Archive for category CO2 emissions and power stations

The Queen installs hydro power: A right royal reason to get things going again

Ok, so it’s been nearly 2 years since my last blog. Life has got in the way for a while, but it’s time to get things going again. I never meant Reduce Your CO2 to be a militant, ‘you must do absolutely everything green’ blog, but rather one that looks at the different things people are doing to reduce their emissions and / or save money - a particularly important challenge during these hard economic times. Typically however I’m getting back on track with less of a money-saver and more of a ‘good thing’.

Windsor Castle - soon to be powered by hydroelectricity

I’ve just read in the papers that the Queen is in the process of installing 2 Archimedes screws at Romney weir near Windsor castle. The aim is that they will power some, or even all of the electricity needed by the castle (allegedly her favourite residence), and this by November of this year. Estimates quoted suggested that this solution will reduce her carbon emissions by 790,000 kilos per year (not sure why kilos are quoted instead of tonnes - bit odd really, but it makes the figures look bigger!). So that’s pretty impressive, eh?

Admittedly she is spending something like £2 million to get this up and running so it’s not like she’s ever going to make the money back, and this has already got some people ranting about how pointless a gesture it is. The usual noises about people with money, about the inefficiency of these solutions, and about not helping anyone else out.

But this got me thinking. Surely this is a good example of a form of redistribution of wealth? If everyone who could afford to install green energy solutions, efficient or not, did so, then this to my mind would achieve several things:

  • It would relieve power stations of a large weight, especially as it goes to reason that wealthier people use more electricity
  • It would channel badly needed funds into the green energy industry, facilitating ongoing development
  • It would create a large splash in the news - something needed in an area that is crucial to our future whether or not you believe that the world is going to end. We need new energy solutions as our current ones will not last for ever
  • It would contribute to bringing the cost of installing green energy down, making it more efficient, and opening solutions up to the next financial tranche. For instance, if solar panels cost half of what they did today it would make financial sense for far more people to install them

If you think of many technologies, they start by only being affordable for the ultra rich, and it is the interest and investment of those very people that helps bring costs down and makes them accessible to the masses. By setting up her own hydroelectric powerplant even if it costs far more than she will save, HMQ is setting an excellent example to others ’sheltered from need’. Let’s hope they take note and follow.

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Shouldn’t we do more with our poo?

Cows by Sunfox
I read today in the Guardian that Lunen, a town north of Dortmund in Germany is to become the first town to be powered by animal waste when it launches a 6.8 mw power plant later this year - enough to power and heat 26,000 houses.

This is great news, but the first thought that came to my mind was ‘about time!’. We’ve known for a very long time that animal and human manure has potential for power generation, but it seems to have remained a cottage industry rather than going mainstream. I’m not the first person to bring them up, but the reasons are obvious:

  • A never-ending supply of manure. As long as we and our animals continue to eat, we will produce…
  • Reducing the need for waste disposal or treatment
  • By products in the form of highly effective, organic, fertiliser
  • Power generated by natural resources

I’m guessing that the reasons that more hasn’t been done here and sooner are the same as for many such potential CO2 reduction solutions: ‘the investment required doesn’t make it financially viable in the short or even medium term. We just can’t justify it.’ But surely the same people saying this are the governments and official bodies who have finally (apparently) recognised that we need to do as much as we can as soon as possible, and the same people who have just spent billions on bailing out our banks?

There are many different potential solutions for reducing our CO2 emissions, some easier than others, some cheaper than others. The most important are undoubtedly related to power generation: solar, wind, hydro, waves -all based on natural, never-ending energy sources. I think we need to add manure - or more simply, poo to this list. As long as we’re around, there will be poo, so let’s use it, rather than letting it go to waste.

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New UK coal-fired power stations with ’substantial’ CCS: a step forwards, backwards, or sideways?

With trumpeting and fanfares from the government, some of the press and even green groups, Ed Milliband the UK’s ‘Climate Change’ Secretary announced the construction of up to four new coal-fired power stations, but with the proviso that each must capture a ’substantial’ amount of the CO2 generated (estimated at around 25%) and store it underground. He also made it clear that no coal-fired power stations will be built in the future without carbon capture.

This obviously does represent a step, if not a leap forwards, and puts the UK in a leadership position in this area, but I can’t help questioning how much it will contribute to actually reducing the UK’s CO2 emissions, especially in the short term? The issue is with the phrase ’substantial’, which I would normally have expected to mean at least over 50%, but actually means between 20% and 25%. Apparently it is just not possible to capture 100% of emissions from the get-go as the technology has not yet been proven. According to Mr Milliband, ‘2025 is a practical’.

I am supposing that these new power stations will be replacing older, less-efficient ones, so that even without CCS each one would not represent a 100% additional weight on the UK’s CO2 emissions. However, I am struggling to understand how, even with the predicted 25% of CO2 collected, these plans can constitute anything but an increase in emissions between now and 2025, when we hope that 100% can be collected. If the glummest of doomsayers are right, this is not a good thing, as we need to be focusing everything we do on reducing emissions every year, and can’t allow for any further increases.

Conclusion? It’s a huge step forward to see the government insisting on and investing in new, CO2 reduction solutions, but the question has to be asked: could the estimated £4 billion of investment (not including further increases in fuel bills) be better spent on zero-emissions energy solutions? To me it’s a step-forward in thinking, but we are no nearer the desired results.

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At what point will Global Warming become an accepted reality?

This week, the Met Office’s Hadley Centre published the results of a study into the potential effects of climate change, and the level of action required to avoid drastic increases in temperature over the next 100 years. They estimate that anything but ‘early and rapid’ action against climate change will result in a rise in global temperature of 2.9 degrees centigrade or more by 2100.

Also this week, Drax, Britains’s biggest coal-fired power station, announced that they are investing in direct-injection biomass co-firing systems for all 6 of their coal-fired units, which should cut their CO2 emissions by more than 2.5 million tonnes per year.

So here is a recognised weather authority giving a clear warning, and a recognised polluter taking positive action. If Global Warming is just a great corporate plot, then what is the point of all this action? I don’t think that the Met Office are particularly known for being ordered around by the government, and as for Drax, well I thought that power suppliers just wanted to build more power stations!

I have followed the Global Warming / Climate Change debate with interest for a long time. I’ve obviously always been more persuaded by the ‘for’ than the ‘against’, but I’ve also been fascinated to observe the typical human reaction to warnings of ‘future catastrophe’. ‘Give me proof!’ they say, and, when there’s no immediate catastrophe for them to feel and touch, they go on as before. ‘What’s the point?’ they say, pointing to the other polluters who are doing nothing about reducing their CO2 emissions. ‘It’s not my fault!’ they say, abstaining all responsibility and continuing as before.

Most of us just won’t believe that something is wrong until it bashes us over the head. The problem in this case is that by the time Climate Change bashes us over the head it will probably be too late - at least that’s what the Met Office are saying, and they are by no means the first.

So back to the question in the title: What’s it going to take for us to realise that things are going wrong, and that we need to take action, and lots of it? Well I have to admit that we’re not really being helped by our government making promises out of one side of their mouth and reneging on them out of the other side, but these moves by 2 disparate UK institutions this week brought it home to me. Let’s stop fannying around or maybe it really will be too late.

So what are you waiting for? Floods? Hurricanes? Killer freeze or killer heatwaves? Why bother waiting? There’s plenty you can do right now that really won’t stretch you, and if we all did it, maybe we can avoid that catastrophem whether we believe in it or not. Only one problem, though. If we do take action and avoid catastrophe, there will always be the naysayers saying ‘Told you so! There wasn’t a catastrophe in the first place!’

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Hybrid coal power stations - not as clean as a Prius, but a good idea

I read today in the Guardian that Drax, the UK’s largest power station, powered by coal, and providing up to 7% of the UK’s electricity, has launched a project to replace 10% of the coal it uses with biomass.

Basically, a powder made of materials such as wood chips, sunflower husks and grasses, will be injected into the coal-fired furnaces, thus reducing the amount of coal burnt on a daily basis. As biomass is regarded as carbon neutral, this also reduces the overall amount of co2 emissions from the power plant, helping Drax on the way to their target of reducing their emissions by 15% by 2012. The first stage should go live around 2010 (though watch this space for confirmation of that part). If it works out, the amount of biomass injected could be increased, reducing emissions even further.

Ok, so they’re still going to be burning masses of coal, but this is still a positive step in the right direction rather than no steps at all. It is also a realistic step, that will have an effect in 2-3 years rather than building a nuclear power station, which will have an effect in 10 years or so.

The problem we have with power today is that we need it, and more and more of it, and we need it to be reliable too. There is no immediate solution that can enable us to replace current co2 emitting power stations with oh so clean and 100% reliable solutions, or at least not unless we install millions of wind turbines, solar panels and tidal flow generators, completely ignoring the sometimes reasonable cries of those who believe they have a negative effect on the environment. What’s more, these solutions still have their issues - no wind, no sun, up and down tides don’t make for regular supplies.

So for now, every step forwards however small is positive, and I for one welcome a potential 10% reduction in emissions from Drax. Here’s to 2 further steps: increasing the reduction to 20% and, more importantly, doing the same for all the other coal burning power stations in the UK and, more importantly, the world. This will give us time to work on the more long-term, reliable renewable solutions we need.

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