Articles from 2011
UK's shale free zone carbon calculator
- Written by Nick Grealy
- Published: 28 December 2011
David MacKay is a physics professor who is also chief scientific advisor to the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change.
From the Guardian today:
Every person in Britain will need to pay about £5,000 a year between now and 2050 on rebuilding and using the nation's entire energy system, according to government figures. But the cost of developing clean and sustainable electricity, heating and transport will be very similar to replacing today's ageing and polluting power stations, the analysis finds.
The forecasts come from a unique open-source analysis package, called the 2050 pathways calculator, which was created by Prof David MacKay, chief scientific adviser to the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The predictions challenge suggestions that the costs of embracing low-carbon energy and meeting the UK's legally binding commitments to tackle global warming will be higher than using traditional energy sources. They are also supported by a major European Union project that found developing renewable energy was no more expensive than alternatives.
"The calculator takes the poison out of the debate," said MacKay, in an interview with the Guardian. "The key thing is that any scenario you choose has to add up."
But how about simply pretending that the shale scenario doesn't exist?
Doing almost nothing to develop low-carbon energy systems – and busting the UK's carbon targets – would still cost £4,682 a year, spent on imported gas for electricity generation and heating and oil for all vehicles. That is 13% of the expected £35,000 average income over the period. By comparison, the least-cost 2050 scenario is £84 (1.8%) a year less expensive, and envisages a mix of electricity generation comprising 42% renewable energy, 31% nuclear power and 27% gas plants with the carbon captured and stored underground (CCS). It also envisages big improvements in energy efficiency, with demand from lighting and appliances having fallen by 60% compared with 2007 levels.
However, the cost of the "do nothing" option does not include the damage to the economy expected as a result of climate change, and the calculator notes that, according to the landmark Stern review: "This is the equivalent of up to £6,500 per person per year on average, on top of the cost of the energy system."
it would be useful to see what gas price implication MacKay's model uses. Before we get to see the actual calculator, the DECC site lets us know, as breathlessly as the Guardian, how useful we'll find it:
On the demand side, you can make choices about the amount of energy the UK uses. For example, you can choose how far to insulate our houses, how much more efficient to make our lighting and appliances, or choose how we travel and in what kind of vehicles.
On the supply side you can choose how the UK produces its energy. For example, you can choose to build up to 40,000 offshore wind turbines or up to 50 3GW nuclear power stations, you can allocate up to 20% of the UK’s land to growing bio crops and you can reduce our use of landfill sites.
Except the calculator simply doesn't let you choose most obvious choice: What if we replaced all coal with natural gas? It also fails to take into account any role whatsoever for Natural Gas Vehicles, especially in freight and marine applications where the technology already exists. What did surprise me was choosing wind or solar seemed to make almost no impact whatsoever. In fact I couldn't find anyway to meet the 2050 targets even including massive efficiency schemes or massive wind off shore and on, combined with a 40% drop in industrial output and a 1.5 C drop in average room temperature and a massive nuclear roll out. That strikes me as a whole lot of pain for very little gain. A lot of that pain must be cost 50 3GW nuclear power stations can't be cheap. But everything is cheap if we go back to the Guardian:
Doing almost nothing to develop low-carbon energy systems – and busting the UK's carbon targets – would still cost £4,682 a year, spent on imported gas for electricity generation and heating and oil for all vehicles.
Cost compared to what? The key mistake here seems to be no role for gas at all. For example, who is talking of imported gas all the way to 2050 these days? So to say that doing nothing would still be very expensive only makes sense if you don't factor in the local and international impact of shale gas.
Which, given how the Professor has in the past condemned gas as just another fossil fuel, would at least be consistent. But even here in the Guardian, reality is raising it's head:
Shale gas, which is currently being explored in Lancashire and has driven prices down in the US, is not explicitly included in the calculator. But can be easily incorporated, says MacKay, by choosing a low gas price in the model. There is a possible "positive future" when domestic shale gas cuts prices and CCS is working, he says.
But that is the point. Maybe I'm missing something, but you cannot choose a low gas price in the model. If i"m wrong, and simply seeking simple solutions, please tell me where I can put a low gas price in the model.
If there is a possible positive future, we deserve to hear about it.