Part 2. Our energy future:- Now what? Our comfortable lifestyle has been enabled by the use of cheap and widely available fossil fuels. There’s no doubt that our use of fossil fuels both now and in the past has been wantonly inefficient. This is a steadily declining option as these fuels become increasingly hard to find and extract hence making them ever more expensive until final depletion. In the past our coal was dug up and exported. Our UK reserves are virtually exhausted, For fossil fuels, we will soon be totally reliant on imported energy. Even before this happens fossil fuels will be used as a bargaining counter and political weapon by hostile governments. The problem is that no one is quite sure of the exact timescale these events will happen over. Ideally we need an independent and cheap option. Failure to act will mean mass starvation and we could ultimately end up back in the stone age. So, what can be done both as individuals and as a nation? (Yes it’s that important.) The cost of energy can only go up, we all have to use it as efficiently as possible. This includes actions that seem way over the top right now but in the near future will be seen as normal, even essential. Every medium and long term purchase/action should be assessed as to energy use and efficiency. The transition needs to be spread over as much time as possible in order to spread the expense. There IS a plan. The future is electric. At the moment we have diverse energy sources (coal, oil gas, electricity) delivered around the country both to industry and our homes by diverse means, some of them extremely inefficient. Only electricity can do everything we need and it can be distributed and utilised in an efficient manner. Electricity is deemed a secondary energy, i.e. created from primary energy which can be fossil/nuclear fuels or “renewable energy”. The big deal is that fossil/nuclear fuels have to be extracted, refined, stored, transported, creates toxic wastes, causes various health problems and is finite whereas renewable energy is free and infinite. The problem is that renewable energies are diffuse and may only be intermittently available. This poses big technical problems. In fact these problems were considered to be insurmountable in the past but we are reaching the point where we have no alternative. There’s also problems with air, maritime and road transport. The future may also be rail. There are no cheap options. Not only do we have to find alternative energy sources, massive expenditure is needed on our electricity distribution system. The present system was set up for coal burning power stations, located near coal fields. Electricity hungry industries were set up near by. Our country has now been “de-industrialised” and our new energy sources are in different places and are often widely dispersed. There’s lots of expenditure needed in the future to rectify this problem. We also have the problem that if everything’s going to be electric, we’ll need an awful lot more of it. Then there’s the problem of recharging electric cars. Also lots of controversy from the NIMBYs in our society who were happy when power generation was concentrated in other places. Intermittency. As is frequently pointed out both solar and wind power are intermittent. Not as intermittent as you might think though. The wind is blowing somewhere in the UK for 80% of the time. This is garnered in by spreading wind turbines over as large an area as possible. However 80% is not 100% and large numbers of wind turbines are idle for variable periods. The problem can be reduced by electrical links to other countries both to the East and to the West This enables low pressure weather systems that generate wind to be followed as they track in from the Atlantic ocean to continental Europe. There’s a lot more wind even a short distance above the ground than you might think. Also hills and ridges accelerate the wind making them a good place for wind turbines. (The Malvern Hills are ideal in this respect.) All this means that energy will have to be somehow stored or an alternative provided when wind and solar power is not available. A desperate search is on for an affordable battery technology. Solar power is set to be cheapest of all energy sources. Almost no maintenance is needed but the sun don’t shine at night. However power is produced in the day when we use most. But much less in Winter. Combined cycle power stations. These are gas fired power stations where natural gas is used in a gas turbine to drive generators, the hot exhaust gases from the turbines is then used to raise steam which drives steam turbines which drives further generators. This means that twice as much electricity can be generated from the primary fuel as compared with traditional power stations. The output of these power stations can be rapidly changed (unlike current power stations) to meet varying demand and supply situations from renewable energy sources.This is only an interim solution as at some point in the future gas will not be available. Heat pumps. In our future brave new world, gas won’t be available domestically. Our home will be heated by heat pumps. Why so? The heat pump uses an electrically driven pump to transfer heat from outside the house to inside by the delivery of heated water. (Usually heat is recovered from the outside air). In ideal circumstances three times as much heat can be got from the pump as is consumed electrically to drive it. Taken together with the new technology power stations it means we get around six times the heat out of the gas compared with the present position. However the technology being offered is not fully developed, mostly due to manufacturers use of air conditioning technology to try to save money. In practice this means that as it gets colder, the heat pump works less well and supplementary heating is needed both for home heating and hot water. Eventually it gets to the point where the only heat you get out of the pump is what you’ve put in. Another problem is that the hot water delivered is not as hot as from a gas boiler so that larger radiators are needed. This is all down to the refrigerant gas presently used in these pumps, it seems likely that this gas will be phased out and carbon dioxide (CO2) used instead. This is at present commercially used technology and would solve most of the problems. As usual, it’s all about money. Hopefully the cost of heat pumps wil fall in the future. Smart meters. At some point smart meters will be compulsary for every one. They are presently marketed as a way to save money. However no money will be saved unless action is taken over the information provided. They have not been without technical problems in the recent past. The latest cunning ploy to induce people to install them is by offering cheaper electricity. Their ultimate purpose is however to be able to instantly change electricity prices depending on the availability of electricity thus inducing customers to turn off appliances in times when supply cannot meet demand. This is called Energy Demand Managment. The possibility also exists that suppliers will pay the consumer to use electricity in times of surplus. This leads on to the possibility of individuals siting batteries in the home and charging them on free/reverse charged electricity and then exporting it at peak times for money. Electric cars (EVs) As fossil fuels disappears/become expensive the only transport available will be electric too. A whole new topic we shall examine in a future article. Next time:- So what about nuclear?
The free online magazine for news and views from Cradley, Storridge & Mathon
editor@okcradley.com editor@okcradley.com editor: Ken Nason features editor: Harold Armitage
49
May/June 2024
Harold Armitage NET ZERO ?
okcradley.com
Part 2. Our energy future:- Now what? Our comfortable lifestyle has been enabled by the use of cheap and widely available fossil fuels. There’s no doubt that our use of fossil fuels both now and in the past has been wantonly inefficient. This is a steadily declining option as these fuels become increasingly hard to find and extract hence making them ever more expensive until final depletion. In the past our coal was dug up and exported. Our UK reserves are virtually exhausted, For fossil fuels, we will soon be totally reliant on imported energy. Even before this happens fossil fuels will be used as a bargaining counter and political weapon by hostile governments. The problem is that no one is quite sure of the exact timescale these events will happen over. Ideally we need an independent and cheap option. Failure to act will mean mass starvation and we could ultimately end up back in the stone age. So, what can be done both as individuals and as a nation? (Yes it’s that important.) The cost of energy can only go up, we all have to use it as efficiently as possible. This includes actions that seem way over the top right now but in the near future will be seen as normal, even essential. Every medium and long term purchase/action should be assessed as to energy use and efficiency. The transition needs to be spread over as much time as possible in order to spread the expense. There IS a plan. The future is electric. At the moment we have diverse energy sources (coal, oil gas, electricity) delivered around the country both to industry and our homes by diverse means, some of them extremely inefficient. Only electricity can do everything we need and it can be distributed and utilised in an efficient manner. Electricity is deemed a secondary energy, i.e. created from primary energy which can be fossil/nuclear fuels or “renewable energy”. The big deal is that fossil/nuclear fuels have to be extracted, refined, stored, transported, creates toxic wastes, causes various health problems and is finite whereas renewable energy is free and infinite. The problem is that renewable energies are diffuse and may only be intermittently available. This poses big technical problems. In fact these problems were considered to be insurmountable in the past but we are reaching the point where we have no alternative. There’s also problems with air, maritime and road transport. The future may also be rail. There are no cheap options. Not only do we have to find alternative energy sources, massive expenditure is needed on our electricity distribution system. The present system was set up for coal burning power stations, located near coal fields. Electricity hungry industries were set up near by. Our country has now been “de-industrialised” and our new energy sources are in different places and are often widely dispersed. There’s lots of expenditure needed in the future to rectify this problem. We also have the problem that if everything’s going to be electric, we’ll need an awful lot more of it. Then there’s the problem of recharging electric cars. Also lots of controversy from the NIMBYs in our society who were happy when power generation was concentrated in other places. Intermittency. As is frequently pointed out both solar and wind power are intermittent. Not as intermittent as you might think though. The wind is blowing somewhere in the UK for 80% of the time. This is garnered in by spreading wind turbines over as large an area as possible. However 80% is not 100% and large numbers of wind turbines are idle for variable periods. The problem can be reduced by electrical links to other countries both to the East and to the West This enables low pressure weather systems that generate wind to be followed as they track in from the Atlantic ocean to continental Europe. There’s a lot more wind even a short distance above the ground than you might think. Also hills and ridges accelerate the wind making them a good place for wind turbines. (The Malvern Hills are ideal in this respect.) All this means that energy will have to be somehow stored or an alternative provided when wind and solar power is not available. A desperate search is on for an affordable battery technology. Solar power is set to be cheapest of all energy sources. Almost no maintenance is needed but the sun don’t shine at night. However power is produced in the day when we use most. But much less in Winter. Combined cycle power stations. These are gas fired power stations where natural gas is used in a gas turbine to drive generators, the hot exhaust gases from the turbines is then used to raise steam which drives steam turbines which drives further generators. This means that twice as much electricity can be generated from the primary fuel as compared with traditional power stations. The output of these power stations can be rapidly changed (unlike current power stations) to meet varying demand and supply situations from renewable energy sources.This is only an interim solution as at some point in the future gas will not be available. Heat pumps. In our future brave new world, gas won’t be available domestically. Our home will be heated by heat pumps. Why so? The heat pump uses an electrically driven pump to transfer heat from outside the house to inside by the delivery of heated water. (Usually heat is recovered from the outside air). In ideal circumstances three times as much heat can be got from the pump as is consumed electrically to drive it. Taken together with the new technology power stations it means we get around six times the heat out of the gas compared with the present position. However the technology being offered is not fully developed, mostly due to manufacturers use of air conditioning technology to try to save money. In practice this means that as it gets colder, the heat pump works less well and supplementary heating is needed both for home heating and hot water. Eventually it gets to the point where the only heat you get out of the pump is what you’ve put in. Another problem is that the hot water delivered is not as hot as from a gas boiler so that larger radiators are needed. This is all down to the refrigerant gas presently used in these pumps, it seems likely that this gas will be phased out and carbon dioxide (CO2) used instead. This is at present commercially used technology and would solve most of the problems. As usual, it’s all about money. Hopefully the cost of heat pumps wil fall in the future. Smart meters. At some point smart meters will be compulsary for every one. They are presently marketed as a way to save money. However no money will be saved unless action is taken over the information provided. They have not been without technical problems in the recent past. The latest cunning ploy to induce people to install them is by offering cheaper electricity. Their ultimate purpose is however to be able to instantly change electricity prices depending on the availability of electricity thus inducing customers to turn off appliances in times when supply cannot meet demand. This is called Energy Demand Managment. The possibility also exists that suppliers will pay the consumer to use electricity in times of surplus. This leads on to the possibility of individuals siting batteries in the home and charging them on free/reverse charged electricity and then exporting it at peak times for money. Electric cars (EVs) As fossil fuels disappears/become expensive the only transport available will be electric too. A whole new topic we shall examine in a future article. Next time:- So what about nuclear?
editor@okcradley.com
editor@okcradley.com editor: Ken Nason features editor: Harold Armitage
okcradley.com
The free online magazine for news and views from Cradley, Storridge & Mathon
49
June 24
NET ZERO ?