The Future of Home Heating?

Did you know that over 80% of UK homes are heated by gas, and that heating accounts for 1/3 of UK CO2 emissions?

The UK is actually doing more than it’s part to reduce carbon emissions – our goal of a 57% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 dwarfs the EU goal of 40%.  Even more ambitiously, we want to reduce them by 80% by 2050.  The plan was, or is, to de-carbonise electricity production which has been happening with the push towards solar and wind energy.

The next step was to electrify heat.  The only problem is that the aggregate peak demand for heat is 300 gigawatts, which is more than five times the demand for electricity.  The problem is that at the moment coal and fossil fuels are proving more practical to store, and there aren’t that many alternatives.

However, there could be one…  Hydrogen could be the key to unlocking a sustainable energy economy.  Its main benefits are that it is next to carbon neutral, and it could be stored in fuel cells.  What’s more, the current gas pipeline is largely compatible with hydrogen, and the only real change consumers may have to make is to change their burners on their equipment.

There are already experiments happening over the UK, such as in Leeds where Northern Gas Networks and Wales & West Utilities are studying the feasibility of converting the existing natural gas networks to transport hydrogen.

They have found that: 1) the gas network has the correct capacity for the conversion, which would reduce emissions by 73%.  2) the network can be converted incrementally to minimise disruption.  Likewise Keele University have trialled blending hydrogen into the existing gas supply to prove that a hybrid could be rolled out to the public without disruption.

Finally, the Hydrogen for Heat programme aims to design and develop new appliances that can be run on hydrogen and explore the practicalities of using hydrogen in homes.  Eventually, they aim to implement a pilot project in a small village or town.

Written by Zak Hurst, Director of Southern Energy Solutions, Hastings.

Plight of Our Chalk Grasslands

I feel that it’s now pertinent to reappraise, to question, why and how we move forward with conserving our iconic chalk grasslands.  So, two questions come to mind for me and I shall here attempt to answer them.

1)  Where does the conservation of chalk grassland fit into a much broader, evolving view of nature conservation in today’s Britain of the 21st century?

2)  Can we, and how do we justify the expenditure of the currently very limited amounts of funding and resources, in dealing with the threats to conserving our chalk grasslands?

To try and answer the first question we need to begin by looking backwards…  The latest cutting-edge research is very much pointing to the following scenario: that it was likely that the chalk grasslands of southern England following the retreat of the last Ice Age, were fairly open – perhaps a mosaic of grassland and scrub with occasional stands of woodland on the deeper soils. With the arrival of Man some 10,000 years ago, who practiced ‘intentional’ hunting, followed by approximately 5,000 years later the introduction of farming,  it was likely that this open, grassland habitat on these lighter soils of the chalk would have been encouraged by the increased grazing with the occasional breaking-up of relatively small areas of grassland by effectively shallow, ‘organic’ tillage, this soon being recolonised by the large wild seedbank, once cultivation had been moved on.  Chalk grassland was further enhanced over millennia peaking during the medieval period and again during the 18th and 19th centuries, with the arable element waxing and waning according to the demands of the market place.

Chalk grasslands are today, largely an inconvenience on most farms that include such areas; they are just somewhere to hold some livestock during the occasional pinch-point or in some cases, are simply disregarded, several unacceptable examples to be found on the Firle Estate in the BoPeep area, pictured below.  Other sites are simply badly managed, for example, the Seven Sisters Country Park at Exceat.  However, chalk grassland forms one of this country’s great biodiversity assemblages, rich in both flora and fauna and comparable in this respect to tropical rain forests.  We have though, regrettably lost during the past century somewhere in the region of 97% of this treasured habitat.  (Incidentally, the UK ranks as 29th from the bottom out of 218 countries assessed upon their remaining richness of biodiversity!).

As to the answering of the second question…  We are now conditioned by some 70 years or more of interventionist conservation or ‘gardening,’ of our prize wildlife habitats including the one under discussion.  Oddly, nearly all our designated landscapes (National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) are valued primarily for their cultural value and not for their true potential wildness.  Challenges faced by chalk grassland have been: the slump in agricultural production (grazing) during the first half of the twentieth century and following hard in its heels, the demise of the rabbit population and the fragmentation of farmland from the post-war industrialisation of farming.  Then more latterly there are the repercussions of bovine Tb restricting where cattle can safely graze.  All four challenges have led in general, to courser and ranker chalk grassland vegetation and also in places, to its loss.

But there are more recent, more sinister threats to chalk grassland which a century ago would have been virtually unheard of: nitrogen pollution; destruction from the use of pesticides and lastly, climate change.  To briefly explain: nitrogen compounds emanate from the various types of exhaust emissions released into the atmosphere.  These have almost certainly led to soil enrichment (most wild flora requiring nutrient-poor soils) aiding the spread of the rampant, native tor grass (Brachypodium rupestre) across much of the chalk grasslands and now possibly the increasing occurrence of soft brome grass (Brachypodium sylvaticum).  These grasses are of little use to modern breeds of farm livestock.  Then there has been the use, often indiscriminately, of artificial fertilizers.  Also affecting chalk grassland is the diffuse drift of spray from the widespread use of a whole host of chemicals.  Finally, there is the enormity of climate change which we’re increasingly being affected by and can only guess at what impact this will have in the future on this habitat.

So, we as a nation – national and local government (I castigate national government for their emasculation of Natural England!), NGO’s, (I here single out the National Trust’s achievements as being exemplary), with assistance and encouragement from the public, must continue to fight for and safeguard our chalk grasslands.  Continued, sympathetic grazing by farmers and land managers together with well-considered control of scrub where thought necessary, are vital to safeguarding this much threatened and very finite wonder of the natural world here in the UK.  Education too of course of our younger generations also has a vital part to play in the longer-term struggle.

 

Appetite For Destruction

https://www.wwf.org.uk/sites/default/files/2017-10/WWF_AppetiteForDestruction_Summary_Report_SignOff.pdf

A lot of people are aware of the impact a meat-based diet has on water, land and habitats, and the implications of its associated greenhouse gas emissions. But few know the largest impact comes from the crop-based feed the animals eat.  Go to the above WWF link and take a look!

 

October Sightings

Saturday, Oct 7th.  During a grey, damp morning, I saw two groups of brent geese numbering perhaps 150 birds passing Hastings, battling head-on into the the strong westerly wind and presumably on passage from perhaps Siberia to spend the winter at somewhere like Langstone Harbour further along the coast.

Sunday, Oct 15th.  We went walking up on to Seaford Head and in the vicinity of ‘Puck’ Church’ were rewarded for in excess of 10 minutes by a peregrine jousting with a raven above the cliffs.  A sheer speed that the peregrine came in at for some of its attacks!

Monday, Oct 16th.  Very mild today!  Late afternoon today, daylight became quite weak and semi-darkness descended to be followed at dusk by a strange light – a kind of dirty orange light in the SW sky.  All due to the passing of tropical Storm Ophelia (producing near hurricane force winds) over Ireland, it also carrying north much dust from the Sahara and smoke particles from wild fires in northern Portugal.

Saturday, Oct 21st.  A gale (Storm Briane) and a spring tide produced some huge waves along the beach at Seaford, with the strandline out in the road in places.  Newhaven breakwater also took a pounding as can be seen in the following Facebook pic by Fergus Kennedy.

Tuesday, Oct 31.  Two large (each some 1,200 gross tons) Dutch-based(?) but British flagged trawlers, have been working some 10 miles off the coast from Hastings all day.  Not what the Hastings beach-based fleet wants to see?

Offshore Wind Power Cheaper Than New Nuclear

Status

Great news!  I see the Rampion Field offshore from Brighton is progressing – from Brighton Clock Tower looking down West Street, a rig and towers visible on horizon and full extent surprised me recently as it came into view whilst driving along A259 from Eastbourne.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41220948#_=_

Offshore wind power cheaper than new nuclear.  [ABRIDGED]

By Roger Harrabin,BBC environment analyst.  September 11 2017.

Burbo Bank Offshore Wind Farm, Liverpool.  copyright GETTY IMAGES

Energy from offshore wind in the UK will be cheaper than electricity from new nuclear power for the first time.  The development, revealed in figures from the government, has been seen as a milestone in the advance of renewable energy.

The plummeting cost of offshore wind energy has caught even its most optimistic supporters by surprise.  Nuclear firms said the UK still needed a mix of low-carbon energy, especially for when wind power was not possible.  The figures, from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, for offshore wind were revealed as the result of an auction for subsidies, in which the lowest bidder wins.

Two firms said they were willing to build offshore wind farms for a subsidy of £57.50 per megawatt hour. That compares with new nuclear plants at a subsidy of £92.50 per megawatt hour for 2022-23.

Emma Pinchbeck from the wind energy trade body Renewable UK told the BBC: “These figures are truly astonishing.  “We still think nuclear can be part of the mix – but our industry has shown how to drive costs down, and now they need to do the same.”

‘Energy revolution.’

Onshore wind power and solar energy are already both cost-competitive with gas in some places in the UK.  And the price of energy from offshore wind has now halved in less than five years.

Energy analysts said UK government policy helped to lower the costs by nurturing the fledgling industry, then incentivising it to expand – and then demanding firms should bid in auction for their subsidies.

Michael Grubb, professor of energy policy at University College London, called the cost reduction “a huge step forward in the energy revolution”.  “It shows that Britain’s biggest renewable resource – and least politically problematic – is available at reasonable cost.  It’ll be like the North Sea oil and gas industry: it started off expensive, then as the industry expanded, costs fell. We can expect offshore wind costs to fall more, too,” he said.

The subsidies, paid from a levy on consumer bills, will run for 15 years – unlike nuclear subsidies which run for 35 years.  This adds to the cost advantage offshore wind has now established over new nuclear.  Caroline Lucas, co-leader of the Green Party, said: “This massive price drop for offshore wind is a huge boost for the renewables industry and should be the nail in the coffin for new nuclear.  “The government’s undying commitment to new nuclear risks locking us into sky high prices for years to come. Put simply, this news should be the death knell for Hinkley C nuclear station.”

Nuclear ‘still needed.’

However, the nuclear industry said that because wind power is intermittent, nuclear energy would still be needed.  Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said: “It doesn’t matter how low the price of offshore wind is. On last year’s figures it only produced electricity for 36% of the time.”

EDF, which is building the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant, said the UK still needed a “diverse, well-balanced” mix of low-carbon energy.  “New nuclear remains competitive for consumers who face extra costs in providing back-up power when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine,” the French firm said.  “There are also costs of dealing with excess electricity when there is too much wind or sun.”

Construction of the Hinkley Point plant is under way after gaining government approval last year.  EDF added that energy from new nuclear plants would become cheaper as the market matures, as has happened with offshore wind.  Eyes will be raised at this suggestion, as nuclear power has already received subsidies since the 1950s but storage of surplus energy from offshore wind is still a challenge.

Prof Grubb estimated the new offshore wind farms would supply about 2% of UK electricity demand, with a net cost to consumers of under £5 per year.

Experts warn that in order to meet the UK’s long term climate goals, additional sources of low-carbon energy will still be needed.

News From ‘British Wildlife,’ June 2017

Ballast-Water Reform.  An international agreement on ballast-water, water which is taken on by ships for stability and when discharged, often on the other side of the world releasing invasive species, causing huge problems for local marine wildlife.  As of September 8th, all discharged ballast-water will have to be treated beforehand.

Shrinking Shorelines.  The UK National Ecosystem Assessment estimates coastal habitat has decreased by 16% since 1945.  In England, this has amounted to a loss of some 13,000 hectares with only 800 hectares created or restored.

Pesticides and Profitability.  New research from France has found that reduction of pesticide does not necessarily result in reduced crop yields and profitability.  The study looked at 946 non-organic arable commercial farms showing contrasting levels of pesticide use and covering a wide range of production situations in France.  It was estimated that, on 59% of farms nationally, total pesticide use could be reduced by 42% without any negative effects.  France hopes by 2025 to cut pesticide use by 50%. The UK has no plans to reduce overall pesticide use.

 

Green Groups and MPs Calling for Amendments to the Repeal Bill

http://www.ciwem.org/green-groups-and-mps-are-calling-for-an-amendment-to-the-repeal-bill/

July 7 2017.  The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management,  (CIWEM).

 

Green Groups and MPs are calling For an Amendment To the Repeal Bill.

Thirteen major environmental charities in the Greener UK coalition have begun working with a cross-party group of MPs to ensure the Repeal Bill does not “dilute” the force of environmental law in the UK

The MPs that back the amendment so far include Ed Miliband, former Labour Party leader and secretary of state for energy and climate change, and Caroline Lucas, Green Party co-leader.

The government has said that existing UK mechanisms, primarily judicial review and the role of parliament, are enough to replace all the functions currently carried out by EU agencies and the European Court of Justice (ECJ).  But these UK mechanisms do not compare to current EU arrangements, the groups say.

Currently, EU agencies play important roles in monitoring the state of the environment, checking governments comply with environmental law and, where necessary, enforcing the law by initiating investigations into possible breaches, including in response to complaints from citizens and civil society organisations. If breaches of the law are identified, remedies and sanctions can be applied, including fines.

Shaun Spiers, chair of Greener UK and executive director at Green Alliance, said: “No one voted for dirtier beaches or worse air quality. The government has promised to bring all environmental protections into domestic law, but laws are only effective when there are strong institutions to enforce them.

“The ultimate risk of fines imposed by the European Court has led the UK government to clean up its act several times – for example, when it stopped pumping raw sewage into oceans on a regular basis and, more recently, being ordered by the courts to publish stronger air quality plans.

“To secure the high level of environmental protection that the public overwhelmingly wants and needs, UK governance institutions must be sufficiently resourced, independent and expert. Otherwise, environmental law will fail.

“The government will protest its good intentions, but it should be establishing systems that are proof against any future government that may want to weaken environmental and other protections.”

The Greener UK coalition formed in response to the EU referendum, united in the belief that leaving the EU is a pivotal moment to restore and enhance the UK’s environment. It brings together 13 major environmental organisations, including the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, National Trust, and WWF.

The Great Repeal Bill will end the supremacy of EU law and return power to the UK.

Amendments.  The text of Repeal Bill amendment the groups are recommending the following:

(1) The relevant Ministers must, before the UK’s exit from the EU, make provision that all powers and functions relating to the UK that were carried out by an EU institution before the date of the UK leaving the EU will—

(a) continue to be carried out by an EU institution; or

(b) be carried out by an appropriate existing or newly created domestic body; or

(c) be carried out by an appropriate international body.

(2) For the purposes of this section, powers and functions relating to the UK exercised by an EU institution may include, but are not limited to—

(a) monitoring and measuring compliance with legal requirements,

(b) reviewing and reporting on compliance with legal requirements,

(c) enforcement of legal requirements,

(d) setting standards or targets,

(e) co-ordinating action,

(f) publicising information including regarding compliance with environmental standards.

(3) Within 12 months of the UK’s exit from the EU, the Government shall consult and bring forward proposals for domestic governance arrangements to ensure equivalent provision of the regulatory, monitoring, oversight, accountability, enforcement and other functions relating to the UK currently provided by EU institutions, by providing for the establishment by primary legislation of—

(a) a new independent body or bodies with powers and functions equivalent to those of the relevant EU institutions in relation to the environment; and

(b) a new domestic framework for environmental protection and improvement.

(4) For the purposes of this section ‘EU institution’ includes but is not limited to—

(a) the European Commission;

(b) the European Environment Agency;

(c) the European Chemicals Agency; and

(d) the European Court of Auditors.

(5) Responsibility for any functions or obligations arising from EU-derived UK law for which no specific provision has been made immediately after commencement of this Act will belong to the relevant Minister until such a time as specific provision for those functions or obligations has been made.

 

This article was originally posted on CIWM Journal Online.

First Floating Windfarm to Take Shape Off Coast of Scotland

Why couldn’t the UK have led this research and we built them?  Instead, a Norwegian state-owned company is leading in this great new technology!

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/jun/27/hywind-project-scotland-worlds-first-floating-windfarm-norway?CMP=twt_a-environment_b-gdneco

World’s first floating windfarm to take shape off coast of Scotland.  [Abridged]

Adam Vaughan in Stord, Norway.  Tuesday 27 June 2017.

Two of the floating turbines are readied off the coast of Norway for the trip to Scotland. Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty

The world’s first floating windfarm has taken to the seas in a sign that a technology once confined to research and development drawing boards is finally ready to unlock expanses of ocean for generating renewable power.

After two turbines were floated this week, five now bob gently in the deep waters of a fjord on the western coast of Norway ready to be tugged across the North Sea to their final destination off north-east Scotland.

The £200m Hywind project is unusual not just because of the pioneering technology involved, which uses a 78-metre-tall underwater ballast and three mooring lines that will be attached to the seabed to keep the turbines upright. It is also notable because the developer is not a renewable energy firm but Norway’s Statoil, which is looking to diversify away from carbon-based fuels.

Irene Rummelhoff, head of the oil firm’s low-carbon division, said the technology opened up an enormous new resource of wind power.  “It’s almost unlimited. Currently we are saying [floating windfarms will work in] water depths of between 100 and 700 metres, but I think we can go deeper than that. It opens up ocean that was unavailable,” she said.

Offshore windfarms are springing up across the North Sea for a reason – its waters are uniquely shallow enough to allow turbines to be mounted atop steel poles fixed to the seabed.  However, such fixed-bottom turbines can only be installed at water depths down to 40 metres, making them little use for the steeply shelved coastlines of the US west coast or Japan.

“If you look at coastlines around the world, there’s few that have sufficient area at depths down to 40 metres so if they want to deploy offshore wind, they need to introduce floating wind,” said Rummelhoff.

As well as opening up new frontiers such as the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, floating windfarms could be placed farther out to sea to avoid the sort of aesthetic objections that scuppered a £3.5b windfarm off the Dorset coast.

While Hywind is a minnow among modern offshore wind projects – it will power just 20,000 homes compared with the 800,000 by one being built off the Yorkshire coast – proponents say floating turbines could eclipse fixed-bottom ones in the long run.

Bruno Geschier, chief marketing officer at Ideol, a French company hoping to build floating windfarms in Japan, France and elsewhere, said he expected floating farms to begin to take off in the next decade, “reaching cruising altitude in the mid-2020s and a big boom in 2030-35. Floating wind is an opportunity for France to step on to the podium.”

The commercialisation also means a chance for new countries to emerge as renewable energy leaders. The UK has the most offshore wind capacity in the world, with Germany not far behind, but France, which has none, wants to become a market leader.

For Statoil, the ambitions go well beyond Peterhead in Scotland, where Hywind will be moored and providing power from October at the latest.

Rummelhoff said floating windfarms will come of age in the areas where conventional ones have been established, as countries such as the UK run out of suitable sites in shallower waters.  It is also talking with state governments in Hawaii and California about projects, and eyeing Japan and the new, pro-renewables government in Seoul.

Like many new technologies, the biggest challenge will be cost. Behind the turbines at the deepwater port of Stord in Norway sits a huge lifting vessel usually used in the oil and gas industry. It is the second biggest of its kind, very expensive to hire – and, for now, essential in the process of lifting the turbines off the quayside and floating them.  A generous subsidy deal from the Scottish government made the project viable.