The UK Energy White Paper: An Academic Critique

This is a guest post by Mike Pepler. Mike lives in Rye, UK, and works from home for the Ashden Awards for Sustainable Energy ( He is also one of the founding members of PowerSwitch (, and together with his wife Tracy manages eight acres of coppice woodland near Rye.

On 25th September 2007, the BIEE, the UKERC and the Energy Institute held a seminar in London where they invited academics to critique the 2007 Energy White Paper.


In 2003 the UK government released the Energy White Paper 2003: Our Energy Future - Creating a Low Carbon Economy. As we all know, events in the energy world have moved fast since 2003, and faced by falling gas supplies from the North Sea and ageing nuclear power stations, the government launched another energy consultation in 2006, details of which are available online here. The result was another Energy White Paper, published in May 2007, this time with the subtitle Meeting the Energy Challenge. It seems to me that the change in the energy world over the intervening years can be seen from the change in the tone of the titles from 2003 to 2007!

The purpose of the seminar was to bring together a range of academics to give a critique of the Energy White Paper – and they certainly were critical! So, without further ado, here are the key points form the speakers, with comments from me in italics where appropriate.

The slides are available on the BIEE website here:

Vicky Pryce (Chief Economic Advisor and Director General, Economics and Joint Head of the Government Economic Service)

[MP: Pryce was generally supportive of the White Paper, unsurprisingly as she works for the government]

The Energy White Paper (EWP)

  • Economists didn’t win at every point in writing this paper! There were some statements that were non-negotiable.
  • Context
    • Tackling climate change.
    • Ensuring energy is secure, clean and affordable.
  • Stern review: taking action on climate change makes good economic sense.
  • CO2 emissions are forecast to rise, and the developing world will take a larger share by 2030.
  • Our target is to cut 60% by 2030 – to reach this, energy (MP: I think she meant electricity!), heat and transport must all play a part.
  • Security of supply
    • We are importing more and more energy.
    • Generation capacity is closing down: 30-35GW by 2025, much of it in the next 10 years.
    • More gas import and storage facilities are needed.
  • Principles:
    • Climate change and energy security and international issues.
    • Independently regulated competitive markets are the most cost-effective and efficient way of cutting CO2 emissions.
  • EU ETS (Emissions Trading Scheme)
    • Early decisions are needed.
    • CCS (Carbon Capture and Storage) must be included.
    • Aviation must be included, as must surface transport eventually.
  • In the UK
    • We must save energy – this is the most cost-effective way of cutting emissions.
    • Develop a clean energy supply.
    • Secure reliable supplies at affordable prices.
    • Consumer behaviour is crucial.
  • Saving energy
    • Information and advice is needed.
    • Regulation is key.
    • Transport must be tackled.
  • Cleaner energy
    • Heat and distributed energy.
    • Biomass strategy.
    • More options for heat.
  • Electricity generation
    • ETS will be strengthened.
    • RO (Renewables Obligation) will be strengthened and modified.
    • CCS demo plant will be operating by 2011-2014.
    • We will have new nuclear power plants.
    • There will be increased technology support and skills support.
  • Transport
    • RFTO (Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation) is in place, and may rise after 2011.
    • Tackling transport is a less cost-effective way of reducing CO2 emissions.
    • Security of supply (oil and gas), important, but is sometimes overlooked.
  • Tackled by:
    • Energy saving.
    • Open markets.
    • Maximising UKCS (UK Continental Shelf) production.
    • Low carbon electricity mix.
    • Gas import and storage facilities.
    • Keeping oil stocks and having emergency arrangements in place.
  • Implementation
    • Consultations are ongoing.
    • Legislation (UK and EU).
    • International – post-2012 carbon regime

Prof David Newbery (Cambridge University)

[MP: The key point from Newbury was that energy taxes were unmentionable, but might be essential to get CO2 cuts. The question from a Peak Oil point of view might be: do we wait for price to achieve the cuts, or do we raise taxes now to get ahead of the game, and have room to cut them later if required? Another important point he made was that carbon policy is driven by quantity of emissions, but commercial action is driven by price, and there is not a predictable relationship between the two. I feel this situation will be progressively turned on its head by Peak Oil.]

Energy White Paper Overview
What changed between 2003 and 2007 to need a new White Paper?

  • Stern Review.
  • Rapid growth in India and China, both of which are heavily coal-based economies.
  • EU ETS, Kyoto Protocol ratified.
  • High gas prices in the UK.
  • Nuclear storage strategy agreed (MP: but not a storage site, as came out in discussions).

EWP03: We have a problem with energy. But don’t mention energy taxes!

EWP07: The problem has got bigger! But still don’t mention energy taxes!

Energy taxes

  • Vary between countries, and between fuel types within countries.
  • The UK effectively subsidises domestic energy consumption, as the VAT level is so low (MP: not exactly sure how he got to this conclusion, and not everyone agreed).
  • If you increase price, demand is reduced.
  • Counties with high energy prices are more efficient for fuel and electricity, where demand is often thought to be very inelastic.

Transport – hard to tackle
Electricity – easiest sector for CO2 reductions?
Heat – needs to be tackled, due to the size of the sector.

Domestic use is 57% of personal total energy use, but is hardly taxed at all!


  • Strengthened EU ETS.
  • Climate change bill.
  • RO increased to 20% by 2020.
  • Better planning process.

Do these policies send a positive signal to investors?

Carbon pricing

  • Put a value on it.
  • But policy is driven by quantity, not price.
  • This does not result in a predictable carbon price, which is no good for investors.

Security of supply

  • We are not actually very strongly connected to Europe.
  • Most future gas supply will come from Norway and LNG imports.


  • 30-35GW capacity needed by 2025.
  • Capacity built now will last beyond 2050, so decisions are important.
  • A credible future carbon price is needed to direct investment.


  • Vague statements in the EWP.
  • We have only built a small amount of nuclear over the years, especially compared to France and the USA.
CCS – this is the least economic, but the research must be done.


  • We are unlikely to have new nuclear plants by 2020, so need something else.
  • There are applications for 16GW onshore wind power, and 8GW offshore.
  • Our track record in adding wind capacity is poor compared to the rest of Europe.


  • EU ETS adds a few percent to energy prices.
  • RTFO will have adverse consequences, and has already pushed up food prices. It is morally irresponsible to supply ourselves with fuel and let others deal with the consequences.


  • Taxes and subsidies are still not mentioned in the EWP.
  • There is no mention of a floor for the carbon price.
  • ROCS are retained, but they are a costly solution.
  • EWP is full of good intentions, but will they result in action?


  • Building nuclear plants is basically taking a bet on future gas prices, as that’s what will set the price at which electricity is sold.
  • We have a high tax on transport fuels, but not on domestic energy. People are prepared to pay a very high price for transport.

Prof Michael Grubb (The Carbon Trust)

[MP: Far more interesting than it might have been! The key point I took away was that a low-carbon economy needs large capital investment at the start, but because nobody knows how much carbon emissions will cost in future, they are reluctant to spend money now. Same is true for oil supply I guess, with many people still wanting to believe the optimistic official projections, so reluctant to plan for a high-price future.]

Valuing Carbon
What should the cost be?

  • Estimate impacts of climate change, aggregate across the world and future.
  • Debate has gone on for 15 years! “Ethical parameters” in the models have a strong influence on the value of carbon.
  • With sufficient uncertainty, you can end up in a situation where no optimum solution exists. Damage from impacts of climate change tends to rise faster than the probability decreases.

How to put a price on it?

  • Taxes, or rights resulting in market prices?
  • If you are uncertain about damage and the cost of mitigation, you are better off with a tax.
  • Stern Review says tax is best in the short term but quantity limits on emissions are needed in the longer term.
  • Persistence – decisions made today will impact for decades.
  • A rational scheme must be international, so must include additionality, deal with tax variations and have the capacity to evolve.
  • Our current theories are not up to the task of dealing with climate change, carbon prices, etc.
  • A defining feature of a low carbon economy is that it is capital intensive. But we don’t even know what would be the correct discount rate to use...

Dr Brenda Boardman (Environmental Change Institute)

[MP: Boardman was very critical of the UK government in her presentation. She pointed out that fuel poverty (where a household spends more than 10% of its income on fuel) is on the increase, but the government has made no new plans to deal with this. She also pointed out that more efficient home appliances were not helping reduce consumption, as they tended to get bigger – refrigerators were given as an example, but it is probably true for others too. The improvements needed in domestic energy efficiency are significant, and will become more so as prices rise.]

Saving Energy

Climate change bill: 60% CO2 cuts, requires 2.6% cut per year Climate science: 80%+ CO2 cuts, requires 3.7%+ cut per year!

  • Between 1996 and 2050, the UK is expected to have 33% more houses. But using existing technology, two thirds of the 60% cut can still be achieved through energy savings alone.
  • Reducing demand could cover all the planned closures of nuclear and coal plants.
  • Lighting – we should ban inefficient bulbs, LEDs will be ten times as efficient in future.
  • Fridges – these have got more efficient, but have also got bigger, so the overall consumption has risen.
  • From 2002-2006, gas prices have risen 65% and electricity prices 44%, which has doubled the number of people in fuel poverty.
  • Fuel poverty was covered in the EWP03, but only had a brief mention in EWP07
  • EWP07 says that “incomes are assumed to rise faster than fuel prices”
    • But most people in fuel poverty are on benefits, and the government sets the rate at which these rise...
    • No mention of increased funds for efficiency, which would actually help the problem.
  • Policies in the EWP could achieve the climate change bill targets, but only if they all work perfectly,
  • Housing energy certificate
    • Houses in the F/G bands are technically not fit for human habitation. This includes 3.9 million houses, which will be legally obliged to be dealt with in a few years.
    • Today’s best practice will have to be the average case in 2050, while today’s average will need to be the worst case in 2050.

Prof Goran Strbac (Imperial College)

[MP: The single most important point I learned in this presentation was that as soon as you have 10,000 homes on a grid, you have reaped 99% of the benefits of demand smoothing, or “coincidence factor” as Strbac called it. I was surprised that this number was so low, perhaps there is more hope for a cellular-style electricity grid than might have been thought?]

Distributed Energy

The EWP does not really provide a direction for distributed energy, but given the lack of information in this area, this is hardly surprising.

Today’s system

  • Generation is supply of energy, but is also control of the system.
  • System operators coordinate the generators.
  • The transmission network is fairly low-tech – there is no “intelligence” in it.
  • Distribution is passive, with no control implemented.
  • Demand is largely passive and uncontrollable.
  • Generator utilisation is typically 55%.
  • Generator efficiency is 35% or lower for coal, 50-60% for CCGT.
  • Transmission network utilisation is less than 50%.
  • Losses are 2% in transmission and 7% in distribution.
  • Distribution networks are responsible for over 90% of customer supply interruptions.

Drivers for change: ageing assets, new forms of generation being connected, new ICT developments making intelligent power networks possible, new transmission and distribution technology, demand side response is now possible.

The future

  • Bi-directional energy flow and control at different levels in the transmission and distribution network.
  • Active demand management.
  • Distributed generation allows for better use of waste heat, and could raise efficiency to 80%.

Barriers: cost, electricity industry (technical, commercial, regulatory), planning permission for distributed generation, lack of information.

Policy: current measures unlikely to make a big impact, apart from the RO.

“Coincidence factor”

  • If you supply one home, you must be able to meet peak demand.
  • As you supply a larger group of homes, the peaks in demand spread out, so you don’t need to meet the combined peak of all the homes together. Typically, you only need to generate 10% of the theoretical peak demand.
  • The minimum number of homes to reach a 10% “coincidence factor” is only about 10,000. So small cells within the network can be very effective.

Transmission networks are needed to move energy around still. For example, bringing energy from Scottish renewables down to England.

Local heat networks could prove very useful in future for distributed generation.

The UK is in a leading position on distributed generation, after its changes to network security standards and incentives. However, this is only because other countries have done almost nothing – we still have a long way to go.

Prof Jonathan Stern (Oxford Institute for Energy Studies)

[MP: Stern is very knowledgeable on gas supply security, although he is not very interested in the peak oil and gas message. He seemed almost angry that the Rough outage in 2006 did not get coverage and explanation in the UK media, and has not been addressed properly in any government documents since. He is of the view that the UK has no plan for the domestic risks to security of supply, and for external risks it simply hopes that “markets” will solve the problems]

Security of supply for the UK

  • The focus in the UK seems to be all about carbon, nobody is paying any attention to security of supply.
  • There are several issues: domestic/international and short/long term.
  • The EWP identified some risks to security of supply, but they were mostly externally oriented.
  • Remedies to the energy problems were suggested in the EWP, but do they address security of supply as well as CO2 emissions?
  • The UK is moving from being an oil and gas exporter to being an importer, so now feels vulnerable, and therefore is simply not talking much about security of supply risks.
  • All the major UK energy disruptions of the last few years have been domestic, not international:
    • Fuel blockades in 2000, power outages in London in 2003, power outages throughout UK in Jan 2007, 2006 outage of Rough – the UK’s only long term gas storage facility, July 2007 damage to CATS gas pipeline by a ship anchor.
  • The Rough outage was very serious, but received little news coverage in the UK. However, everyone in Europe knows about it, and see it as an example of how the UK’s energy system does not work, and is vulnerable. If it had happened a couple of months earlier that winter, there would have been large numbers of people with no gas supply, and numerous businesses would have failed, with a resulting rise in unemployment.
    • Yet the government says nothing about it!
    • No lessons have been learnt!
  • Why is the EWP silent on these issues?
  • The UK keeps giving lectures to the rest of Europe on how good our energy system is, and how they should copy it. We need to stop – everyone knows about our system, and they are not impressed with it – they can see the problems we have, which are talked about so little within the UK.
  • Energy geopolitics:
    • Oil: we can’t do much on our own about the conflicts around the world and risks to oil supply.
    • Gas: The UK has the worst relations of any EU country with Russia.
  • We have plenty of gas import infrastructure but...
    • It arrived late – we really needed it in 2005/06 when gas prices shot up, but it was not ready.
    • There are no long term supply contracts – just having a pipe is no use unless you have arranged for someone to send you gas through it.
  • Our big problem in the UK is the UKCS and the fragility of the infrastructure:
    • CATS gas pipeline damaged by a ship anchor on 1/7/2007, out of action until early Sept 2007. This added 5p/therm to UK wholesale gas prices – if this had been due to an international event, it would have been big news, but as it was domestic, it was hardly covered at all.
  • Gas represents 40% of UK energy use, and we have a low level of “insurance” for outages.
  • In electricity we have to deal with:
    • Intermittency from renewables.
    • Nuclear outages (Japan, which has had the most reliable nuclear record, has recently been hit by many outages, and is vastly increasing its imports of LNG to replace it. The UK has also had outages).
    • Dependence on gas for CCGT
    • Only coal seems secure, but we don’t want to burn that because of the CO2 emissions!
  • The EWP does not address:
    • Resilience of our production and supply networks to weather events.
    • Our ability to cope with catastrophic technical failure or accidents.
    • The fact that domestic incidents are the big problem for energy security!
  • The way forward:
    • We can’t solve global energy issues alone
    • Our current market framework does not help with energy security.


  • We must at least admit to the domestic and other risks to energy security, so we can have an open discussion on them. The EWP should have acknowledged the issues and made it clear that nothing was going to be done – this would be better than ignoring them.
  • We have four or five years of gas surplus in the UK, perhaps up to 7 years. During this time, the US and Asia will massively increase LNG imports. When the surplus vanishes, there is a risk the UK will have been asleep on the issue, and will not be prepared.

Prof David Banister (OUCE, Oxford University)

[MP: The main point from Banister was that nobody is trying to reduce energy use by the transport sector. The only efforts are to limit growth through improved efficiency. The VIBAT project he refers to (link below) is worth a read.]

Reducing energy use in UK transport

Transport is vitally important, but it is hardly mentioned in the EWP!

  • It represents 25% of UK energy use, and 27% of GHG emissions. There are no firm CO2 targets for transport.
  • CO2 emissions from transport will have increased by 14.3% between 1990 and 2010.
  • The Fuel Duty Escalator resulted in a shift to smaller cars, avoiding 1.9MtC between 1994 and 2000, but was abandoned after the fuel protests.
  • Road pricing is focused on congestion, not energy use.
  • Voluntary CO2 targets are not working, biofuels are the only mechanism being used to reduce CO2 emissions.
  • In the UK, 25 SUVs are sold for every one hybrid car.
  • The EU ETS must include surface transport to achieve future CO2 cuts.
  • The CO2 cuts made will only stabilise emissions at levels from some time in the 1990s, they will not contribute to the 60% target.
  • The way forward:
    • Make fewer trips
    • Modal shift away from cars to other forms of transport.
    • Make shorter trips
    • Improve efficiency.
  • See the VIBAT project for how emissions could be cut 60% by 2030.
  • The big problem is the expected growth in travel.

Prof Catherine Mitchell (University of Exeter)

[MP: Mitchell was generally critical of the ROCs system, and thought it should have been replaced with a feed-in tariff instead of being tweaked. She was particularly critical over the efforts people are making to try and ensure a “free and fair” market for energy, saying that we should just push ahead with some projects (presumably through legislation or government spending), and worry about market issues later.]

Renewable electricity

  • The UK strategy is to use ROCs, but the buyout process (for suppliers with insufficient ROCs) recycles the fines back to the suppliers! This is a perverse incentive not to get the ROCs they should have.
  • Production of renewable heat has actually fallen over the past few years.
  • Renewable heat and electricity combined are 1.8% of total UK energy.
  • Only around 60% of the ROCs target is achieved each year.
  • There is a 20% target for renewable heat and electricity by 2020, but this will still only be 5% of total UK energy.
  • ROC banding announced in EWP – this only makes a complex system that isn’t working more complex! The values allocated to each band are probably not at the right levels for the technologies.
  • Devolved administrations are adding further measures to ROCs, giving different levels of support in different regions.
  • There are infrastructure limits, for example the Scotland/England interconnector.
    • A feed-in tariff would bypass many of the problems.
  • The EU Energy Action Plan is barely mentioned in the EWP!
  • The central failure of the EWP is the lack of long-term strategy. The EWP only goes to 2020.
  • When it comes to renewable energy and cutting CO2, we should “just do it”, and sort out the free market issues later.

Dr Jon Gibbins (Imperial College)

[MP: Gibbins was not particularly arguing for or against CCS, simply whether the measures in the EWP would help get it built. Particularly interesting was a word count he had done for the EWP from 2003, compare to 2007. The number of times nuclear power and CCS were mentioned had increased dramatically in comparison to other keywords!]

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS)

  • The government has committed to a demo plant.
  • CCS consultation is in progress.
  • There are plans to cooperate with Norway in doing CCS in the North Sea, and to include it in the EU ETS.
  • CCS “competition” – this is OK, but it is just one plant, and does not account for the fact that there are many technology options for CCS, and more than one needs to be tried out.
  • EU “Energy Policy for Europe” supported CCS, and the EU Energy Summit in March 2007 didn’t say much – they seem to have gone off the idea.
  • China and India want to see a lead in CCS technology from the West before they’ll do it.
  • CCS will probably cost less than offshore wind power.

Prof Gordon Mackerron (SPRU, University of Sussex)

[MP: Like Gibbins before him, Mackerron was not arguing for or against nuclear power, simply discussing its viability. He felt that there was sufficient uranium for many years to come – which would be disputed by others, especially those interested in Hubbert peaks… The conclusion is important – the choice presented by the government will be between disastrous climate change and nuclear power, and therefore many people will support nuclear. However, there are still many economic and regulatory barriers to nuclear plants in the UK being completed in time to help plug the approaching electricity generation gap.]

Nuclear power

  • High energy prices.
  • Growing international investment in nuclear energy.
  • Climate change
  • Nuclear technology is well-established, can provide bulk baseload power and has a low carbon footprint.
  • The economics of new nuclear plants should be better than the old ones – they could hardly be worse!
  • Uranium will not be scarce for decades.
  • Reprocessing is no longer necessary – waste will not be separated.


  • If we focus on nuclear to the detriment of other energy technologies, security of supply could be reduced.
  • Nuclear power needs a guaranteed customer for the economics to work.
  • Although there is a waste storage strategy, no site has yet been identified.
  • There are planning and regulatory issues.
  • The proposed designs have not yet been completed anywhere, and the EPR in Finland is 2 years late, after 2 years construction, and is 25% over budget. The EPR is one of the “simple” designs…
  • The UK government is opposed to direct subsidies.
  • The economic analysis in the EWP is flawed
    • We don’t know what the future price of carbon will be, or where gas prices will be.
    • The EPR in Finland has gone over budget.


  • Generic design assessment – but this could take 3 years!
  • Changes to planning regulations – but past experience shows this may not speed things up!
  • Operators to meet the “back end costs”.
  • “justification process” internationally required for new projects involving radiation.

However, not sure that all this will make nuclear power attractive enough.

The government line is to balance the risk of nuclear power (i.e. waste) against the risk of climate change.

This was a grim read!

BTW this link gave me the willies on behalf of the UK/energy ...future...

Apart from the "russian-nat-gas" terminals in Europe, is actually Europe any better off than the UK ?
I mean Germanys windturbines are delivering only 18% of nameplate, and "that" is not much, compared to anything (in my eyes).Further I reckon the best places are already used .... with concequenses..regarding further growth for the same.

Beyond that the whole of EU is driven by a fossile powermix , minus France. And also on the positive side for the UK - you still make your own crude oil and much nat-gas as well.

Europe ... solar.. future ... hmmmm, weather, EROEI, receding horizons ..charging 6 hrs/day ... hmmm lets wait and see!

Sarcanol; maybe hydrogen is stepping up here is so abundant in the universe

I was at a party a few days ago and I sat next to a guy who was a cheif andvisor to a government about future oil and gas supplies and infrastructure. I'm bluring his identity because it was 'private' chat.

He was an economist by training and seemed pretty smart. He was advizing his own and other European Union countries to diversify away from reliance on oil and gas supplies from Russia, because of possible problems connected with an alleged Russian 'desire' to use energy as a 'political weapon'. The key phrase here was, 'diversification of supply options.' He was very keen on getting gas from Algeria and Quatar. Specifically by building huge plants to liquify the gas and send it by tanker to Europe. I quietly mentioned that the cost in energy of turning the gas into a liquid might be quite high. He just brushed me aside and said that Algeria and Quatar had plenty of energy.

His other suggestion directed at european governments, which is apparently gaining a lot of ground, is to bypass Russia altogether! That we finance a new pipeline from the central asian republics which will go through Turkey, the long way round. As Turkey was a member of NATO and 'pro-western' this seemed to him to be a great way to literally get around the Russian problem.

I expressed some scepticism and advised caution. First because Turkey is also an 'Islamic' country with a rapidly growing population and very high rates of economic growth, who might need this oil and gas themselves at some future date, and could we really rely on Turkey always being 'pro-western', and what if Turkey's price for the pipeline is a promise of membership of the European Union, which many countries are opposed to because Turkey is a Muslim country.

Well, perhaps I went over the top a bit with my 'scepticism', because he looked at me like I was either insane or a fresh turd! We didn't converse all that much the rest of the evening and I felt a bit guilty about ruining his evening. Though I get the feeling my remarks were really water of a duck'c back to him.

Even though scientists in formel sense believe in the 'scientific method' and strive to be objective and observe the world as it is, I'm not sure that it works in practice. It seems like ideology plays an enormous part in their work, colouring it. I'm not sure whether this is a sign of the times, but it appears as if scientists are increasingly supplying their masters with the results they are expected to come up with. There seems to be great pressure to conform and produce results which are not only acceptable but comforting too.

No wonder Brits are emigrating in droves Down Under; not being able to water the lawn doesn't compare to energy shortages. The famous WW2 cohesion seems to have gone.

I think a nuclear revival, niche renewables and aggressive conservation is the way to go. Why bother with CCS when carbon fuels are gone or going? I'd be inclined to force the hand of the dreamers..make them put up or shut up. Give them some real money and ask them to quickly demonstrate how their favourite panacea will work eg high latitude solar powering a housing estate 24/7. If the nuclear rebuild is delayed because there is no permanent waste site then blame them.

Why bother with CCS when carbon fuels are gone or going?

The oil and gas might be on their way out but no one is considering CCS for these. CCS is only about coal and while reserves are likely to be smaller than conventionally assumed and regional distributions are going to be the key determinant to global rates of use, there is certainly more carbon available than we want to emit into the atmosphere. Hence the interest in CCS.

Underground coal gasification (UCG) is a technology that could be very useful for UK, given that UK has a lot of coal reserves that cannot be easily reached by conventional mining. CCS would be a necessary adjunct to such a technology, and UCG and CCS could have useful synergies.

More information can be found on From the site:

“…..UCG in combination with CCS is recognised as a potential route to carbon abatement from coal. Reports suggest that UCG in combination with CO2 injection into adjacent coal seams to enhance coal bed methane (ECBM) is a potentially attractive option, particularly under river estuaries near-shore and eventually offshore coal.

UCG has synergies which may be important to CCS. First and foremost it is a gasification technology with all the benefits that accrue in terms of CO2 capture from pre-combustion gas. These include smaller more efficient separation plant, lower capture costs and the ability to produce hydrogen in bulk quantities. Furthermore, the composition of UCG clean gas, and the high pressure available, suggests that a range of CO2 capture options could be considered.

The scope for optimising the capture process is considerable and emissions already low for coal can be reduced by partial CO2 capture, to those of natural gas combined cycle (CCGT) or taken to a level approaching renewable energy. The process is particularly well suited to the production of low carbon gas mixtures of hydrogen and methane. These have higher energy densities and are safer to handle than pure hydrogen. Such mixtures may be suitable for existing gas transmission lines and could make an effective transport fuel for some vehicles…..”

Here are some non-synergies.
1) the UCG part of the coal basin is porous but the CCS part is non-leaky, or
2) UCG and CCS are in different basins.

Personally I'm pleased that early results show this could be a dud. Think of coal as pre-sequestered carbon.

All these thoughts are small thoughts. It appears as if nobody is at the large scale systemic issues that would enable change. Looks like it will require a shock, and that the shock will engender a mass nuclear building programme as the quick fix.

That's my reading.

When you talk about the large scale systemic issues that would enable change are you referring to a system like TEQs?

If so I agree that such a system is necessary, and that it seems very possible that it will only be implemented as a reaction to some shock, but I think the argument is still there to be won to ensure that the Government turns to TEQs rather than nuclear in that circumstance. After all, nuclear power stations take well over a decade to build, so they represent a strange choice as a 'quick fix'.

Very good point - I see no evidence suggesting that some 8GW of new nuclear capacity can be built and online by 2018, the year by which a total of 8GW of current capacity will be taken offline. Gee, some 6GW will be gone by 2014!

New nuclear build simply isn't an option for replacing the old fleet - we've left the decision too late.

I have to wonder if some of these plants really will be taken offline on schedule - after all, the political pressure to keep them running and hence avoid blackouts will be high.

There are three types of reactor in the UK, Magnox, (advanced gas cooled reactor) AGR and (pressurised water reactor) PWR. The Magnox are mostly already closed (only 2 left from 11 in total) with the last one closing in 2010. I don’t think there is any opportunity to extend their life as the facility that handles the fuel is also at end of life.

The 7 AGRs make up the bulk of the fleet, all approx 1.2GW and had decommission dates from 2008 to 2023. Dungeness B that was due to close in 2008 but was granted a 10 year extension to 2018. The next two facing the chop are now Hinkley Point B and Hunterston B, both due to close in 2011 after 35 years operation. However these have both past their recent safety inspection which in theory means they are good for another 10 years. An extension to 2017 is under consideration for both these two – decision made in March 2008.

The only PWR is good ‘til 2035.

Let's face the reality - you simply can not afford to lose those nukes. And this will become brutally obvious this winter or next.

My prediction - all AGRs and PWRs will get extensions. The 2 Magnox reactors of course will go but these are quite small units and it will not affect the overall balance significantly.

Tony Benn was reminiscing on a politics programme on BBC 4 yesterday and explained how the civil servants when he was energy minister wanted US made PWR. But Tony wouldn't have any of it.

Very proud of how he stood in the way and pursued more loony (and unproven) schemes.

ON a general point, fascinating overview ut nobody wants to pick up the ball and run and put down an over arching strategy ... sleepwalking seems to be the style of academia.

Needs a Barnes Wallis to put a banger up someone's bum... The guy who was banging on about energy security was 100% correct.

Final note ... OK so we build (hurriedly) say 10 Nuclear power plants ... where are the engineers ?

Interesting on the recent comment re Sputnik how that was a banger up the bum of US academe to to produce engineers by the bus load.

Perhaps if Putin (AKA Gazprom) who own the Belgin compressor stations (well a large % of) cut off our gas.

Thye would be doing us a favour.

Excellent summary, many thanks!

The ideas, challenges and uncertainties discussed to pertain to other (European) countries as well. Esp, when we are all trade linked to each other.

What I found peculiar was (based on the summary):

1) Very little discussion of the need of infrastructure overhaul (esp. on heating) away from gas to something else (electricity, central or distributed). Is LNG seen as such a panacea that UK thinks it can keep on solving heating issues with gas for many decades to come?

2) In transport, Aviation's exclusion from the Cap & Trade system (and lack of fuel tax) was mentioned, but nothing about the sea transport, right? Sea transport is already TWICE the amount of total aviation in terms of CO2 emissions and has been forecast to almost double in the next 15-20 years. No wonder they like the idea of tanker-transported LNG now, what about in 10 years with lack of tanker capacity, extra CO2 taxes and sea transport as part of cap & trade?

3) Travel. Esp air travel. UK is travel super-power. Reduction of air travel could hit UK hard economically. So, is UK ready to back the hard decisions on this? Air travel has also been forecast to roughly double in the next 20 years. Naturally this is a problem beyond mere UK, but how do they think they are going to make light kerosene price stay so low as to allow for that, if indeed EU will finally force air travel under cap & trade AND also start taxing aviation fuel (the lack of both of these is a disgrace, btw).

Overall I think the situation reminds me of Rittel's definition of a wicked problem. Unfortunately, the speed and efficiency at which we usually solve problems like that is not very good.

Still, trying to remain optimistic, even if the challenges do not appear to be trivial either alone or combined.

Air travel has also been forecast to roughly double in the next 20 years. Naturally this is a problem beyond mere UK, but how do they think they are going to make light kerosene price stay so low as to allow for that,

The forecast expansion of UK aviation comes from the 2003 Aviation White Paper. That paper assumed three things:

  • UK GDP growth over the next 25 years will average 2.25%
  • Air fares will decrease at 1% in real terms for the next 25 years
  • Aviation fuel prices will stabilise at $25 a barrel in 2000 prices

I'd question all three so don't expect we'll see the expansion often talked of. Discussed on TOD here.

Do you have a link for CO2 emissions of shipping, I'd be interested to see that.


thanks for the link. I've read the discussion and I agree on the basic premises (looks very unlikely). That was exactly the question why I asked if any challenges regarding air travel growth sustainability were brought up.

As for world shipping CO2 emissions, here are some relevant studies/summaries:

CO2 output from shipping twice as much as airlines (Guardian)

Air Pollution and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Ocean-going Ships (ICCT)


Cheers SamuM, I'd taken notes for work, so it seemed to make sense to write them up for TOD.

Very little discussion of the need of infrastructure overhaul (esp. on heating) away from gas to something else (electricity, central or distributed). Is LNG seen as such a panacea that UK thinks it can keep on solving heating issues with gas for many decades to come?

The only mention of heat was with regard to the falling use of sustainable heat, and the lack of any increased government funding for insulation to respond to increasing fuel poverty. Strbac mentioned the need for overhaul of the electricity grid, and the opportunities, but that was it. Heat is going to be a big challenge in the UK, as new houses don't have chimneys like the old ones do... Once we have problems getting enough gas, I imagine heat pumps will become more popular - and then we'll have a problem with electricity supply!

In transport, Aviation's exclusion from the Cap & Trade system (and lack of fuel tax) was mentioned, but nothing about the sea transport, right?
Travel. Esp air travel. UK is travel super-power. Reduction of air travel could hit UK hard economically.

Regarding air transport, several speakers mentioned it being included in the EU ETS, but nobody is really talking about it being cut back, or how it will change as fuel prices rise further. You're right about sea transport - not mentioned.

I think many people regard long haul flights as a right, in the same way they do owning a private car, so it's hard for people to pluck up the courage to challenge this.

Good point about the revenue the UK gets from air travel - that's going to change!


Good point about the revenue the UK gets from air travel - that's going to change!

One of the environmental organisations made the point about aviation being a net drain in the UK economy due to UK tourists vastly out numbering foreign tourists visiting here. UK tourist's overseas expenditure coming off the country's balance of payments.

Prof Jonathan Stern's comments are a good reminder that short term energy risks should not be ignored whilst we focus on longer term issues.

The UK has very little infrastructure redundancy, as the recent flooding of a major electricity substation and a water distribution centre in Gloucester showed.

An accident or a terror attack on the natural gas pipelines or supporting infrastructure could promptly close down much of the UK's electricity production and domestic heating.

The UK government seems poorly prepared for any sort of energy crisis, short term or long term.

Note: The two sites mentioned have now been protected with very solid anti-terrorist barriers... notionally to block future floods ...

One thing from Stern's bit:

We have plenty of gas import infrastructure but...
It arrived late – we really needed it in 2005/06 when gas prices shot up, but it was not ready.
There are no long term supply contracts – just having a pipe is no use unless you have arranged for someone to send you gas through it.

I thought that I'd learnt from Jerome's piece on pipelines that part of building them is getting long term contracts to fill them in place. Are we an exception in this, then? Have we not got long term contracts with the Norwegians, for instance?


Re this see

Flooding could have also affected Oldbury on Severn nuclear plant!

Here in the UK, we have a great opportunity to improve the National Grid and to start building a high voltage DC European Super Grid. "National Grid II" could be designed using modern IT to manage much more intelligently supply from a highly distributed and potentially variable set of sources.

We could also use IT control technology, together with market-based incentives, perhaps integrated into TEQs, to manage the demand side, in particular to reduce the height of the daily peak in demand.

Based on what Mike is reporting here and on the information in chapters 16 & 17 of the Zero Carbon Britain report, it looks like the blockages to change are primarily in policy makers' heads rather than technological in nature.

Was there any interest in following Germany's policy for allowing people to sell solar generated electricity back to the grid?

We are due to open the first solar powered mobility network this spring. The niche for this is highly repetitive travel of people and cargo. It is a modernization of Morgantown ( and similar to what is being deployed at Heathrow

But here are the numbers of power usage for moving a pallet of goods or up to 4 people (220 kg vehicle, 550 kg of payload) at 10 meters/sec (36 km/hr) using a 4 kw power budget (motor, ac, accessories, etc). Energy required is 104 watt-hours to travel a kilometer. The solar collectors 2 meters wide over that kilometer of rail will collect 1.6 million watt-hours in a typical day. That is enough energy to power 15,800 trips per day.

Vast arrays of such solar collectors, with very little transmission loses are practical in re-tooling transportation networks.

This is essentially a replacing of Parasitic Mass (moving a ton to move person) with communications and electronics.

Was there any interest in following Germany's policy for allowing people to sell solar generated electricity back to the grid?

Several speakers were very keen on the "feed in tariff" used in Germany, if that's what you mean. People can sell electricity to the grid in the UK, but they do not get a good price for it, and the ROC (Renewable Obligation Certificate) mechanism is complicated and many people see it as ineffective.


My belief is that the "feed in tariff" is the "many hands makes light work" approach. I believe it accomplishes two essential things:
1. Generates power.
2. Engages vast numbers of people that they can participate in the solution.

Self-reliance, I believe is the only way through the coming events.

Actually, the German laws an interesting way to spread capital investment. The rate the electricity is bought by the utility is fixed for 20 years, and set at a level which makes the capital purchase of a home PV system reasonable. The same basic idea applies for wind turbines.

Of course, the energy companies hate this with a deep and abiding passion, even though for them, the PV systems are essentially no problem (the wind turbines are trickier for the system to handle for a number of reasons).

What the energy companies want to obscure, more than anything else, is that those people who have not invested in energy generating equipment are paying money to those who have - which is the monopoly position the utility companies feel only they are entitled to have.

But the German approach tends to be a bit more rounded - with home insulation, forestry oriented to providing fuel also, biodiesel, co-generation and district heating.

The latest discussion here is forcing landlords to install energy efficient heating systems, or having the tenants cut the rent they pay by some significant percent as an 'incentive' to the landlord to bear the capital cost. The idea is not really well thought out, and has generated various forms of opposition, in part because its approach seems difficult to manage, but the basic problem is recognized, and a solution is being sought - much like solar energy in the 1990s.

The German PV industry is not based on idealism, it is based on profit distribution to other players than the utility and the fossil fuel industry alone - and that simple fact seems to be easily overlooked in the many discussions.

I love the German model for precisely the points you make.

  • It breaks the monopoly.
  • It spread the capital investment to many
  • It operates from the self-interest of the installer instead of the coercion of regulation
  • It is a choice you do not have to accept
  • It drives innovation to fill niches by making many buyers who are driven by many different objectives.
  • Distributed generation is durable

There are just 2 road block I can see. Regulators do not want the relinquish their authority. Regulated industries do not want pesky little competitor finding better more cost effective solutions.

In the long run I believe it is great policy. Any idea how to propagate it?

Oh, yes that wonderful German policy. That same one that produces next to zero results. Nicht. Nada.

Here is a little graph for you:

(click for source)

Watch the growing green line - the energy sector. All these billions of euros poured for covering every window hole in Bavaria and building wind farms operating at 18% capacity, just to get a increase of 11.2 bln.tonnes. of CO2 for the last 6 years in the power sector only. And this is not even including emissions from transportation where Earth-friendly Germans are free to roam at 100mph. on their 250HP BMWs.

Here is an even more eco-friendly news from Germany:
Germany Gives Coal Opt Out Under CO2 Emission Plan

Because Germany does not want nukes and does not want its precious industry in ruins, it wants free-pass coal. German CO2 - the only climate friendly CO2!

You guys are pathetic. Bush is much better - at least he admits he won't do anything.

TO add to LevinK -

Per capita emissions:

Germany: 10.2
France: 6.4
UK: 9.1
Denmark: 10.6

It is quite disturbing that the 'environmentalist' policies of both Germany and Denmark are consistently pro,oted as The Way To Go when they result in countries that produce high amounts of CO2 per capita.

It is quite obvious from the above: If you wish to reduce CO2 by ~40% and be a net electricity exporter, then go to a largely Nuclear electric grid.

I think the comparisons LevinK and fluffy make are a little unfair. Germany’s power sector may have increased its CO2 emissions by 3% from 2000 to 2006 – but that is considerably less than less progressive countries like the UK which have seen 9% increase from the energy industries from 2000 to 2005 alone! link

Very few roads in Germany are unrestricted and whilst BMW can be criticised as a manufacturer of high performance cars their efficiency has increased dramatically this year. Compare the latest 1-series with the original:

2004 120i (petrol) 147BHP 37mpg combined
2007 120i (petrol) 167BHP 44mpg combined

2004 120d (diesel) 160BHP 49mpg combined
2007 120d (diesel) 174BHP 58mpg combined

Whilst Germany’s per capita emissions are high this is a legacy factor of Germany’s indigenous coal. The UK had gas, France simply didn’t have any fossil fuel. Those results are a factor of geology rather than policy.

Those results are a factor of geology rather than policy.

Argh, so the decision to close down Germany NPPs and opt out Germany coal from carbon trading is a result of geology not policy? Germany's coal and automobile industries are the elephant in the china store, which the German greens and eco-idiots are trying to cover with a couple of green leafs.

BTW, BMWs sold in US are pretty much the same energy hogs as before. Some improvement, but marginal at best... which is indicative for German environment policy. Lot's of talk, an incandescent bulb here and a PV panel there. Business as usual all over the place.

Similarly, the German PV industry is just like Denmark wind industry - an overhyped green scam. Look at the CO2 emissions of both countries.

BTW, I'm not endorsing UK policy either. I think UK was spoiled by the times of cheap oil & NG and is up for a great surprise and even greater growth of CO2 emissions when they start to deplete.

With its unwillingness to put a leash on such an energy hog as air travel while reviving its coal industry it is in the same team with Germany and Denmark.

And how would Germany have faired withOUT those policies?

This if of course not to say that the current policies or amount of work is enough.

But to say it is completely useless could be just an erroneus conclusion from statistics.

What might work is zero net energy consumption growth WHILE at the same time aggressively towards less emissive sources.

But getting to that net zero energy consumption growth? I don't think it's going to happen, unless forced (by policy or by nature).

Because a policy does not achieve everything at one time does not discount its value.

We still have to re-tool transportation to address CO2. We have formed one alliance to deploy our solar powered transportation networks in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

It will still take some time to do so but here is what a zero emission, local traffic network requires for power:

Speed 36 km/hr
Vehicle Mass: 220 kg
Payload Mass: 550 kg
Power: 4,000 watts
Energy to travel a kilometer: 104 watt-hours
Energy gathered in a typical kilometer (2 meters wide): 1.6 million watt-hours in a typical day

That is enough for 15,800 vehicles to carry a max payload per kilometer of rail.

Here are some video clips of the process of re-tooling transportation:

It is hard to estimate what it would be without them, I can only compare it to other countries and try to deduce.

Here is carbon emission per capita for the the period 1995-2004 (tonnes of carbon):

USA: 5.40 5.46 5.82 5.71 5.76 5.91 5.63 5.64 5.58 5.61
Germany: 2.78 2.87 2.78 2.75 2.64 2.65 2.74 2.65 2.67 2.67


US: +0.37%
Germany: -0.40%

So far so good. But if you took last 6 years:

US: -0.43%
Germany: +0.20%

US beats Germany without any fanfares and any policy at all!

Bear in mind that Germany's economy is growing at a rate of 1-2%, compared to US, where 3-4% is the norm.

What can we conclude from these numbers? IMO the obvious conclusion is that German focus, or should I say obsession with efficiency is misplaced. It brought relatively good results in the 90s, mostly with the closure of the inefficient East German industries, but this was a low-hanging fruit. For anything further they need investment in real low CO2 technologies that displace existing CO2 emissions, which Germany does not do.

They will not do anything meaningful with installing solar panels where sun hardly shines while opting their coal out of CO2 trading. This is green posturing and this is exactly what they have been doing for the past years.

For comparison: France has 39% less emissions per capita, but France is keeping its nukes and is electrifying its transportation. Germany just talk and acts green, while doing things of token value. Here is France data:

France: 1.65 1.75 1.60 1.74 1.66 1.64 1.71 1.68 1.68 1.64

I like your CO2 footprint comparisons.

We also believe the electrification of transportation is important. And I have no problems with the use of nukes. They have a place. I have never worked in that industry but did study nuclear engineering in college.

But large central power plants have two major problems:
1. They are attractive targets in hostilities.
2. Transmission loses are substantial.
3. Raw materials will force cost and supply issues.

Post Peak Oil, without adequate preparations, odds favor grave political instability and hostilities. Since we have had virtually no preparation, I will bet it will get ugly at least in spots and at least for a while. I wonder what the carbon footprint was of the Paris riots?

Distributed generation of electricity from solar is viable, especially for transportation.

I live in Germany and I saw a programme critical of the German energy industry. They said that the carbon trading was a joke here. The nergy companies get the carbon credits for free, assign a value to them and charge it as an extra cost to the customer. This is so sick.

“Without a video the people perish”-Is. 13:24