ZCBlog: Zero Carbon Britain 2013

 

2013 is here! Paul Allen takes a moment to assess what lies ahead and his hopes for the new year…

I have recently received an analysis from a group of my colleagues working for the International Network for Sustainable Energy who presented at the COP18 Climate summit in Doha, Qatar. The outcomes do seem to open new doors for climate action, but it is not the breakthrough that we need to keep global warming to sustainable levels (i.e. global warming not above 1.5 – 2 degrees C).

I was most relieved to hear of commitment to a second period of the Kyoto Protocol, from 2013 to 2020, and although there are clear loopholes that allow carry over of unused emissions credits from the first period, there will also strict limits to their use. There was also a call for Kyoto Protocol countries to review their emissions reduction targets by 2014 at the latest. While there are no guarantees, this decision gives a moral obligation for these countries to increase their emission reduction targets before 2020 and provides opportunities for them to do so in the climate negotiations.

A second phase of the Kyoto Protocol was agreed to cover the period 2013-2020 with reduction targets for European countries and Australia. Unfortunately the reduction targets are not ambitious, e.g. EU only committed to reduce 20% from 1990 by 2020, a target the countries almost have reached today. Another problem is that the countries with reduction targets only emit 1/7 of the global man-made greenhouse gases (if Russia joins it will be more, but still only a small part of global emissions will be included).

So as we say goodbye to 2012, we know the limited reductions committed at Doha will not lead to the reductions required for the rate of decarbonisation demanded by the science. It is therefore vital we rest and get ready to take up the cause afresh in the New Year. There is still hope for improvement as the Doha talks agreed a review of commitments by Kyoto Protocol countries, where they will propose new, hopefully more ambitious emission targets in 2014. The new targets should include much more rapid decarbonisation targets from the long industrialised countries to keep global warming below 2 degrees C.

Much more action is needed, from the countries in the Kyoto protocol, but also from major emitters outside the Kyoto Protocol, including USA, Canada, and China. We hope that during 2013, as we draw together the most recent work from a range of academics, universities, think tanks, NGOs and business and industry into the new report and launch a round of communications we hope the ZCB project will help catalyse a change in how the we think about rapid de-carbonisation, bust myths, highlight hidden benefits, break through misunderstanding, and stimulate urgently-needed economic and political debate around how we think about the future. Leaving it to the ‘powers that be’ is clearly not going to be enough!

Paul Allen

Project Co-ordinator

ZCBlog: Zero Carbon Britain 2012

As Christmas fast approaches, Paul Allen looks at the past, present and future of Zero Carbon Britain…

This time last year we were all still reeling from the paradox of the UN climate conference in Durban. After the disaster of Copenhagen, and little better in Cancun, expectation on any form of deal, and the future of the entire UN process, was not high. While governments avoided disaster in Durban, they by no means responded adequately to the mounting threat of climate change. The decisions adopted fall well short of what is needed.

This time last year a key major stumbling block was delays in agreement over the extension of the Kyoto Protocol post 2012. The final compromise allowed countries to hold their positions by agreeing to further negotiations at the next exciting instalment in Doha, Qatar. This slow progress highlights the difficulties with international climate negotiations, made very apparent from the Copenhagen conference onwards. Delegates (and even presidents) with the best intentions can only act in accordance with how people think about rapid de-carbonisation (at least in democratic states), otherwise any bold promises made at the UN negotiations won’t make it through domestic political systems.

This time last year we knew it was important to build on the previous Zero Carbon Britain reports. We wanted to develop a much more detailed positive vision to get people excited about what it could actually be like if the negotiators did what they were actually meant to do – developing a signed an agreement capable of keeping us below 2 degrees. But back in December 2011 the new research was all just a vision, we know that so much had happened in the three years since the research closed on the last edition of the ZCB2030 report that a lot needed updating, detail needed delving into, areas needed correcting and the energy model required development.

So a member’s appeal begun for a new report and we waited for your support to arrive…

The final response was amazing and very moving personally for me. So many people had valued the impact of the last report that they were committing to help us do it again. Not only individuals – trusts, universities and other charities were coming on board and offering support.

By the end of March we know we had enough to press on so the new ‘Research Co-ordinator’ position was drafted and advertised. Excitedly we short listed five likely candidates and after a gruelling couple of days, and despite some very strong candidates, we were all unanimous on selecting Alice Hooker-Stroud, for here academic rigour, co-ordination skills and meticulous attention to detail. Within a week Alice was helping us interview the rest of the team in time for research to begin in July.

At this point it also became clear that several other organisations recognised what we were trying to do and offered very practical strategic collaborations. Arts Council Wales are thinking ahead of the curve and have offered to support three residencies at CAT, the first of which was to be based in the ZCB team. Our aim was not to do the research, then hand it to an artist to interpret, but rather to embed the artist in the research team to join us in our inquiry into what a truly sustainable future would be like to live in. We were pleased to recruit Joanna Wright to the team in this new and exciting role.

One of my clear highlights of the year was September when CAT hosted an ‘Emergence Summit’ to integrate CAT’s work on Zero Carbon Britain with the arts and creative practices in a crucible of ideas and visions for exploring a sustainable vision of the future. Another exciting collaborator – Swansea’s Volcano Theatre Company, conceived the Emergence concept with the aim of linking the arts with sustainability, not just in terms of reducing the impact of each performance, but also in the concepts into which they engage. We have the technologies we need: the main challenges now are much more cultural! The five day ‘Land journey’ and three day ‘Summit’ formed an inspiring, creative, emergent space to break through the silo’s and bring together key thinkers and change makers from the sustainability and the arts sectors to explore how we can work together to ‘create the future’.

Nick Capaldi Chief Executive of Arts Council Wales summed it up well:

As I, personally, grapple with the difficult issues, I’ll be depending on the arts for those projects and initiatives that will help develop within me the imagination and intuition to begin focussing on dimensions of learning and experience that (for the moment at least) remain beyond my grasp. So I look to the artists amongst us to use their best imagination, their most inquisitive curiosity, their most forensic inquiry, to search more intensely, and to reveal more eloquently the insights that will lead me to a deeper and more rooted understanding. What I understand I can engage with. And what I can engage with I can change.”

As the year draws to a close the first gleanings from the new research clearly indicate that next year is going to be a very exciting and a very busy time both for us here at CAT, and across the wider green movement.

Paul Allen

Project Co-ordinator

 

ZCBlog: Making a meal of your christmas dinner

Christmas is just around the corner and no doubt you have already stocked up on enough food to feed an army over the festive season. Because at this time of year stuffing yourself rotten is just as important as presents and decorations! But do enough of us stop to consider the impacts of food on our environment?

The Christmas dinner is an annual tradition that can bring the whole family together for one day of the year – or in my experience, lead to some of the most memorable arguments of the last twelve months! But I am not here to discuss the pros and cons of eating together. It is the environmental impact of the food that we eat that is concerning.

Diets that are high in meat content have big consequences for your carbon footprint. The UK is made up of about 11.2 million hectares of grassland, which is primarily used for grazing livestock and of which 2.1 million are used for growing livestock feed. Many of the processes that are used to manage this agriculture are carbon intensive. There are other impacts as well. You really don’t want to fathom how much methane all that livestock produces – or how bad it must smell!

A few years back, research by Manchester University found that the carbon equivalent emissions of the UK’s total Christmas dinners was 51,000 tonnes. Much of this can be attributed to the life-cycle of the livestock. However, it would be much higher if the traditional choice of meat was not turkey!

Poultry has a lower climate impact compared to other meat choices. Lamb, farmed salmon and beef are the worst offenders because of the emissions produced from their farming.  This means you can feel less guilty about tucking into your turkey this noel.

It is not only meat that is environmentally un-friendly. Cheese production creates vast amounts of greenhouse gases. Cranberry sauce is another emissions heavy but popular food this time of year. Because much of the cranberries needed for the sauce are grown in North America, the condiment has the highest transport-related emissions of the average x-mas feast.

The great news is that with just a few small changes to the way you eat, there can be a large improvement to your environmental impact and to your health as well. For instance, cut down on the amount of red meat you eat and you will lower your cholesterol. As a rule of thumb, eating less meat and more vegetables will reduce your carbon footprint.

If you want to minimise your climate impact this Christmas, cut out meat completely and go for a vegetarian option. This is how to get a really low carbon Christmas.

Though if you do choose a prime cut of meat make sure it’s a locally farmed product. Locally sourced food will have low transport emissions and benefit your community at the same time. It’s even better if you can grow it yourself!

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

 

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