1. The government's energy policy is struggling to find financial support. The banks and investors may in the end be its downfall. The policy has potentially incompatible features of low consumer prices and higher-than-Kyoto carbon targets. That is translated into a crude dash for wind power, for which some 8 billion pounds is sought, plus another billion for grid development. The UK is on the threshold of saturation with giant wind farms and pylons, yet the engineering limitations suggest it will never work anyway. No wonder the banks are cautious, especially after struggling with power investment to date in a market of falling prices. Times on-line 21.3.04 gives a useful discussion (Appendix 1).
2. Snips from Defra's PR mag Energy & Environmental Management, Mar/Apr 04:
(a) Prof Martin Fry, chairman of ESTA and vice-president of the Energy Institute, reviewing the Energy White Paper, says economic drivers will push us to improve energy efficiency and renewables. As oil supplies peak next decade and UK will be importing most of its gas, security of supply and cost take over, having "nothing to do with climate change".
(b) Ken Livingston wants all new homes in London to have solar panels. He has them on his own house at a cost of £12,500. Now that would reduce the case for remote wind-farms and more pylons.
(c) The 2003 annual report of the Environmental Audit Committee (of MPs) claims "combating climate change remains the single most urgent priority facing mankind". Wow! Would the suicide bombers agree? Granted that human activity contributes significantly to increased CO2 in the atmosphere, and may contribute a little to the mainly natural process of climate change, and granted further that there is a good case for precaution, such hyperbole seems a little rash.
(d) The same Environmental Audit Committee criticised government thinking on Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs), since TXU went into receivership in October leaving a 23 million pound hole which cannot now be paid for legal reasons.
(e) A new 200,000 pound campaign "It's Only Natural" will push government propaganda on renewables and wind-farms, with a view to affecting planning decisions, in the first instance in the south-west. The government's approach to planning delays with wind-farms has been to weaken the planning system and increase propaganda, not to improve the wind-farms.
(f) A UK concept is to be copied across Europe. The Energy Efficiency Commitment requires each licensed electricity and gas company to install sufficient energy savings measures in homes to achieve a target kWh saving. It has achieved a 1% domestic residential saving and is to double in size by 2008.
3. As more new powerlines are proposed, as a consequence of wind-farm policy, people ask about underground options. Sadly, at high voltage, they are prohibitively expensive, except for relatively short sections in cities or in areas of the highest visual impact. There is a "high- temperature super-conducting" (HTS) technology, which counters the cost by saving money on energy losses. It is actually very cold, cooled by cheap liquid nitrogen, but is called "high-temperature" because the technology has advanced from its near-absolute-zero origins. Some ten years ago my calculations, based on EU and industry reports, showed that the cost ratio might be reduced from 20:1 to 3:1, making HTS transmission potentially viable. The technology was only in the prototype stage and even today has few demonstration projects. Now a new focus, on power flow control and grid stability, is again bringing HTS to light at a time when major grid blackouts are threatened. APPENDIX 2 is the abstract from a US industry White Paper (Aug 03) led by the American Superconductor Corporation.
4. Times on-line 28.3.04 reports Ofgem facilitating half a billion pounds' worth of grid development by allowing companies to pass on the costs. ( See Appendix 3)
5. The NRPB statement at the end of March announces the new investigation level of 100 microTesla (uT) in line with international standards for exposure from powerline EMFs. Previously the NRPB had 1,600 uT, but public concern is at 0.4 uT or lower, as this is where the doubling of the risk of childhood leukaemia is observed in studies in many countries. NRPB is gingerly opening up to precaution, but oh so slowly. As Prof. Denis Henshaw put it, one small step for man, one giant leap for NRPB. Thanks to Denis for passing on the BBC online item quoting me at Appendix 4.
Examples of media links:
6. The charity "Children with Leukaemia" is sponsoring a Scientific Conference in Westminster 6-10 September 2004, with world EMF experts scheduled to speak. The charity is inviting applications for research grants and prizes.
7. Hans Karow in British Colombia writes: "people power prevented the Sumas Energy proposed 8.5 km international power line through Abbotsford/Canada, which would have given green light for a BC gas powered 660 MW generation plant in Sumas/Washington State. However, today I got a message from Robert Riedlinger that Sumas Energy is appealing the Canada National Energy Board's denial of the power line."
8. The Environment Council are looking to hold a follow-up stakeholder dialogue meeting on EMFs in the summer (news160.5).
APPENDIX 1. Times on-line 21.3.04 on the energy market.
Green power charm offensive Report by Lucinda Kemeny The government is trying to drum up City support for an Â£8bn programme of investment in renewable energy GREEN ENERGY has traditionally been the stomping ground of sandal- wearing environmentalists rather than sharp-suited City slickers. Next month this may change.
Stephen Timms, the energy minister, is inviting 150 of the Square Mile's top financiers, bankers, private-equity executives and institutional shareholders to a seminar to persuade them to put their money into renewable-energy projects.
Timms wants them to back the government's plan to generate 10% of Britain 's electricity from renewable sources by 2010. With only six years to go and with renewables accounting for only 2% so far, this will require an investment of some Â£8 billion to build the infrastructure and connect it to the national grid.
The gathering will be addressed by leading lights from banking, Greenpeace and the power generators as well as the minister.
In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Times, Timms said: "This is a very important and attractive investment for the City. I want to underline the scale of the investment opportunity here and the determination of the government to achieve these aims."
Under the Kyoto agreement, many of the world's industrial powers pledged to cut their emissions of greenhouse gases, and Britain needs to do its bit.
It seemed easy. Saving the environment has become a hot topic and should have attracted plenty of investors. For extra encouragement, in 2002 the government introduced the Renewables Obligation, which obliges electricity suppliers to prove that they are sourcing a specified proportion of their power from green sources. Firms are issued with Renewables Obligation Certificates (ROCs). Those that produce enough power from green sources can trade them with those that do not. Failure to comply leads to penalties, with payouts divided among ROC holders.
The programme had been intended to run until 2010, but the government extended it last year to 2015 as a sign of its commitment to green energy.
Centrica, Scottish Power, Scottish & Southern and Powergen have announced plans to invest in renewable-energy projects, mostly wind farms. However, the reaction from investors who have been asked to back smaller generators has been muted.
The New Electricity Trading Arrangements introduced in 2001 led to a collapse in electricity prices. Many banks are still trying to recoup investments they made 10 years ago when they poured money into power stations. Several of these became so uneconomic they were forced into administration.
Ian Marchant, chief executive of Scottish & Southern Energy, said: "The banks lost so much on generation. They got their fingers burnt."
Only one renewables deal of any size has been backed by new money. Englefield Capital, First Islamic Investment Bank and RWE Innogy have signed a deal to invest Â£400m in Innogy's wind-energy business.
The deal was put together by Ergo Finance, run by John Devaney, chairman of Marconi. He said: "The biggest thing people worry about is whether the government's renewables legislation is going to disappear. People are sceptical because there is nothing binding about this legislation. It (ROCs) is not the government's money but an obligation on companies to buy a certain amount of power from renewable sources."
Devaney said Ergo had been successful because it looked for projects that had already been running for a year, and therefore had a customer for the power. This lowered the risk and made the investment more attractive.
The problem is that few projects are already producing power. Big generators may have big plans, but the headache for the government is how to draw in new investors.
Professor Ian Fells, an energy consultant, said: "The City wants something that brings it a good return. It is dubious about the future of ROCs because, if there is a change in government, they may change the rules, no matter what Labour says."
Some investors are sceptical about how much renewable energy could really contribute to slowing down climate change. The wind does not blow all the time. Some estimates put the reliability of wind energy as low as 30%.
If all this were not enough to put off investors, there is the nightmare of obtaining planning permission. Even when projects obtain funding, they are often blocked by local objections.
One victim has been Progressive Energy, which set out to develop technology that can clean coal of carbon-dioxide emissions. But 15 months after making its application to build a power station in South Wales, it is still waiting for approval, having been caught up in local politics.
Timms said he is aware of all the concerns and next month's seminar is intended to win over the sceptics.
He said the government was looking again at the ROC system and whether it needed to be extended beyond 2015 to reinforce the state's commitment to renewables. And while Timms admitted that ROCs were a market-led mechanism rather than money coming direct from the government, he said this did not mean that the system would disappear under a future administration.
"Governments honour the contractual obligations of the previous government," he said.
He added that it was not just up to the City to raise the money. Householders will foot part of the cost through higher bills.
Ofgem, which regulates gas and electricity markets, will play a role here. It sets the prices that local energy distributors and National Grid Transco can charge customers. If prices rise, there will be funds to build the power lines that are needed to connect new wind farms to the national grid.
The government has also recognised that planning law is holding up the development of green energy. The objections to new projects do not come only from local activists. The Ministry of Defence has objected to wind farms because they interfere with radar. The shipping industry is worried that offshore farms will be a navigational hazard.
But Timms said: "We are making progress on planning. There are issues that have to be addressed to achieve this multi-billion pound investment, but we are working on them. The Ministry of Defence recently withdrew objections to two wind farms in Scotland and I have met the Chamber of Shipping to reassure them about offshore windfarms."
Timms is aware that the government needs to be looking far into the future to demonstrate its commitment to this fledgling industry.
Wave and tidal power are thought to have huge potential for the future. The government has been supporting research at the Marine Energy Test Centre in Scotland, which is reviewing a range of new technologies to supply Britain's power needs far into the future.
Ocean Power Technologies, which recently floated on the Alternative Investment Market, is among several small companies that are already blazing a trail.
But a lot of money will be needed. The government is set to send a firm message to the City at next month's conference - if the City continues to snub renewables, it will be more than just the pinstripe brigade that will lose out.
Aims of the programme
The government wants 10% of Britain's energy to come from renewable sources by 2010
Most will come from windfarms, but tidal and wave power will follow
It will cost about £8 billion to build and connect the new green energy installations
The government has encouraged generators to invest in renewables through a scheme called the Renewables Obligation, but customer bills are also set to rise
Copyright 2004 Times Newspapers Ltd.
APPENDIX 2 Abstract of US White Paper on superconductor cables.
An aging and inadequate power grid is now widely seen as among the greatest obstacles to efforts to restructure power markets in the United States. In light of new and intensifying pressures on the nation's power infrastructure, industry and policy leaders are looking to new technology solutions to increase the capacity and flexibility of the grid without further raising system voltages. High Temperature Superconductor (HTS) cable is regarded as one of the most promising new technologies to address these issues. Among HTS cable designs, one in particular - shielded cold dielectric cable - offers performance advantages particularly well suited to today's siting, reliability and performance challenges. Shielded cold dielectric HTS transmission cables feature very close spacing between the conductor and shield layers of wire in a coaxial cable. This close spacing results in several advantages: lower electrical losses; the virtual elimination of stray EMF; and significantly lower impedance than conventional cables and lines. Triaxial cables suited for distribution-voltage, high-current applications exhibit similar benefits. Of particular importance, the very low impedance (VLI) inherent in cables of coaxial or triaxial design makes it possible to control power flows over VLI circuits. These circuits inherently attract power flows, offloading adjacent, higher-impedance conventional circuits. Thus, for example, VLI superconductor cable ("VLI cable") offers a means of "pulling" power away from heavily-loaded lines onto high-capacity pathways that flow directly into congested urban centers. This approach offers compelling advantages compared to the traditional strategy of "pushing" power into load centers using multiple, large overhead circuits with higher impedance ratings. In addition, variable impedance may be cost-effectively added to VLI circuits with relatively small, conventional phase angle regulators. Thus, VLI circuits can function like fully controllable DC circuits, but without the expense and complexity associated with AC-DC terminal stations. The introduction of VLI cable enables new approaches to important challenges in grid management. The strategic insertion of relatively short segments of VLI cable to bridge bottlenecks can offload flows from overburdened conventional circuits, thereby expanding grid capacity, extending the useful life of conventional network elements, and raising overall asset utilization. Important economic, environmental and policy benefits include the following: â€¢ VLI cable users will pay less to solve power flow problems with shorter lengths of cable, at lower voltage ratings, and with greater controllability. Siting options for new generators will be expanded, and grid bottlenecks will be eased, improving overall power system efficiency and lowering total system costs. â€¢ Adoption of VLI cable will lead to enhanced system fuel efficiency and reduced air emissions, the elimination of stray EMF, and a much smaller physical footprint for grid expansion projects, because VLI cable can be routed underground within a variety of existing rights-of-way. â€¢ Unobtrusive VLI cable offers a new way to achieve several important objectives. It can help to break the logjam over transmission siting; improve overall power system reliability; enhance power market competitiveness; attract merchant transmission investment; and advance environmental objectives. Initial VLI superconductor cable projects now underway provide an opportunity to develop a reliability record and resolve system integration and other implementation issues. However, to speed the commercialization cycle for VLI cable, it is urgent to expand the range of demonstration projects and identify early commercial opportunities. With power markets in turmoil and transmission increasingly the center of attention, VLI cable is a breakthrough technology with great potential to solve many of the industry's most pressing problems.
APPENDIX 3 Times online March 28, 2004 Ofgem to boost greener power Lucinda Kemeny
OFGEM, the energy regulator, will tomorrow announce a £500m programme to encourage Britain's power-distribution companies to invest in renewables including wind power.
In a three-point plan, the regulator will seek to rebuff the idea that it is only interested in driving customer prices down to the detriment of maintaining a fully funded power network.
It will pledge to support company investments in upgrading the network by offering extra revenue for connecting green generation to the national grid.
The government has pledged that 10% of the country's power should come from renewable sources - such as wind farms - by 2010 to reduce the country's greenhouse-gas emissions.
But while Renewables Obligation Certificates have already been put in place to ensure generators invest in greener ways to produce power, there have not been any plans to stimulate investment in the network, which distributes power around the country.
Sir John Mogg, Ofgem's chairman, said: "We want to ensure the network can cope with the renewables. The system needs to be re-enforced."
It has been estimated that the cost of upgrading the network to connect all the new installations to the national grid will be £500m over the next five years.
Ofgem will tomorrow unveil a scheme to encourage companies to spend the money as quickly as possible.
The first point will tackle the companies' reluctance to invest in the face of the risk that they may not make a return on the money.
Ofgem is to guarantee distribution companies will get back 80% of the costs of building new connections by allowing them to charge the power generators more. They can then potentially receive extra payments depending on the amount of new generation they connect to the network.
Two further schemes - Registered Power Zones and Innovation Funding Incentives - will tackle specific aspects of connecting generation by encouraging new ideas to be tested.
APPENDIX 4 from BBC on-line 31.3.04
Call for new pylon cancer probe
Government-appointed experts are calling for an investigation into possible links between radiation from power lines and childhood leukaemia. The National Radiological Protection Board found those exposed to long- term electromagnetic radiation levels above 0.4 microtesla are at double the risk. Around one in 200 homes fit this category - but overall risk is small. But the board, which reviewed research into the issue, stressed no causal link was proved by the findings.
Exposure levels It also concedes that the leukaemia findings may be no more than a statistical quirk. The board has also brought Britain's safe radiation level in line with international regulations at 100 microteslas over a 24-hour period. This is down from 1,600 microteslas over 24 hours. Dr Alastair McKinlay, an NRPB expert, said at this stage further restrictions on levels of exposure were not needed - but he said it would be wrong for ministers to ignore the leukaemia issue. The Department of Health said it had already opened talks with the NRPB concerning precautionary measures for power lines. Most households are exposed to electromagnetic radiation levels of between 0.01 and 0.1 microteslas. Standing directly below a 400 kilovolt power line might expose a person to levels as high as 40 microteslas, but the dose diminishes rapidly as distance from the source increases.
Guidelines The leukaemia finding calls into question the safety of far lower levels of exposure continuing over long periods of time. However, the finding only emerges when studies are considered en masse - no single study has produced hard evidence of a link between proximity to power lines and increased childhood leukaemia rates, the board says. The NRPB's revised guidelines for electromagnetic radiation safety limits affects both power lines and mobile phones. The guidelines for mobile phones were adopted in the UK in 2000. Under the new advice they will now cover all the frequency ranges up to 300 gigahertz produced by TV and radio transmissions, mobile telecommunications and the supply and use of electricity.
Radiation Power lines are low frequency radiation sources, generating fields in the 50 hertz range. There is no clear reason why exposure to electromagnetic radiation should cause leukaemia. One of the largest investigations to focus on power line radiation, the UK Childhood Cancer Study, found no evidence of increased risk. A Department of Health spokesman said: "The government has recently started discussions with interested organisations to consider power lines and NRPB advice suggests that this process should continue. "Discussions will look at whether any precautionary measures would be appropriate and what the practical applications of these might be." However, campaigners say evidence of a possible risk has been available for more than a decade.
'Small step forward' Chairman of the environmental campaign group, Revolt, Mike O'Carroll said the call for a new investigation was a small step forward. "The evidence on electro-magnetic fields is much more significant than the evidence the government had against BSE when they accepted it was the most likely cause of new variant CJD," he said. "There's no case for starting to dismantle all the electricity pylons but there is a case for allowing the health aspects to be considered when looking at planning applications."
from BBC NEWS Health Call for new pylon cancer probe