Thursday, 29 November 2018

Lobby launched in support of revolutionary wave power device

A company with plans to manufacture a revolutionary new wave power device has held a series of meetings with MSPs to secure funding to allow testing and demonstration of the technology. Resen Waves, the Danish company behind the Resen Wave technology, is planning to open an office in Aberdeen soon. It is a novel approach since it hopes to go directly to market to provide wave-powered buoys to supply off grid sensors and instruments on the seabed and real-time data communication with the sensors. 
After completion of a successful two-year test and demonstration (T&D) programme the company intends to base manufacturing in Aberdeen to fulfil orders arising from industries such as offshore oil and gas decommissioning, geotechnical surveying and offshore wind. It is planned to do the T&D at the European Marine Energy Centre EMEC in Orkney, and the Scottish Government is being asked to grant £250,000 to fund this.
Per Resen Steenstrup, the Managing Director, after whom the technology is named, said” The approach behind Resen Waves is different to what has been tried before with wave power. It is a bottom-up method where we start with a small device for a specialised off grid market as opposed to the top-down methods tried before to supply big scale power to the grid. We are trying an incremental market method in smaller scale rather than starting off with big machines, which requires feed-in tariffs, which are not available.
The Resen Wave machine has few moving parts, no complicated hydraulic systems and a low weight to power ratio. The machine has been developed over 7 years and includes a long-life carbon fibre spring designed with the help of a Danish technological institute. Steenstrup was previously Managing Director of the Wavestar wavepower project, which was an attempt to develop a large-scale wave power device.  He further commented: “I’ve learned a lot from Wavestar and now have a model that can go directly to market. But we need some support from Government for business development through testing and demonstration to give us credibility and publicity to get orders for machines. At the moment the Scottish Government’s wavepower programme is only funding technology rather than business development.’
Dr David Toke, a renewable energy expert from the University of Aberdeen who is helping (on a pro bono basis) to promote the efforts to gain Government support said: ‘The Resen Wave concept is revolutionary. It fits in exactly with innovations theory in that revolutionary innovations start in niche markets and then optimise. This happened with wind power and solar PV which started off filling small-scale off-grid needs, and then spread to mainstream markets as costs fell. A big advantage of the Resen Wave concept is that it can get orders without the need for feed-in tariffs set by Government.’
 Details of the Resen Wave technology can be accessed at the webpage

See coverage in 'Energy Voice';

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Clark's plan to underwrite losses on Wylfa nuclear project will likely lead to an embarrassing state-aid plea to the EU Commission

Now that it seems, short of an extended 'no-deal' Brexit scenario, the UK will remain within EU state-aid rules for a long time to come, Greg Clark will have to oversee an embarrassing state aid case in support of his proposals to underwrite the (almost certain) losses from building the Hitachi-led Wylfa nuclear power plant.

I have already discussed how the taxpayer (and/or electricity consumer) is exposed to almost certain multi-billion losses as a result of the plan that Clark is touting here and in Japan. See my previous post at

The last time that the UK applied for what amounted to an exemption from EU state aid rules for nuclear power was in late 2013 when Ed Davey led the plea for the Hinkley C deal. The state aid was granted in October 2014 after the Commission ruled that the Hinkley C deal was a reasonable way to avoid 'market failure'. Any application for state aid for Wylfa would be a tougher challenge. Indeed the very proposal whereby the state will take at least a half equity share in the project and take responsibility for cost overruns is an action that in itself creates market failure if curbing carbon emissions is the objective!

The Government's cover story  in 2013 was that support for Hinkley C was on the same level available for renewable energy since renewable energy schemes were also being offered CfDs (as well as very extensive loan guarantees that most renewable energy schemes could not get from the Government of course). The European Commission seemed to buy into this line stating 'The aid would not have a negative impact on other low-carbon sources, given that they are also supported by the UK, and there is no discrimination against renewable technologies'

See para 284 in the Commission decision

But this time the type of support available for Wylfa (Govt equity support plus underwriting potential losses) is certainly not on offer to renewable energy schemes. Indeed nowadays onshore wind and solar are not eligible for even CfDs.

It will be interesting to see what happens with this (Wylfa) state aid application. No doubt we'll get Brexiteers complaining about the role of the Commission (who might save the UK from the harm the project does to the country!). The voting will be rather less favourable to the British application than last time, where only 4 out of 28 Commissioners objected to the granting of state aid for Hinkley C. The UK will have less (no?) insider influence, and there will be much less sympathy for Hitachi as a developer compared to EDF, the (French, state owned) developer of Hinkley C.

No doubt we'll hear lots of stories about how Hinkley C is important for carbon reduction - despite the fact that the Government is not even asking the Crown Estates to look for any more offshore wind sites off the English and Welsh coasts - and stories about the need for firm capacity - despite the fact that small peaking gas plant would be at least 20 times cheaper (again see last post).

Greg Clark seems to have set his store, in terms of ministerial role  as being a 'consolidator' as opposed to an innovator in his role at BEIS. Well, he'll need to be pretty innovatory to get the Wylfa proposal approved in an EU state aid case!

Sunday, 11 November 2018

How Greg Clark's Hitachi deal could lead to a £20 billion plus loss for the Treasury

Greg Clark looks likely to go down in history as the Minister who signs off on a nuclear construction deal with Hitachi for the proposed Wylfa power plant that led to a stupendous loss for the taxpayer. That loss might be £20 billion or more.

Clark has apparently put no discernable effort into the objective of securing 'subsidy' free contracts for onshore wind and solar. However, he has been spending a lot of time concocting a plan to finance the Wylfa nuclear power plant that will, on the basis of past performance, generate huge losses for the public purse years down the line. All the talk from BEIS (the energy ministry) is of the new 'Regulated Asset Base' (RAB) financing of nuclear power plant. Except that what's really happening is not really an RAB model at all. It's a piece of brownwash to obscure the reality of Government blank cheque to cover whatever it costs to build the nuclear plant.

That's because the whole plan hinges on the constructors being able to pass on cost-overruns onto the Government. And that's the point. Nuclear power stations being built in the west have almost always tended to have large cost overruns. Recent ones have ALL suffered horrendous cost overruns - in the USA (4), France (1) and Finland (1).

Yet, some otherwise sensible, financial analysts seem to ignore this fact as they extol the virtues of RAB financing. They implicitly assume that Wylfa will proceed precisely on target, in which case, they say the Government will deliver the project at a 'cheaper' price than Hinkley C through the provision of Government loans with low interest rates. Sure, the headline price that will be paid by the electricity consumer, over 35 years, will be a bit cheaper. But that's likely to be at one hell of a cost to the taxpayer.

In fact, real RAB modelling as applied to nuclear power construction in the USA has actually bankrupted Westinghouse, and nearly bankrupted Toshiba who owned it. The model operates in the USA whereby consumers pay in advance for the power stations. They cover the costs while the power plant are being built through an addition to their electricity bills. That would be good for the company constructing the plant who is guaranteed to get their money back, provided of course, the project comes in at or below planned costs. But while that might work for other infrastructure, it doesn't work for new nuclear. Nuclear power plant take longer to build than planned meaning that the workforce has to be kept on and paid and also extra interest charges accrue on loans - If a nuclear plant is supposed to be finished in 7 years, but takes 12, the costs double in that time.

The trouble is that nuclear power plants have horrendous costs overruns, as they have in the USA with the Vogtle 3&4 and Virgil Summer  2&3 plants being built in respectively Georgia and South Carolina. The constructors, in effect Westinghouse, has to cover the costs themselves. Result: bankruptcy. Indeed Summer has been abandoned and Vogtle only staggers on with the help of a 12 billion dollar Federal loan and continued payouts by consumers.

But then  Mr Clark is not considering the (real) US system - Hitachi would never buy into that because they don't want to go bankrupt. Instead the Treasury will take the hit on cost overruns. A very big hit, it's likely to be too. The 2.9GW Wylfa project is slated to cost £20 billion. If there is a 5 year construction overrun that means the costs will jump to £40 Billion. That means the Treasury will be on the hook to pay the extra £20 billion. The costs, pro rata, for the only western nuclear constructions going in (in USA, Finland and France) look even larger than this. Yes, the Treasury could end up paying a lot more than £20 billion extra for this project over and above the large amounts electricity consumers will have to pay for power from he project.

I'm sure we'll get a lot of brownwash about the marvellous tried and tested nature of the Hitachi 'Advanced Boiling Water Reactor' (ABWR) in Japan. Rather, what is proposed is a pretty new design that includes a lot of features demanded by our nuclear regulators to bring the power plant up to present required safety standards. I can assure you that there's a long list of changes. So, we're in the forever 'First of a kind' land of nuclear power. Besides which nuclear power plant are always unique to each site.

We're told how important it is to have 'firm' power in the shape of nuclear plant to compensate for renewable energy variability. But in practice nuclear power plant are not shut down to make way for wind or solar plant, rather the renewable energy is wasted. On top of this even if the plant 'only' cost  £20 billion to build, that is an awful lot to pay for providing generating capacity. If you provide it with basic, 'peaking', gas fired plant (open cycle and reciprocating engine) you can get 3 GWe for little more than £1 billion. That's likely to be very roughly a £39 billion saving if you don't build Wylfa.  In fact the nation's plans are awash with too much combined cycle gas plant already, which are really not the first choice technology for balancing renewables anyway. But that 's another story. The story here is that far from the Wylfa project looking to be cheaper for the consumer than the Hinkley C deal, it is likely to be far, far worse.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Why is Michael Liebreich attacking Tim Jackson? - the debate about carbon emissions and economic growth

Twitter has recently advertised a clash of opinions between two supporters of renewable energy, the Conservative growthist Michael Liebreich and the allegedly 'degrowthist' Tim Jackson. To what extent are Liebreich and Jackson right in their arguments?

I must say, I've always had doubts about arguments for 'zero' economic growth. This is  partly because I don't believe that practical measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions reduce economic growth. Also I doubt whether the complex interaction of factors that generate greenhouse gas emissions can be represented very well in theories about the 'steady state' economy.

But I do very much doubt whether people who advocate such a view, ie essentially that there are more important things that economic growth, can be regarded as any sort of a threat. In practice whatever their philosophical leanings, these people recommend doing things like conserving resources and using renewable ones. These are not even activities that necessarily threaten economic growth provided they involve a decrease in use of material non-renewable resources.  They are, in general, peace loving and anti-exploitative. If everyone was like that the world would in fact be a much better place!

So why does Liebreich spend time attacking Jackson et al? Really it's about arguments in the Conservative Party between people like Liebreich who argue correctly that people can make a lot more money from renewable energy than they can from fossil fuels and nuclear power, and atavists like Nigel Lawson and the Global Warming Policy Foundation who do not recognise the challenge of climate change. But in order to conduct this argument Liebreich thinks he can impress his Tory colleagues by bashing the (much Tory hated) leftist museli gobblers.

But. more seriously, the theorists that Liebreich promotes have their own shortcomings. He praises the works of people like William Nordhaus who thinks that carbon taxes can solve the world's climate problems much better than regulations. This appeals to some US audiences on an ideological level, but again, misses out the practical measures that need to be taken. Carbon taxes of course can be useful, arguably essential in some form, but miss the point that in order to promote technological innovation you have to have some regulatory measures to encourage 'bottom' up' technological innovation. Innovation requires niches supported by relevant incentives/regulations.

This is as opposed to solely  relying on a one-size-fits-all carbon tax that encourages mainly existing large scale technologies -  and which, moreover, will encounter political resistance from the very people (business interests) that Nordhaus and Liebreich want to please. This is because if carbon taxes are applied as the ONLY measure on the level necessary to achieve big carbon reductions they will cause  political rebellion on a much greater scale than anything attending the regulatory and incentive measures promoted by  the renewable or energy efficiency trade associations and other NGOs.  We need lots of different methods; incentives, regulations, carbon taxes, local cooperatives....whatever. Existing big business, on its own, won't deliver technological change. We need a bottom up approach that delivers innovation. Then, after some success in this pattern the big companies will decide to change what they are doing. Or go out of business.

Liebreich and Jackson trade blows on carbon dioxide figures. Jackson is right to point out that recent carbon emission reductions are overstated once 'embedded' emissions from imported good are taken into account. But then if you look at the last 20 years (since 1997) you can see that whilst total carbon emissions have been stable over this period the UK population has increased by 14 per cent. So per capita reductions in emissions have been occurring even when you take into account imported emissions. Yes, we've only scratched the surface so far, but it may be simplistic to argue that the problem is economic growth, especially when you look at the world as it is and see that population growth  seems to decline as economic growth increases incomes.  In fact Jackson himself recognises that his favoured 'entropy' law is not something  that 'immediately rules out some form of growth'. But this sort of argument is lost in the ideological positioning that Liebreich has engaged.  

Michael Liebreich's view

Tim Jackson's view

UK greenhouse gas balances