils have favoured incineration even for ‘wet’ raw materials. Why, I do not know. In the process, it loses much of the original energy value and some of the opportunity to recover high-grade energy; e.g., from the plastics, is lost.


France Has the Right Idea?

Perennial cropping in a garden in Herefordshire; the aim is to produce food and raise soil organic matter.


The Answer Lies in the Soil?

Earlier this year, France set a little-noticed government target. This was to increase the organic matter content of its soils at a rate of 0.4% per annum 1.

This snippet of information by itself sounds trivial. But it’s far from trivial. This rate of takeup could compensate for much of France’s present greenhouse gas emissions.

Not even the most successful attempts at more energy-efficient buildings physically take CO2 out of the atmosphere. Various forms of carbon capture and storage (CCS) offer to do this and to offset CO2 emissions.

The attempts at so-called geological CCS, which focus on taking the CO2 out of power station exhaust gases and pumping it underground; e.g., into abandoned oil or gas wells, have slowed or halted. It will probably take a while before any of these approaches are commercially viable.

By contrast, the approach of biological CCS could offer benefits over the next 20-30 years. This is the period in which taking some CO2 out of the atmosphere might help avoid reaching the so-called ‘tipping point’ which climate scientists have warned of.

Paris Climate Summit

As I write, world leaders at the Paris summit have agreed to try to limit the world temperature rise to 2.0 degrees K. Under pressure from low-lying island states, they have also added that 1.5 degrees K is preferable; i.e., 1.5 K versus preindustrial levels, meaning the temperature of the planet in the late 18th. or 19th. century.

Without very strong action in the next 20 years, not even a 2 degree K warming – the target adopted by the EU and agreed to at the Paris summit – is within reach. Bear in mind that we’ve already warmed by 1 degree K since pre-industrial levels.

We urgently seem to need more affordable ways to limit the temperature rise, so maybe bio CCS is one of them. It could be cheaper than many proposed energy investments. Some of these cost £100s or £1,000s to reduce CO2 emissions by one tonne. The money payable to farmers for ‘carbon sequestration services’ also means that there might be political support in Europe for a bio-CCS policy at a time when farming incomes are under such pressure.

So, top marks to France. Let’s hope it succeeds and let’s look forward to some action by other countries.

1 http://www.theecologist.org/blogs_and_comments/commentators/2985914/frances_plan_to_increase_its_soil_carbon_is_an_example_to_the_world.html

By the way, apologies for the timelag since the last blog. The delay was due to pressure of work.

Three Billion Barrels?

Picture for Blog 100415

Picture (c) BBC.







More Oil Discovered

UK Oil and Gas Investments PLC (UKOG) has discovered oil near Gatwick Airport, on the Surrey-West Sussex border. The media are leading with the story [1].

An oil discovery in this region is not all that surprising. Oil has been produced from onshore fields in southern England for over 40 years, including the Wych Farm oilfield in Dorset. OGI seems to have drilled more deeply than its predecessors to discover this field. It claims that the underlying rock is sufficiently well-fractured that no more is needed.


How Much?

3-15 billion barrels are said to be recoverable. In ‘normal’ energy units, this is in the range 5,000-25,000 TWh (TWh = terawatt hour; 1 TWh = a billion kilowatt-hours).

UKOG has been quoting the total oil content. It puts that at 100 billion barrels. This figure was possibly designed to mislead, because the contents of an oilfield are never 100% recoverable. I complained about the promoters of shale gas doing this in my blog of 19 April 2014; now the promoters of onshore oil seem to be doing it.

The UK consumes oil at a rate of 1.5 million barrels per day [2]. So if the promoters are right, this discovery could be 6-30 times the UK’s annual oil consumption.


Costs and Risks

If this oil proves viable for commercial exploitation, it may help to keep the UK’s serious balance of payments deficit under control. But that is about all. It will have minimal effect on the world oil price.

This price has recently stayed in the range $50-60/barrel, the supply from new oilfields having brought it down from the $100 range.

The underlying problems with oil have not gone away. They are the demand for energy from developing countries, the very high-cost of current and future supply, compared to past oilfields and the insufficient rates of development of the more climate-friendly options of energy efficiency and renewables. I would not be at all surprised to see a resurgence in oil prices in at most a few years from now.


My Verdict

There even remains a possibility that no oil will be extracted from this deposit. The promoters have not acknowledged the risk that the oil deposit may be too deep and too difficult, given the geological and engineering factors that then come into play.

My advice is to keep on investing in energy efficiency. Unlike the uncertainty with the size and cost of future oil deposits, more efficient use of energy presents many fewer risks. One can invest £10,000 and be very confident of obtaining a 10-20%/year or higher real rate of return. The price of energy can halve and these investments are still viable.



[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-32229203.
[2] http://www.eia.gov/countries/index.cfm?view=consumption.

Living in a Solar House

EAA's Office 090914

This was how the building containing my house and Energy Advisory Associates’ office appeared on many days this winter, seen against an intense blue sky. Well, almost like this; the picture was actually taken late in autumn 2014.

Yes, the weather has been cold by UK standards. But in a passive solar building, the solar energy available matters more than the outside temperature and there has been plenty of solar energy this winter. In a solar house, one would not always guess that it is uncomfortably cold outside from the relatively warm temperature indoors.

For a passive solar building, ‘winter’ is mostly over by now. In a ‘normal’ or ‘average’ year’, anyway. February and March are on average as cold as December and January, but the sun is higher in the sky.

At present, this 110 m2 building is consuming about 800 watts of heat. The Cropthorne House, which was designed later, with my help, has been at 20oC on passive solar alone for large parts of winter 2014-15 [1] [2].

I am writing a book to give an account of the experience with this house, explain the principles to others and help them to achieve more effective results. There is a separate website also now available giving more details of the project and how it achieves low, hopefully negative, CO2 emissions [3].




[1] Coe, Mike, personal communication (January 2015).

[2] www.cropthornehouse.co.uk.

[3] www.energyshowcase.org.uk.

Never-Ending Opportunities

Picture for Blog 031214



 LED TW ‘Light Bulb’

Source: www.cree.com.

What Is It?


It is the shape of an incandescent lamp. It produces the same quality of light as an incandescent lamp. It comes on instantly, like an incandescent lamp. So is it an incandescent lamp? Possibly not. These days, it might be an LED. One recent product seems to represent a significant advance on anything else.

Cree, a major US manufacturer of light-emitting diodes (LEDs), has been steadily expanding its range of LED ‘light bulbs’. They reduce electricity consumption by 75-80% compared to incandescent or halogen bulbs. That alone is not unusual; LEDs made for the last four to five years do that.

What makes its newest LEDs very interesting is the light quality. It should be good enough to rival the light from an incandescent or halogen light bulb [1] [2].




In their home market, these LEDs are being sold in DIY sheds for as little as $15-20(£8-12) per bulb. Not just that; there is a manufacturer’s guarantee of ten years.

If Cree or another company were to make millions more, this time at 240 V, how good would the economics look in the UK or the rest of the EU? In principle, excellent.

Mr. Smith replaces ten 60 watt (W) bulbs by LEDs, costing £100. Nothing in his house looks significantly different from before. Lights still come on instantly. At a usage of 1,000 hours per year, and with electricity costing 14 pence per kWh, these ten bulbs consume 120 kWh of electricity per year. The electricity costs £16.80. The total cost over ten years is £168 for electricity and £100 for bulbs, totalling £268.

Without fitting LEDs, halogen lamps or incandescents would cost him £5 every year for bulbs and another £84 for electricity. The total cost over ten years is £840 for electricity and £50 for bulbs, totalling £890.

So, over ten years; i.e., the guarantee period, his net saving is £890 minus £268, say £620. A bargain to anyone whose time horizon stretches for more than a year into the future. CO2 emissions over ten years are reduced by 2.6 tonnes [3].

If LEDs need no overall subsidy, what a difference from all too many ‘green energy measures’ which are conventionally favoured by commentators – and by Ministers. Some of these technologies cannot even compete with oil at today’s price [4].




Somewhat frustratingly, we cannot yet obtain these high colour quality, ‘affordable’ LEDs in Europe. They are only made for a 120 volt (V) AC, 60 cycles per second (Hertz, Hz) mains electricity supply. I asked Cree when similar LEDs might become available for 240 V but they did not know.

Unless, and until, other manufacturers launch similar or better products, also at £8-10 per bulb, I shall keep my existing CFLs and wait for the overall balance of price/colour/efficacy of LEDs to improve. I am not too impressed by existing LED lamps and their rather poor colour rendering, nor by the premium prices being asked for high-CRI LEDs.


Constant Progress


At a stroke, these new LED lamps make existing incandescent or halogen lamps obsolete. Over its lifetime, the LED saves electricity worth more than it has cost; i.e., it yields a net profit. The reduced CO2 emissons come as a bonus on top and cost nothing. As Amory Lovins put it, these technologies abate climate change at a profit.

Energy efficiency opportunities are still emerging faster than existing ones are being implemented, making negawatts somewhat of a moving target. Companies which concentrate their efforts on subsidised and expensive energy supply should perhaps re-focus on the many energy efficiency measures which could be implemented at lower cost than buying fossil fuels. Could these energy suppliers be in the wrong business?




Long experience tells us that small consumers can be slow to take up investments, even ones which save £600. To deploy such technology, I continue to believe that the most effective step would be to re-regulate UK utility companies, as outlined in my 5 January 2014 blog, and impose tough targets on them. Perhaps ask them to cut per capita CO2 emissions in their region by 40% by 2025 and 65% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels?

As if to prove my point about re-regulation, these new LED lamps seem to have been launched thanks to the efforts of California’s Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and Energy Commission (CEC). CEC wrote a tight specification requiring manufacturers to come up with better quality light than today’s LEDs [5]. By 2014, the TW lamp was on sale in most US states.

Until the EU or one or more member states take similar initiative(s), I presume that European consumers must wait. I would like the EU to give member states more freedom to act on this independently of the Commission; see my blog of 14 August 2014.



[1] http://www.cree.com/News-and-Events/Cree-News/Press-Releases/2014/May/TW-bulb-nationwide.
[2] Technically, the colour rendering index (CRI) is 93, not far from the 100 for halogen. By comparison, the CRI is about 80 for today’s mass-market LEDs, 85 for T5 fluorescents or compact fluorescent (CFLs) and 70-75 for older halophosphate fluorescent tubes. The CRI has limitations as an indication of overall colour balance and acceptablity to consumers. Reputable companies do not usually use the CRIs to mislead purchasers but cheap CFLs and LEDs sometimes promise better colour rendering than they deliver.
[3] Assuming CO2 emissions of 0.55 kg per kWh, as in UK Building Regulations SAP calculations. It may be higher in some circumstances, given the amount of electricity still generated from coal.
[4] This was around $100/barrel for some time. It has recently slipped nearer to $70/barrel, thanks to increased supplies.
[5] http://www.extremetech.com/electronics/166084-cree-tw-led-bulb