ZCBlog: Energy Modelling

Philip James explains the process of modelling a scenario such as Zero Carbon Britain; What are the benefits and the potential pitfalls?

There are three big topics the ZCB energy team are grappling with. These are:

1. Predicting the output of renewables, particularly offshore wind
2. What future energy demand could look like
3. How can energy storage and demand management help us match supply and demand

We hope to find the answers by modelling. And after several jaunts onto the catwalk failed to shed light, we decided to use computer modelling! This is the construction of “a computer program that attempts to simulate a real-life system”. In this case Britain’s future energy system.

To model is to simplify. We simplify time, space and complexity. The team have collected parameters such as wind speeds, solar radiation, electricity demand and temperature for every hour of the last 10 years. We use this as a basis for simulating how future energy systems would have performed under the real-life conditions we have observed in the recent past.

For example, let’s look at how we model offshore wind farms. We want to know how much energy they could supply in the future. We started by identifying around 50 regions which could be suitable for future offshore wind farms and then obtained wind speed data for each of these regions for every hour of the last 10 years through the US Space Agency NASA. Making assumptions about how many wind turbines will be installed in each of these regions now allows us to simulate future offshore wind electricity production patterns, including hourly variations.

For a time scale, on ZCB, we use an hour-by-hour level of detail. To find a value for energy demand we take Britain as a whole and use aggregate demand at that level. However, to determine heating demand we are using average temperature data from the National Grid that is weighted by population. This ensures that the temperature in more populated areas is more prominent in determining the demand.

In terms of complexity, we make many simplifications; from assumptions about how electricity demand varies, to the assumption of a “copper-plate Britain”. This means we assume that there are no restrictions on moving electricity around the country.

The question of simplification in modelling is an interesting one. It is easy to think that increased spatial and temporal resolution or complexity in modelling a system will give more accurate predictions. Therefore, the thing to be done is to launch into modelling to the highest level of complexity time will allow. However, since a model may stand or fall by the accuracy of its assumptions, then building in ever more parameters or increasing the spatial or temporal resolution does not necessarily improve our understanding of a system.

We may in fact lose sight of the fundamental importance of an assumption that was introduced very early on. We have seen this problem in the modelling of the climate system, where models are of ever greater complexity but concerns persist about their ability to predict how climate change will play out in the real world.

It can even be proposed that the ubiquitous ability to build ever more complex models is taking us dangerously away from the scientific method of asking questions, formulating hypotheses, and carefully devising experiments – be they real world or computational – in order to test the validity of those hypotheses. However, alarm bells will ring for many. This is a reductive view of how science must always proceed. Systems cannot always be investigated by reducing them to the sum of their parts. Building and observing computer models can in fact give us answers to questions we had not even fully formulated.

Two fruitful uses of modelling: Lovelock’s Daisyworld and Lorenz discovering the emergence of chaotic behaviour in his attempts to reductively model weather. They teach us about two sides to modelling. Lovelock asked a specific question:

“Can system level regulation emerge from the interaction of “selfish” entities?”

He devised a beautifully simple model to show that it could. Lorenz did not set out to discover chaotic behaviour but was sufficiently alive to the results his model produced that he did, even when the model was not conforming to his preconceived notions of the results he wanted.

From such lofty thoughts the ZCB energy team returns to its spreadsheet columns and rows: carefully devising questions, alive to unexpected results… but mainly just wondering how in the heck you model demand side management?!

Philip James is the Energy Systems Researcher for Zero Carbon Britain.

philip.james@cat.org.uk

 

A statement in response to the announced Energy Bill

On Thursday 29th of November, The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is expected to publish the new Energy Bill. It should be a step towards a sustainable future for Britain but the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) believes this energy bill represents an opportunity missed.

1. Decarbonisation Targets

DECC have delayed the all important decision on decarbonisation targets. Without steadfast targets to decarbonise the power sector by 2030 the UK cannot hope to reach the level of reduced emissions agreed for 2050. David Kennedy, the CCC chief executive, said:

It is important to set [a 2030] target because investors need a signal of the direction of travel beyond 2020, without that we will not get investment now that we need. There is a high degree of policy uncertainty at the moment and that needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency.”

2. Grid Upgrades and Investment

Whilst 7.6 billion a year will go to fund low carbon energies, DECC also confirmed that UK energy bills will rise. Government funding of low carbon electricity was citied as the primary reason but Britain’s ageing energy grid needs investment regardless. Whether the energy mix is gas, nuclear or renewable many parts of the grid need upgrading and investment. Furthermore, renewables are a front-loaded investment. You pay more initially but your expenses are comparatively low. Tobi Kellner, energy modeller for Zero Carbon Britain, said:

The high proportion of cost in fossil fuel energy systems is from the price of the fuel itself while the overriding cost of clean energy is upfront capital. Expenses for renewable technologies are largely for manufacturing and skilled engineering work. This is all work that can be done in the UK by British firms. Therefore all the money spent stays in the country, except for the raw materials we cannot produce domestically, and creates jobs. The costs for constructing a renewable infrastructure over the next decade may look exorbitant compared to the current model but this is an upfront investment that will benefit the economy for years to come. Reliance on dwindling fossil fuels cannot continue.”

3. A Clear Message is Needed

To avert a global temperature rise of more than 2 degrees, the UK must reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2030. CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain report shows that a carbon neutral UK is possible by 2030.

It is imperative we take action now to avert climate change. But by pushing the date for an agreed target back to 2016, which is after the next national election, decarbonisation becomes an election issue. Instead of delaying, Britain needs strong leadership to show clear direction and tackle this grave threat head-on. As a long industrialised nation the UK must lead by example and should be doing more than the minimum required to meet its targets. We must pioneer a shift toward renewable resources, which we can continue to rely on in centuries to come – unlike rapidly dwindling fossil fuels.

ZCBlog: A round-up of last week’s wind news with added gas!

Oh boy, was last week a blustery time for the future of British energy! Wind is a free resource and the sheer abundance of it across the UK during the past seven days highlights how important renewables can be for future energy strategies.

Over 9% of the UK’s electricity was generated by wind turbines on the 19th , 20th and 22nd of November. However, the total amount would have been higher because this value does not take into account turbines connected to local grids. On the morning of 22nd November, energy generated from wind-farms was more than gas. Indeed, wind power on that morning contributed over 4GW to the national grid, which is equivalent to four nuclear power stations.

This percentage of the UK’s daily electricity demand equates to around 90 GWh. That is as much as you get from burning 30,000 tonnes of coal, which would produce 90,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide because coal is pretty much pure carbon. When burning it, carbon atoms are combined with two oxygen to make a CO2 molecule. One carbon dioxide molecule has the atomic mass of 3.7 carbon molecules. Therefore by burning 1kg of coal you produce more than 3kg of CO2.

Wind is already making a valuable contribution to our energy supply. The growth rate is impressive. There is now over 6 Gigawatts of capacity compared with 2 Gigawatts in 2007. However, to create the type of low carbon energy system described in CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain 2030 report, we will need to see continued rapid deployment of onshore and offshore wind. And further changes to our energy system will be required, such as storage so that wind power can continue to supply ever greater quantities of clean energy.

Sceptics often claim that wind farms are not nearly as carbon efficient because wind needs to be backed up by burning fossil fuels. They argue that when the wind is blowing, gas turbines will have to be switched to a lower efficiency that negates any carbon savings. Combined cycle gas turbines (CCGT) are one of the most efficient gas-fired turbines in use. In a recent study, Loughborough University researched how different operation profiles influence the energy efficiency of a modern 800MW CCGT. The results show that when the turbine output modulates between 400MW and 800MW then the carbon footprint of the gas turbine per unit of electricity produced is only increased slightly compared to optimal constant operation at full 800MW capacity. This illustrates that when the wind blows harder and wind turbines produce more electricity we can reduce the amount of gas we use in turbines without having to pay a significant penalty in terms of turbine efficiency.

The evidence suggests that when we have more wind power we burn less gas and emit less CO2. The truth is that for every megawatt hour of wind generated energy, gas-powered electricity is reduced by the same amount. But how would the variable nature of wind fare during times of high demand if it became a primary resource? Well, current work by the ZCB team suggests that even with offshore wind farms spread all around the UK there will be times when almost no power is produced, and sometimes this will happen at times of high energy demand. On the other hand, it is worth noting that the UK is Europe’s windiest country so a lot of the time energy production from wind will exceed demand.

The ZCB team are busy researching methods of storing this excess energy chemically in the form of hydrogen or methane. Electrolysis can be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, using renewable electricity. The benefit of this is simple. It produces an energy store that can be re-used when demand requires it. Unfortunately, hydrogen is more difficult to store and handle than the natural gas (mostly methane) our gas grid uses today. The good news is that there are chemical processes to produce ‘synthetic’ methane gas from hydrogen and CO2. Methane produced in this way could be a great substitute for natural gas, which is a fossil fuel, and could be used as fuel for backup gas power stations to keep the lights on when the wind doesn’t blow. The Department of Energy and Climate Change(DECC) certainly seem to think this solution has potential as they have just awarded ITM Power a research grant to investigate this exact process. ZCB are very excited by the possibilities of synthetic methane. You can read more here.

And to end on a bit of extra good news – A major wind turbine manufacturer is now planning to open a factory in Scotland. The country is the windiest in the UK and politicians there have previously spoken out in defence of wind-farms. This deal is expected to create 750 jobs so let us hope this bolsters more interest in British wind power and aids further job creation within the renewable energy sector.

 

ZCBlog: Nuria Mera Chouza’s Internship

¡Hola! My name is Nuria. I am the one wearing red in the team photo and I’m a volunteer for the Zero Carbon Britain team until the end of December. Now it’s my turn to tell you something about what I do for ZCB!

I studied Chemical Engineering for five years at Cádiz University, Spain. I have been trying to focus my career on the energy sector, mainly renewable energy, so I applied for the European Leonardo da Vinci grant, to do an internship abroad. The scheme offers grants for Europeans to come and work in Britain. Knowing what I studied and my interest in sustainable energy, they told me about CAT. When they told me the tasks I would have here, I searched “Centre for Alternative Technology” on the internet and I said “I want to go there!”

Before arriving, I thought I would enjoy my work but living here would be hard. I am far away from home, and I am not as fluent in English as I would like! But things are never that hard when you are surrounded by nice people. Everyone at CAT has made me feel at home since my very first day here. They work hard on things that they really believe in. It proves that with just a little perseverance and an open mind, a brighter way of life and another future is possible. Having a walk through CAT you soon realise how many things we are missing and forgetting by living the way we do.

But what I am doing here?

In the Zero Carbon Britain 2030 scenario, wind power is a very important energy source. But renewable energies are not perfect yet and the people who are against them say they are unreliable, they say it’s “because you can not have them when you need them”. Yes, wind is a variable source of power. It doesn’t blow every time we need it and sometimes it blows when we don’t need it. In fact, some wind farms need to stop even when the wind conditions are perfect because the energy demand is low. That means that the chance to produce energy is lost because we don’t need the power at that very minute.

“Wind power can’t be as good as fossil fuels,” say the pessimists. “Because it can’t be stored for later use.”

So I have accepted the challenge! For the new ZCB report we are studying how to store the energy produced from off-shore and on-shore wind turbines. It’s my role to research the feasibility of producing hydrogen as an energy carrier, from electricity by electrolysis, and then recover the energy stored in it. Electrolysis is an electro-chemical process which uses electricity to split water molecules (H2O), which produces hydrogen gas (H2) and oxygen gas (O2). This hydrogen gas can be used in hydrogen engines or fuel cells to recover energy, or it can be combined with CO2 to produce synthetic fuel in a chemical process called Fischer-Tropsch, where hydrogen and carbon are combined to build hydrocarbon chains or in other words, carbon-based fuels. So by using hydrogen in this way, we can make an intermittent energy source like wind power far more reliable.

Because I have been researching this, the rest of the team have been able to look at the bigger picture while I focused my energy on what I enjoy! The team have given me the support I needed to research my ideas and I’m proud of my contribution to the project. I am scheduled to leave CAT in December but I really want to stay and continue working in such a great environment! Everyone here keeps on telling me how important it is to have volunteers and different nationalities working here.

ZCB is a scenario for Britain but why not let people from other countries play their part!

 

ZCBlog: A response to John Hayes’ comments on wind power

CAT disagrees with John Hayes’ recent comments on the development of wind power in the UK.

As a long industrialised nation, the UK should be doing more than the minimum required to meet its targets. We should be pioneering a shift toward renewable resources, which we can continue to rely on in centuries to come – unlike rapidly dwindling fossil fuels. Wind – which the UK has an enviable abundance of – remains an integral part of that shift.

The Centre for Alternative Technology’s Zero Carbon Britain report shows how we can harvest a substantial share of our energy from wind power. The proposed use of on-shore wind power is much smaller to that of off-shore wind but we do believe that the benefits of on-shore wind farms has yet to yield their maximum potential. Wind power is an established energy source with a proven track record, the UK has significant wind power resources and therefore it should be cornerstone of our energy policy.

We believe that the next stage in the development of on-shore wind should be to increase local benefits by developing structures for increased local investment, to enable developments to share a much higher proportion of the returns with local communities.

ZCBlog: Global climate change and reducing carbon emissions in Europe

 

During October Jan Labohy has been working as an international intern for CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain research team, analysing how other rapid decarbonisation scenarios within the international community are similarly exploring how we can rise to meet the threat of dangerous climate change.

Jan studied political, media and environmental sciences at Masaryk University in the Czech republic. He has been working in the Ecological Institute Veronica as the Climate Protection Coordinator since the beginning of 2011, specialising in climate protection on a city-wide scale. His work involves organising the Czech Earth Hour campaign; working within the Czech NGO Climate Coalition to organise conferences or excursions in the field of energy efficiency and climate protection.

Jan’s one-month intern placement with ZCB has been focused on exploring objectives and methodologies used in different scenarios on how to reduce carbon emissions. Fortunately there are many similar initiatives around the globe tackling the big questions present in ZCB2030. Projects are under way, across Europe and beyond, looking at how we all produce and consume energy. Reports such as Energy [R]evolution, published by Greenpeace, illustrate how the international community can reduce their carbon output by cutting the use of fossil fuels. WWF have also proposed energy scenarios for a number of countries. But while many of the energy reports are published by independent organisations, some are sanctioned by governmental bodies with different hopes for decarbonisation. However, every one of these scenarios has one primary concern that unites them: How can we minimise carbon heavy energy production?

By analysing twelve scenarios from eight different European countries, Jan’s research highlights key differences or common threads within each report. It has been an enlightening project and the team are keen to use his findings to improve their research for the third report of ZCB2030.

Unfortunately Jan’s time with the ZCB team has already come to an end. His work has been invaluable and the results will be a great asset for the ongoing direction of ZCB2030. Jan has just begun his PhD studying sustainability communication and the ZCB team wish him all the best.

ZCBlog will be publishing a summary of Jan’s findings soon.

For more info on the zerocarbonbritain2030 project visit our website!

 

ZCBlog: The new Zero Carbon Britain 2030 blog

 

Welcome to the new blog for Zero Carbon Britain 2030! All of the team have now settled in and we’re speeding ahead with the current research phase of the project. Learn more about who we are here.

In addition, we have been joined by Nuria Mera, a chemical engineer on a placement from Spain, and Jan Labohý from the Czech organisation, Veronica. Our brand new Artist in Residence, Joanna Wright will also be following the development of the third ZCB2030 report and incorporating a zero carbon future into her output.

The ZCB office is getting full!

In between bouts of rigorous debate, the team have spent half the time with their heads buried in ZCB2030, really probing and testing the work from the last research phase. We’ve been listening to feedback, and adding our own questions and critique. Part of the scientific method relies heavily on a critical mind – asking difficult questions and challenging assumptions. That is exactly what we’ve been doing.

The remainder of our time has been spent starting work on the larger project areas that had already been identified for further work. The two main research streams that we have started looking at in more depth are how to keep our lights on whilst depending on a highly variable renewable power supply, and also how to keep us healthy eating a low-carbon diet.

Over the next few months, whilst work will continue on all of the above, we’ll also be stepping further outside ZCB – looking at research produced by other institutions and organisations. We’ll make sure that the scenario we describe in ZCB is up to date, and incorporates fully the current scientific understanding, and any recent developments in research and technology. We look forward to having you along for the ride and we will be keeping you updated with regular posts, so watch this space!

There may be some exciting new discoveries along the way, but our main aim remains the same. As our new favourite quote states:

“The right target for both mugging little old ladies and carbon dioxide emissions is zero.”

– Ken Caldeira, Carnegie Institution of Washington

CAT and Volcano Theatre set to host major international arts and sustainability event this September.

From 1st – 9th September CAT will host Emergence Summit 2012: Creating the Future, a major international arts and sustainability event presented by VOLCANO THEATRE and the CENTRE FOR ALTERNATIVE TECHNOLOGY at CAT’s site in Machynlleth, mid-Wales.

The Summit comprises two parts: an international weekend conference of leaders, thinkers and visionaries; and a five-day Land Journey on foot through Wales culminating at the conference.

The Summit brings CAT’s pioneering work on low-carbon infrastructure together with Volcano Theatre’s work on developing the role of the arts as a crucible of ideas and visions for a sustainable society. Curated, designed and produced by Fern Smith (Volcano Theatre), Lucy Neal, Jenny MacKewn and Paul Allen (CAT), the Summit will explore, exemplify and embed the role of the arts in the transition to a sustainable future. Speakers, contributors and artist interventions include Robert Newman, Phakama UK, Sue Gill and John Fox, Simon Whitehead, Sarah Woods, Touchstone Collaborations, Pete Telfer (Culture Colony), Ansuman Biswas, Nick Capaldi (Arts Council Wales), Patricia Shaw, Miranda Tufnell and Paul Allen and Peter Harper from CAT.

‘This is a unique opportunity for individuals from all disciplines to converge and explore their vision for a sustainable future, escaping the dominant dystopian vision of our future, instead developing a positive, solution-focused and practically achievable vision for the transition to a more sustainable society’ Paul Allen, Centre for Alternative Technology

From 1st – 6th September over 30 delegates will attend the five-day Land Journey across Wales curated by Welsh artist Simon Whitehead. The Land Journey invites walkers to traverse the land in unfamiliar ways developing a deepened dialogue, concentration and reflection of the things we take for granted. Embedding sustainability into the personal and collective journeys of the Land Journey, artists and cuisinières Touchstone Collaborations will be providing locally and ethically sourced food, and the walk will be facilitated by Lucy Neal and Jenny MacKewn.

The Land Journey culminates at the conference. The Emergence conference Creating the Future will see 200 participants take part in a three day event of workshops, discussions, creative practice, performance and presentation between 7th – 9th September.

‘Taking the conceptual form of a sine wave, the conference aims to not only discuss and debate change, but becomes a vehicle for change itself. Participants are invited to take a journey individually and together with other participants to explore our collective issues and find solutions to emerge into a new way of being, doing and making.’ Fern Smith, Volcano Theatre

The Summit will be documented by Pete Telfer of Culture Colony and streamed through the BBC and Arts Council collaborative project ‘the Space’.

Registration for Emergence opens to the public on Monday 23rd July. Individuals can register via the Emergence website. www.cat.org.uk/emergence-2012.

 

Zero Carbon Britain recognised as ‘inspirational’ in RenewableUK’s inaugural Energy Awards

 

The Centre for Alternative Technology’s pioneering project Zero Carbon Britain has been recognised in RenewableUK’s first Energy Awards

Zero Carbon Britain receieved the Renewables Campaigner Award, which recognises “campaigning excellence and leadership in winning public support for renewable energy.” The project, which is now entering a new phase of research, provides a clear policy framework for rapidly decarbonising the UK.

RenewableUK described the project as “an inspirational movement for change in the UK,” celebrating its positive, practical message in a ceremony in London on Wednesday night.

Paul Allen, Project Co-Ordinator for Zero Carbon Britain, said that “as the Rio+20 conference reminds us all of the urgent need to rise to our environmental challenges, the Centre for Alternative Technology us proud that our Zero Carbon Britain research has been recognised by the prestigious RenewableUK Energy Awards.

Integrating cutting edge research across a wide range of sectors, Zero Carbon Britain explores our options for rising to the scale and speed of the challenges defined by our most recent science. It clearly illustrates the parallel de-carbonisation and re-vitalisation of the UK’s economy, creating a single document of immediate relevance to citizens, communities, businesses and policy makers everywhere.”

Maria McCaffery, RenewableUK Chief Executive, said “we created these awards to receognise and celebrate excellence in the wind and marine energy industries. The extraordinarily high calibre of the winners, and indeed of the all those nominated, shows there is a great deal to celebrate. The awards pay tribute to these inspiring examples of tenacity and success.”

Zerocarbonbritain2030 blog: Money for Wave & Tidal Energy

In these financially constrained times it is encouraging to see that governments south and north of the border are willing to continue to scrape together money to support marine renewables. It is also gratifying to see that Westminster and Holyrood are playing together on this strategically important area, the harvesting of energy from our tides and waves, by synchronising the funding that is being made available.

In the last few weeks there have been three funds announced.

1. DECC have announced the £20M ‘Marine Energy Array Deployment’ fund (MEAD ). This is being administered by the Carbon Trust and is intended to provide essential funding to help get the leading wave and tidal energy developers plans progressed to the point where they are able to put in groups of machines or ‘arrays’.

2. The Scottish Government has announced two funds. The first ‘Marine Renewables Commercialisation Fund’ (MRCF ) will be £18M and the detail is still being worked on, but is likely to follow similar lines as MEAD.

3. The other Scottish fund is the ‘Renewables Renewable Energy Investment Fund’ (REIF ) is a remarkable £103M. This is half of the money that Treasury eventually returned to Scotland (it having been paid by Scottish electricity consumers in previous years and held by OFGEM). This fund is to be more of an investment vehicle that is planned to work in parallel with the Green Investment Bank.

The intention is that it will invest in RE projects in order to get others to join the party, but in due course will expect to get its money back to re-invest in other schemes in later years. This is therefore the ‘patient money’ the industry has been calling for, i.e. less impatient to get a return than venture capital, but still not just a grant.

There are of course a whole raft of rules about how big the projects need to be and when they have to be operating by, but these are very useful sign of the Governments’ continuing commitment to bring this industry into being. Naturally there are concerns that they are just a drop in the ocean compared to the sort of money that this will take to make this work properly, but for the moment it will help developers prove that the prototypes can indeed be rolled out at scale.

To date the developers reckon they have attracted between 4 to 6 times the amount of public money put in from private investors and they plan to continue to bring it in to make this industry a reality.

So we seem to have some more of the key building blocks in place to build the technology to treat our carbon addiction. All we have to do now is to make the most of them.

Neil Kermode