Thursday, 18 August 2011

Copper – Essential ingredient to the UK’s off-shore wind ambitions:

Copper – Essential ingredient to the UK’s off-shore wind ambitions:

By: Simon Robeson, Partner:

The UK is placing increasing reliance on a metal, the supply of which some argue is subject to as much individual and institutional speculation, manipulation and supply constraint as current oil and gas supplies. Does it follow that increasing our reliance on such a metal assists with our energy security concerns, as lauded by our politicians?

Copper use-age for on-Shore wind turbines:

On average, UK wind farms require 5.64 tonnes of copper per MW of rated capacity installed. That’s 1.6t/MW in the turbine and 4.04t/MW for the cabling.

Copper use-age for off-Shore wind turbines:
On average UK offshore wind farms require 9.58 tonnes / MW.
That’s 1.75t/MW in the turbine and 6.05t/MW for the cabling to the sub-station.

As of Jan 2011, the UK has the largest off-shore wind power capacity in Europe, installing a total of 1,341 MW.

As stated in the UK Renewable Energy Strategy, the current UK plan is to install approximately 12GW of additional on-shore wind power capacity and 25GW off-shore
by 2030. Using an average copper intensity of 5.64 tonnes/MW it has been estimated that this will require 208,680 tonnes of copper – and that’s for the UK alone.

Bringing this into sharp relief is the announcement in April 2010 by Vattenfall, which is currently installing a thirty-turbine wind farm off Barrow-in-Furness, that it finished three months of cable engineering works by completing the connection from the Ormonde Offshore Wind Farm to the UK’s National Grid - this required a 42km export cable made largely of copper.

We need to find an alternative to such metal hungry power tranmission, how about power (energy) storage in the form of hydrogen (see i.e. capture the electricity in the form of Hydrogen and ‘ship’ it to shore where it can be consumer (combusted or electrochemically converted) in a ‘distributed [power] generation’ power plant.

Sources include: Energy Saving's trust and Ian Keith Falconer.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

A long overdue solution to energy storage

Industrial scale renewable energy conversion devices such as wind turbines and solar panels are forecast to contribute significant amounts of electricity to the growing need.
As well as delivering green electricity these devices also add considerable uncertainty of supply for Grid Managers; those responsible for balancing countries electrical demand with availability. Owing to its unpredictability, wind and solar based renewable electricity is known as intermittent energy.

For the renewables industry this label is unwelcome but currently unavoidable; if the wind isn’t blowing and/or the sun isn’t shining these renewable energy harvesters are redundant. What’s more, Murphy’s Law dictates that when the wind is blowing and the sun shining their is demand for their electricity and vice versa.
The effect of this intermittency for both the grid and utilities is highlighted by the following statements:
2010: The largely wind free months of April – July lead to a 30% reduction in forecast output. Similar issues have confronted utilities in the first quarter of 2011.
2011: A £900,000 payout was shared by 6 wind farms in April 2011 to stop producing electricity for several hours over a two day period. Reacting to this problem, a director of the Renewable Energy Foundation said that “the variability [intermittency] of wind power poses grid management problems for which there are no cheap solutions. In future we need greater electrical energy storage facilities.” He went on to say that “a re-think is needed about the scale and pace of wind power development before the cost of managing it [pay-outs] becomes intolerable and the scale of waste scandalous”

Such intermittency/unreliability/variability is adding to the fears among grid managers that, without a storage solution and regardless of the size of the so called ‘wind fleet’, the United Kingdom will never be able to reduce its conventional generation fleet below peak load plus a margin of approximately 10%. Were that to be the case it would be a blow to the renewables industry and to government targets.

A means must therefore be developed by the renewables industries to store the low to zero value electricity being produced when it is not needed, so that it can be sold on at a time when it is in demand.

Scientists have long since pointed to hydrogen as a potential energy storage solution. It can be made relatively cheaply and at scale by electrolysis, a proven technology. The hydrogen produced could then be shipped to power stations to be burned or converted back to electricity through a fuel cell at a time when it is useful and demands a higher price.
This process is often referred to in clean energy circles as a ‘carbon free chain’. It particularly applies if the resulting hydrogen is passed through a fuel cell to generate electricity which is then fed to satisfy a local demand. This process is currently being tested for Scottish island communities.

So why isn’t everybody making hydrogen in this way?

Storing hydrogen in commercially (and environmentally) viable quantities (6%/wt) is currently a lot harder than it sounds.
The current solution, which has been ‘optimised’ for fuel cell vehicles, is to pressurise the hydrogen to 350 - 700 times atmospheric pressure. That requires huge amounts of energy, creates a not insignificant bomb and results in relatively small amounts of hydrogen being stored. This renders the process energy inefficient, impractical and potentially lethal.
Hydrogen also has a habit of escaping, relatively harmlessly, through seals - resulting in the not uncommon scene of a scientist returning to his ‘full’ bottle of carefully stored hydrogen to discover that it is now half empty. Incredible to think that car companies believe we will adopt this ultra high pressure means of fuelling their, soon to be released, hydrogen powered cars.

So, industry and government must identify, fund and develop a commercially viable material that will store and release hydrogen.

There are already plenty of well funded teams around the world looking to find this holy grail of materials. However, even those few materials identified that are capable of storing commercially viable quantities of hydrogen still require ultra high pressures and/or ultra low temperatures to store it and then tend to release it too slowly.

Until about 12 months ago we were somewhat despairing at the lack of viable breakthroughs in this area and then we received a telephone call from a UK government scientist, which changes everything!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

What Can be Done:

a) The UK needs to select and nurture its high-quality research communities and entrepreneurs.

b) Funding must be made available to early stage tech developers that have un surprisingly been left high and dry by the private investment community in this country.

c) The UK government needs to agree to a set of principles and actions that make plain their long-term commitment to the clean energy industry.

d) One of those actions should be to commit the activities of all public sector stakeholders to a single set of forward looking and informed principles that support clean energy development. Such an action will help to clarify the government’s position on the matter and send a clear message of long-term support and transparency to the investment community.

e) The UK should commit to procure low-carbon technologies in a series of programmes that seek to motivate the UK’s entrepreneurs and to incentivise overseas developers to establish operations in the UK.

f) The UK should seek in all it does to build sustainable communities of developers in regions where there is a natural strength based on the areas geography or existing R&D base.

g) We must overhaul our grant and tax incentive programmes so they reflect the real issues facing our technology developers.

h) We must incentivise everyone, from large corporations to the man in the street to install clean energy technologies.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Clean Energy Industry - Has the UK Missed the Boat

The following describes the current perception of the UK amongst investors, start-ups and micro-SMEs within and without the UK:

Planning Permission is a lottery, leading to unacceptably damaging delays in the implementation of technology demonstration programmes or product roll-out.

Government support is largely policy rather than legislatively driven leaving investors in an unhelpfully uncertain investment environment.

Feed in and generation tariffs are too small and too exclusive.

Applying for grants is too resource intense leaving many developers with no alternative but to ignore them.

The regional or central sources of grants and incentives are often inappropriate, insufficient and too complex.

So called “Centres of Excellence” are distracted from the core purpose of their existence by the pressure to generate consultancy income, which also leads to the ‘crowding-out’ of local private consultants.

When compared to France, Japan, Germany and the US, UK companies invest less in R&D

So what can we do about it?