Monday, 10 December 2012

High energy users face UK Government intervention




THE UK Government’s drive to green the nation’s energy profile as outlined in the recent Energy Bill will not be achieved through supply side changes only.
The shift from carbon-based energy will need to be accompanied by a renewed emphasis on reducing domestic and commercial energy demand, it says.
In tandem with last month’s Energy Bill the Government launched its Energy Efficiency Strategy which informs that energy consumption will have to fall by up to 50% per head of the population to hit 2050 greenhouse gas emission reduction targets.
A 127-page report released at the same time, from consultants Rand Europe, highlights global initiatives aimed at cutting energy use.
One example saw a community of around 300 households in San Marcos, California compile their own energy-use league table which led to the high-energy users reducing consumption.
Rand highlight measures which adopt “intervention” strategies which target “high energy-use households” and “team-based approaches which use peer support (and pressure) as a way to encourage changes in behaviour”.
Rand concludes: “It would seem that the key to maximising returns could be to better target the programmes at groups that have scope for making the greatest savings.
“Although evidence is limited, it suggests that one of these target groups should be those that currently have the highest levels of energy usage.
This is an area where there may be a window of opportunity for aligning behaviour change interventions with programmes seeking to encourage investment in energy-saving infrastructure improvements.”
The 106-page Government Energy Demand Reduction report, released to support the consultation, seems to agree.
It says: “Our analysis suggests that there remains some scope to deliver real reductions in electricity consumption in homes by incentivising behaviour change measures.
“Evidence from the US suggests that innovative uses of real-time energy consumption data combined with targeted recommendations can encourage households to reduce their electricity consumption.
“We would expect these savings to be additional to the electricity savings resulting from building fabric measures in the scope of the Green Deal and ECO (Energy Company Obligation), and the behaviour changes resulting from smart meters.
“We seek views on whether this type of policy would be effective in delivering verifiable reductions in electricity demand.”
In trying to establish what measures may be applicable to a UK setting Rand referred me to the DECC, and it says that at this stage it is an “open consultation” and “the exact mechanisms on how it will operate are open for debate”.
Energy UK is working on its input to the consultation, but the Energy Saving Trust was more forthcoming.
A spokesman said: “We believe that people can be encouraged to use less energy by giving them greater control over their energy use and empowering them to practise energy-saving behaviours within the home.
“We believe this can be done through a combination of new technology and meaningful engagement and consultation.”
It says the roll out of Smart Meters, which collect information about energy use in the home, will help consumers keep track of the energy use.
The spokesman continued: “This can empower householders to adjust their energy consumption accordingly so they can save energy in the home. Energy Saving Trust research indicates that the average household can save up to £90 per year by practising energy-saving behaviours within their home.
“Indeed we feel that the success of new energy efficiency schemes will be based mainly on how Government engages with the public.
“Ultimately we recognise that you can have all the energy efficiency measures installed but they still won’t have a meaningful impact unless the person is energy efficient themselves. You can’t have energy efficient homes, without energy efficient citizens!”
What does this all mean then?
Many electricity users facing a £100 a year rise in fuel bills as a result of the supply side changes outlined in the Energy Bill make welcome additional help in making their money work harder.
But, if it’s simply that you like a warm comfortable house, and have done all you can to make it energy efficient, you may well take umbrage at being subject of some further Government-backed  “behaviour change interventions”.
The consultation ends on January 31, 2013, with a report expected after.


Thursday, 29 November 2012


FOLLOWING a 100 year gestation period there are signs we could be about to witness the birth of a new coal rush.
The first Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) trials - during which coal’s inherent energy is extracted in situ - were conducted in the North East of England in 1912.
One hundred years later scientists and businesspeople based in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, just a few miles from the site of the original trials, have launched a new drive to fully commercialise the potential of the earth’s remaining 850 billion tonnes of coal.
They are amongst a host of global teams now working on commercial-scale UCG schemes, using directional drilling techniques from oil and gas exploration, which have added new momentum to the industry.
In Australia Linc Energy’s UCG demonstration facility in Chinchilla, Queensland, Australia is operating successfully.
And last month it signed a multi-million dollar deal with Chinese company GCL Projects Limited, a subsidiary of Golden Concord Group Limited, to commercialise UCG in China.
In the US, a project at Cook Inlet, Alaska, plans to go commercial in 2015, as is the US $1.4billion Swan Hills UCG site in Alberta, Canada.
In the UK the Coal Authority has granted 18 UK licences to companies keen on using UCG to access some of the UK’s remaining reserves.
Newcastle-based Five-Quarter, which has spun out of the city’s University, has the licence for a 400sq km area of the North Sea, stretching from the mouth of the River Tyne up to the Scottish border.
Prof Dermot Roddy, a director of Five-Quarter, said: “The UK was the originator of UCG technology, when Sir William Ramsay conducted exploratory experiments in the Durham coalfield in 1912.
“World War One put a stop to these and UCG was later neglected in the UK while its abundant domestic reserves of oil and gas were exploited.
“But the use of directional drilling technologies, an increased emphasis on energy security, and rising oil and gas prices has led to a renewed surge of interest.
“The technology is now maturing and reserves have been accessed with extended reach wells penetrating more than 20 km laterally at depths of over 400 meters.”
During the UCG process oxygen and steam are pumped through a directionally drilled borehole to ignite the coal.
As the supply of oxygen is limited, the coal is partially oxidised, forming a gas that still retains around 80% of the original energy content of solid coal.
This syngas – a combination of hydrogen carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and methane - is then recovered from a production borehole for use in power generation or conversion into liquid fuels.
Five-Quarter is currently in talks with investors as it aims to raise at least £30m to start work on a demonstration facility.
Meanwhile one of the UK’s major oil and gas industry players has entered the UCG market.
Clean Coal Limited was formed five years ago by Rohan Courtney OBE, who helped to turn Tullow Oil into one of Britain's biggest companies, by exploiting neglected energy reserves in Africa and the North Sea.
It has five UK licences and is also advising on schemes in Indonesia, China, India and Vietnam.
Some of UCG’s major players have been recruited to its team including its head Marc Mostade, who has over 20 years’ experience in UCG ranging from research to managing UCG pilot plants.
He is assisted by Paul Ahner, who has participated in all of the US UCG field trials from 1977 and consulted for 18 months on Linc energy’s Chinchilla project.
Fellow CCL staffer Dr Shaun Lavis, believes UCG is the ideal bridging technology to get through the next 30 years, until renewables are more thoroughly developed.
He said: “In the last decade UCG has become more viable. The main driver of this has been the use of highly accurate drilling technologies borrowed from the oil and gas industries.
“This has helped reduce the cost of recovery with the Swan Hills scheme likely to come in at as little as US $2 per gigajoules, bringing its close to parity with that of shale gas.”
As a carbon fuel, carbon dioxide emissions concern producers and for future schemes to be politically sustainable they will need to come with carbon capture and storage.
The goaf which is left in the gasified seams is being explored as one storage option and some current schemes are using the carbon dioxide for enhanced oil recovery in subsea oil and gas fields.
The Swan Hill scheme in Canada will capture and sequestrate over 1.3 million tonnes of CO2 each year from its 300MW power station
UCG supporters say concerns over possible groundwater contamination and subsidence can be mitigated through careful site selection, project design, and monitoring.
In India, the government is looking at UCG to utilize the 60% of its 270 billion tonnes of un-minable coal.
In neighbouring Pakistan the Thar project in Sindh Province is expected to produce 100MW of electricity by the end of 2013, using UCG.
Dr Lavis added: “In areas such as India, Pakistan and Africa where they are frequent power outages and substantial coal reserves the benefits of UCG are obvious.”
With over 85% of the world’s coal reserves unmineable UCG has the potential to play a major role in the supporting the world’s energy needs for generations to come.
North East England, the home of the railways, used its abundant coal reserves to fuel the first industrial revolution and it may now play its part in a new revolution in the way its abundant coal reserves are used.
By. Peter McCusker
Peter McCusker is an energy journalist, based in the North East of England.