UK CO2 (again)

Interesting little snippet on the news this morning: the EU carbon trading scheme is in some trouble, with prices heading down, because countries have issued excessive permits. Oops: someone has been careless (or naughty: I wonder which?). But thats for another day: today is:

Reducing CO2 emissions from the UK power sector: A report for WWF-UK by ILEX Energy Consulting, May 2006.

Whether its at all reliable I can’t really guess. Its got lots of acronyms and tables and figures to baffle the unwary, though. Its only about CO2 from power. Its own take is:

The analysis shows that relatively minor extensions to current policies and targets could enable the UK power sector to cut its CO2 emissions by approximately 40% from 1990 levels by 2010 and maintain them at this level until 2025 despite the closure of almost all nuclear power plants during this period. The modelling also shows that further incorporation of government aspirations and evolution of existing policies could potentially reap reductions of around 55% from 1990 levels through to 2025.

Part of that cut has already occured, in the switch from coal to gas. The report sez A key issue is the role that gas will play in the fuel mix. The results suggest that by 2025 between 62% and 65% of electricity generated will be done using gas. This seems perhaps somewhat dubious/optimistic. Is there really enough gas to supply that much power (for us and everyone else?) and will it be cheap enough? Most of the savings (as it says) occur by 2010; and I couldn’t see from the report exactly where they were coming from. Curious.

There is also a section (p 22) on carbon capture and storage. Ignoring (I think) the what-to-do-with-the-captured-CO2 it suggests that capturing most of the CO2 costs about 2x as much fuel use.

P 35 has a nice graph about historic and future electricity prices. These show options under the 3 scenarios out to 2050… and oddly enough prices are roughly stable at 2005 values (£37/Mwh), plus or minus a bit, to 2050; though the BAU scenario is cheaper than the action scenarios. However… then you look at 2003 (£19) and 2004 (£22) and wonder if these projections are wroth anything, cos I bet an analysis started a year earlier would not have predicted anything as high as £37 for 2005.

So thats all a bit inconclusive really. What I want is for someone else to read the report properly and tell me what to think :-)

Comments

  1. #1 Tim Curtin
    2006/05/16

    I agree – that Report is pie in the sky (like almost everything produced by/for WWF!). Magically electricity demand decreases of its own accord to offset rising prices so we all still feel good whilst economic growth by another levitation powers on with or without electricity.

  2. #2 AndyD
    2006/05/16

    Well..

    Certainly in the UK, there currently seems to be a concerted lobbying campaign against the idea of Nuclear new-build; this being a reason why the World Wildlife Fund would even be interested in the question. Perhaps I’m being paranoid, but I get the impression that this is coordinated.

    Anyway, it’s a basic replace-coal-and-nuclear-with-gas-and-wind scenario, which can always be made to work if you:

    (a) Assume that sufficient natural gas will be available. With the UK sector of the north sea in steep decline and serious doubts about Russia, this is a risky assumption.

    (b) Assume it will be cheap. It won’t.

    (c) Ignore CO2 emissions associated with long pipelines and/or LNG liquifaction. That can increase CO2 emissions by up to 40%, but not in the consumer country. Importing LNG for electricity generation is not a great improvement than using coal next to a coal mine.

    (d) Gloss over the grid stability problems of using 20% wind power.

    (e) Assume static or declining demand for electricity.

    (f) Terminate the model in the quite near term. Once you reach 75% Gas, 25% renewables, you are very much stuck; this model hits that point quite quickly. You can’t increase renewables without huge incremental grid-stability costs, and if you are using CCGT then you can’t make gas any more efficient.

    (g) Assume that the capital costs for renewables shrink with time, but stay the same or increase for other forms of generation.

    The problem is that if/when the above assumptions fail, your fall back strategy is exactly what is happening right now; old coal plants get taken out of mothballs, more coal is burnt and CO2 emissions go up.

    There is currently a debate in the UK over new nuclear build, and papers like these seem more like propaganda excercises to persuade people that they are not required. The fact that the ‘alteratives’ presented tend to be very expensive, impractical or both tends to be glossed over.

    I personally find the publication of reports like this by ‘environmental’ organisations horrifying. Especially the World Wildlife fund – in the specific case of wildlife, the areas around nuclear plants make good wildlife refuges since people are (irrational but true…) reluctant to live there, nuclear plants actually do reduce CO2 emissions in the real world, they don’t do the bird-kill and wildlife disturbance of wind farms and they don’t disrupt river ecosystems in the way thay hydroelectric plants do. Why on earth is the WWF against nuclear?

    I always feel like a nuclear shill writing these posts; but on this question it seems like the collision between the political impossibility of letting electric grids fail and the environmental groups opposing the only carbon-free way of keeping them going is going to wipe out any attempt to slow CO2 emissions as more and more coal is burnt.

    [Put that way, it doesn't seem very good. Why the WWF should be anti-nuke is a fair question, too -W]

  3. #3 Adam
    2006/05/16

    Without getting into a debate about nuclear here (my reading on that, like everything else is way behind atm), here’s a couple of relevant articles on the gas situation:

    http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/POSTpn230.pdf

    (note its specific mention of peak production)

    [OK, that says 80% imports by 2020. It also predicts global gas peaking then. Planning for 80% imports and lots of gas use then sounds like a bad idea cos everyone is going to want it and the price will be very high -W]

    We have just started importing gas from Qatar: http://www.ameinfo.com/84019.html

    And that’s ignoring the European pipeline issues and Gazprom wanting to buy Centrica.

    On the power/price estimates, the BBC had a web page (lost the link, sorry) where you could alter the levels of production by various methods (wind, coal, oil, nuclear etc.) and the levels of energy conservation. Playing around with it I found that the item that ramped up the price of energy the most was conservation – e.g. the more you imposed savings on energy usage, the higher the cost per watt was. That was demonstrated by keeping all other variables the same.

    What is the thinking behind that idea as it seems totally counterintuitive to me.

  4. #4 Adam
    2006/05/16

    Re the EU scheme, there’s some info. in here:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/climatechange/story/0,,1775689,00.html

    While the Guardian is possibly being a little naughty comparing large multinationals to small countries (economically they’re larger, though mayeb that’s offset by fewer point sourcs?), it is interesting to note that the UK is doing its bit to increase the price of carbon credits.