A plan for climate change

Gordon Morgan examines the Climate Change Act recently passed by the Scottish Parliament -and wonders why it can’t quite give up on coal and gas

Tackling climate change is almost all about government action. As we approach the Copenhagen Climate Conference in November, the need at last for governments to be seen to be tackling climate change has become intense. Both the US and China now officially recognise the need for renewable energy production and have announced major investment programmes. The EU is committed to a major increase in ‘green’ investment if a global deal is reached. The UK has passed a Climate Act and has set up an independent Committee on Climate Change (UKCCC) to provide scientific advice on targets and assess the effectiveness of its policies.

In Scotland, in the lead up to our own Climate Change Act, approvals of renewable energy proposals, commissioned studies into potential energy, plans and National Conversations on energy policy seem to appear daily.Although across the world almost everyone seems to accept the need for at least an 80 per cent reduction in Greenhouse gases by 2050, virtually no detailed planning has been done beyond 2020. Yet decisions made now on houses, transport, energy grids and energy generation typically result in effects which last at least 50 years. Decisions made now are having an effect on our ability to deal effectively with both the environment and society after 2050. ”The (UK) Government’s acceptance of the 2020 carbon budgets was a positive first step, but a clear plan of action is now required” (UKCCC chief executive 9 June 2009). Only now are politicians asking the scientific, technical and business communities:

  • Can an 80 per cent reduction be done?
  • Can it be done on time?
  • How much will it cost?

Yet all such replies, which may go to form part of an energy plan are based on vested interests. Other options may be discarded for considerations of cost or for political reasons. Chosen options may come at an unstated technical or political risk.

On 18th June, after the close of committee discussion of the Climate Change Bill, the Scottish Government produced its own Climate Change Delivery Plan. This sets out in some detail how it plans to meet reduction targets to 2020 and an outline of how it intends to meet its 2050 targets. What are the Government’s implied policy choices and what are the alternatives? On 24th June the Scottish Climate Change Bill became law. This is an extremely detailed act which imposes obligations on the Government to monitor and report on greenhouse gas emissions, bring forward policies to meet the targets, improve energy efficiency and develop a land use strategy. It is the first such act worldwide to include aviation and shipping in its emissions targets, although the EU will include aviation from 2012, so it is symbolic in the run up to the Copenhagen Climate conference. Insofar as it constrains future governments’ policies across all agencies, it will have profound effects – in time. Given the level of monitoring and reports, it is clear that the first Green Deal jobs are in government agencies statistics teams.

Debate in Holyrood focussed on what targets should be set for greenhouse gas emissions reductions: 34 per cent, 40 per cent or 42 per cent by 2020. The Greens, LibDems and Labour questioned why targets were exactly the same as the UK despite Scotland’s much higher potential for wind, wave and tidal energy.

The Government minister baldly stated that, of the 40 per cent of emissions from energy-intensive industries subject to the EU Emissions Trading scheme, ”we do not directly have the power to influence the level of those reductions”, and more generally ”we cannot seek to reduce emissions at a higher rate than the UK rate in reserved areas such as energy generation”. In National Conversation consultations, this is parlayed into, and I paraphrase ”shouldn’t Scotland have the powers currently reserved to Westminster which are inhibiting our action on climate change”. As there is a feasible Scottish Government plan to reduce emissions by 42 per cent by 2020 which would come into action if a Global deal is reached, critics were correct to describe this as ”we will if you will!” Hardly ”world-leading” as Alex claimed.

Nevertheless, unlike Westminster, the Scottish Government has produced a plan which indicates how 2050 targets could be delivered. The main outcomes listed in the plan are removing carbon production from:

  • electricity generation by 2020 50 per cent using renewables, by 2030 100 per cent using renewable and carbon capture and storage (CCS)
  • heating by 2050, largely by 2030 through energy efficiency and non-gas or low carbon heating
  • road transport by 2050, partially by 2030 through electric cars and vans and rail electrification also developing bio-fuels for HGV, aviation and shipping.

Land use strategy should fully account for carbon production e.g. 25 per cent forest cover of Scotland by 2050. Some of the Government’s pledges are worth quoting:

  • ”we will work with the oil and gas sector to maintain its competitiveness”
  • ”We will support development and implementation of clean fossil fuel technologies in Scotland.”
  • ”we will support the development of sub-sea grids alongside improvements in the onshore grid”
  • ”we will promote the development, uptake and use of electric and low carbon vehicles”

Between 2006 and 2008, the Scottish Executive published a five volume analysis of Scottish energy consumption from 1990 to 2002 and projected use to 2020. This provides most of the figures used in the delivery plan however, it largely derived figures for energy and CO2 emissions for Scotland using formula based on UK data. A commitment to reduce greenhouse emissions radically by 2020 was not part of its remit.

Energy use is in large part electricity, plus gas for heating and oil for petrol for cars, planes and ships. In 2002 Scotland consumed 165 Terawatt Hours of energy (TWH, a Terawatt is a million Kilowatts) and produced around 50 million tonnes of CO2. Gas and coal are substantially imported then consumed. Scotland also uses energy refining oil for export and also exports electricity. Scotland’s total energy use including these exports was around 250TWH. This excludes the energy and greenhouse gas missions expended by other countries making the goods, including coal and gas, we import. The Government intends to measure these imported emissions year by year.

The Executive projections to 2020 assume domestic energy consumption will reduce due to insulation and other energy efficiency measures by around 19TWH (32 per cent), but increase in transport. This will give a total energy use in 2020 of around 153TWH. Assuming the country does move to electric cars which can use 60 per cent less fuel than petrol equivalents and achieves further efficiencies particularly in heating between 2020 and 2050 – then energy requirements in Scotland could fall by 30TWH to around 120TWH by 2050. Could Scotland produce enough energy from Renewable sources?

The Government estimates that Scotland could produce 60GW of renewable energy from wind, wave and tidal. Recent studies that show that Scottish offshore wind could generate 40 per cent more energy than previously estimated, so this is a very conservative estimate.

Across the UK, wind farms on average produce 28 per cent of their rated power over a year; early results for wave indicate around 30 per cent; tidal may be somewhat higher. Assuming 28 per cent average, then 60GW generating capacity would produce 147TWH of electricity a year, 20 per cent above the total requirements for domestically consumed power in Scotland in 2050 and three times current electricity consumption. Moreover, this excludes power from bio-fuels, local heat and power schemes, CCS based power. Scotland does not require nuclear power.

At present, Scotland has only 1.4Gw of hydro and 1.4Gw of wind energy generating capacity. In the Government’s plan 11Gw of renewable energy will be installed by 2020 and over 25Gw by 2030. This includes little new hydro power. Thus in 2020 renewable energy is projected to produce 54 per cent of total electricity power requirements, and by 2030 100 per cent of electricity requirements. Why are we not pressing for 60GW by 2030 rather than 25GW? Why do we need Coal or Gas power stations using CCS? Are there alternatives?

Until recently the National Grid (owned by three privatised energy companies) had insufficient flexibility to take additional renewable energy from Scotland and in effect paid energy generators for excess power which could not be used. Numerous renewable energy schemes with planning permission have not yet proceeded because they could not be connected to the grid under the commercial criteria set by the National Grid. However, the Scottish Government has not helped by allowing upgrades to the main grid in Scotland to be delayed by planning objections. If ever there was a case for using strategic planning powers to shortcut the process it is this.

There is little resilience in the grid; in particular to store power until it is required. Connectors to England from Scotland are in place, however, direct connectors to other countries are not in place and modern switches to allow a more diffuse grid have not yet been tested in the UK. This is a limiting factor on the development of renewable energy.

On 6th May the Institute of Engineering and Technology told Westminster that in the UK unlike the EU and other countries:

”There is no vision document showing a joined-up transmission-distribution-end-user picture” and “today’s well-tuned commercial system leads either to just enough capacity or perhaps a fraction less”.

In other words the UK commercial energy market is a barrier to swift action on climate change. An independent Scottish Government should renationalise the Grid.

The increase in renewable energy anticipated by 2020 is almost all expected from wind power. At present Scotland has the largest wind farm in Europe at Whitelee near Glasgow and approval has been given for an even larger one – the Clyde farm. Although for republicans it is ironic that offshore energy depends on the Crown Estate licensing developments yet it has issued contracts for around 6.5GW of offshore wind farms. So that is us sorted then? Not exactly!

First of all there is now a world shortage of turbine fabrication. Vesta, the world’s largest manufacturer, recently shut down its Scottish assembly plant and there is enormous demand building from the US and China – strategically more important markets than Scotland. At the very least turbines will become more expensive and delivery times will expand. The credit crunch has delayed or cancelled many UK renewable projects. There is a world shortage of barges capable of carrying and installing turbines off-shore and a problem with corrosion due to sea water which, experience to date shows, greatly increases the maintenance cost of offshore turbines.

Ultimately, however, huge amounts of wind electricity can be exploited offshore. Scotland has over a quarter of Europe’s wind and offshore wind can produce more stable and powerful electricity output, possibly averaging 40 per cent of the turbines notional capacity.

However, wind has the problem that is doesn’t always blow. October 2006 and February 2007 there were 17 days when the output from Britain’s 1632 windmills was less than 10 per cent of their capacity. Where will we get the electricity required on such days when there is little wind? In the Government’s 2020 scenario, one gas power station, plus pumped hydro stations plus a temporary drop off of electricity exports are required for when the wind does not blow and of course we are still at that time burning coal and have some nuclear reactor energy.

What happens in 2050 if we intend to rely on wind for the bulk of our energy? What about Wave power? Scotland is home to the only company with commercially deployed Wave energy machines, Pelamis. It also has some of the best wave and tidal resources in its waters – is home to the European Marine Energy Centre and in January the Government commissioned a study to assess the best sites for commercial offshore energy extraction.

A significant worry, given delays in contracts due to the credit crunch, is that Pelamis Wave Power, a small company with Scottish Enterprise a shareholder, is taken over by a large foreign energy company and production expertise and patents spanning 20 years are lost to Scotland. Unless early orders are facilitated by the Government, we could find we have to wait in a long queue for turbines. Wave machines in the right place are reckoned to be a less variable electricity resource than wind; however, a lack of wind tends to mean fewer waves. The two energy sources are loosely correlated. Wave Tidal energy is only in development and may be some years from mass deployment, however, its energy output is entirely predictable and uncorrelated to wind and tide. Tidal farms at appropriate points could provide a smooth energy output, although the main tidal sources in the Pentland Firth will ebb and flow at similar times. Proposals for tidal barriers in the Solway show other tidal power options. Tidal power is also a much more predictable energy source than wind and wave and is largely uncorrelated with them in its power outputs.

Both tide and wave must be a major part of Scotland’s long term energy mix. This, though, has been said for over 10 years and, due to lack of political will and finance until recently, little action has resulted. Wave, wind and tidal power are variable throughout a day and across longer periods. How then do we balance energy demand and supply so as to avoid blackouts?

The new justification for Coal and Gas CCS power stations is that we need them for when the wind doesn’t blow! Cynics may look at the SNP Government’s pledge to ”work with the oil and gas sector to maintain its competitiveness” as an alternative reason for even considering a new Gas power station at Cockenzie to replace an obsolete coal one. Clearly the world needs CCS proven technologies to clean up the huge number of coal stations in countries where other renewable energies are limited. Scotland is well placed to do research and commercially exploit these technologies, but do we need them for back up? How much backup do we need?

Scotland is expected to produce 50TWH of electricity in 2020 – equivalent to 5.7GW each hour. At peak demand times around 7.5GW may be required. If we move to electric vehicles and away from gas heating more electricity will be required. By 2030 the peak may be 10GW, so if the wind does not blow that day, how can this demand be met? Firstly not all renewable energy will be from wind:

  • existing planned hydro and tidal energy could deliver 2GW
  • wave and offshore wind, even at a minimal five per cent capacity should deliver 1GW
  • two-way electric car battery charging, local backup and smart grid switching could smooth the peaks by 3GW.

This still leaves up to 4GW power demand which may be required for a day or two each month. The Government anticipates meeting this using Coal, Gas and Oil plants using CCS. However, Scottish Gas and Oil production will fall off sharply by 2030 and gas and oil may need to be imported and we already import coal. Even with CCS this is a reliance on fossil fuels and we cannot be certain at this stage that all Greenhouse gases will be captured and stored. Furthermore we will eventually need to store CO2 directly removed from the atmosphere. There are four alternatives:

  • Significantly expand tidal energy in the Pentland and Solway Firth and other locations.
  • Rely on imported power from Scandinavian hydro schemes via interconnectors as Denmark does currently.
  • Certain forms of energy consumption could be confined to days when the wind does blow. Stored heat is an example as well as batteries mentioned above.
  • Develop our own pumped hydro schemes.

The most significant of these not mentioned in Government plans is pumped hydro. The pumped storage plant at Ben Cruachan can deliver 0.4GW at very short notice to deal with current Scottish power fluctuations. Dinorwig in Wales can deliver 1.8GW to the national grid.

Scotland has many locations where water could be pumped from a lower loch to a higher one for electricity to be produced rapidly when required. An example is to pump water from Loch Sloy to Loch Lomond. It has been estimated that Loch Sloy could store 40GWH of energy, enough for 2GW for 20 hours. Many other Scottish sites exist, some with existing hydro schemes, which could easily provide enough pumped hydro to meet Scotland’s backup needs and could be in place well before 2030 and provide on land construction work. The above shows some of these.

Given this, why exactly do we need gas, coal and oil power stations even with CCS beyond 2030? The delivery plan envisages bio-fuels continuing to be used for HGV, aviation and shipping. It is certainly possible to envisage alternative fuels for HGV and much shipping, but more difficult for aviation. Yet it has been estimated that even if all agricultural land in the UK were turned over to growing bio-fuels, we could only produce 80 per cent of the fuel currently used by us in flying. Realistically, at most 20 per cent could be produced by farming methods. Furthermore, the delivery plan assumes domestic bio-fuels will mainly be used in local heating schemes.

So we face the following choices:

  • rely on imported bio-fuels, with severe question marks over sustainability
  • invent new non farming methods of mass cultivation of bio-fuels
  • Accept a severe curtailment of aircraft use well before 2050.

The delivery plan envisages aircraft use at the same level to 2020 and gives no indication for the future. This is an issue being avoided by the Government.

It has been estimated that, unlike Scotland, the UK and the EU as a whole may need to get 20 per cent of its energy from North African solar power plants. A £1,300B plan for this to be ready by 2030 has been drawn up. This opens the possibility of the EU being blackmailed over solar energy in the same way as the Ukraine was by Russia over gas, unless, of course, the EU expands to include North Africa.

The Scottish Government ”supports the development of sub-sea grids”. We should be aware, however, that the UK and particularly Scotland are at the end of the Grid and most liable to be cut off should disruption occur. This makes it particularly important that Scotland is a net exporter of electricity and has secure backup.

Both the Scottish and UK Government rely on the EU emissions trading scheme to deliver their 2020 targets. Yet till now this scheme has failed to work. Between Jan ‘06 and Dec ‘07 the price to emit a ton of CO2 fell from 30Euro to 0.1Euro. On 25th June 2009 it is 13Euro. To achieve the investment required to meet 2020 targets, it is estimated it must be above 100Euro. Either there should be a significant cut in emissions and/or an EU minimum price must be imposed. Failing that the scheme should be scrapped in favour of directly taxing emissions.

The Government’s pledge to maintain the competitiveness of the Oil and Gas industry directly combats its goal to combat emissions. The Oil and Gas companies have a vested interest in burning fossil fuels. We should aim for their nationalisation and meanwhile refuse to issue any further exploration permits. The world cannot afford existing known reserves of oil and gas to be burnt, let alone new ones.