The Predicted Future - (August 2020)
EACH YEAR National Grid ESO (NGE) sets out its view of the energy system thirty years ahead. Since it can’t know the future, it models outcomes based on scenarios. This year it has four scenarios*. One of them doesn’t get to zero carbon by 2050, so is of no interest to us except as a benchmark of what to avoid. The second is implausibly ambitious, so we can leave that aside, too. That leaves two scenarios whose outcomes are meant to tell us how things...
A Threat To Action - (July 2020)
THE COMMITTEE ON CLIMATE CHANGE takes the idea of zero-carbon very seriously and its recommendations to government in its 2020 annual progress report on how we are doing in reaching our goals are ordered on that basis.
So it is that it sets out a timetable by which a number of events – events it clearly wants the reader to see as being...
Too Much Power, Too Few Users - (June 2020)
TOTAL ELECTRICITY consumption in the UK has fallen during the lockdown by around about one fifth. At the same time, warm weather and windy days have increased the output from renewable generators. The two together cause the network to become unstable.
To cope with this, renewable generators have been turned off (although they will be paid) or excess output has been channelled through interconnectors to users overseas. At the same time, gas plant continues to run at generally high levels – and it does so because the system operator cannot yet get stabilising “inertia” onto the net-work except through running large plant (or through there being high levels of demand).
As a result, there is currently much more plant needing to be...
Greening The System - (April 2020)
TWO YEARS AGO the National Infrastructure Commission made clear its opposition to new nuclear plant on the ground of cost. It recommended that planning for any new plant after Hinkley Point be postponed to post-2025. By then, the argument went, we will know enough to avoid getting trapped if new low-carbon technologies emerge to fill the capacity gap at a lower cost.
The Commission’s new report, based on a re-run and updating of figures, repeats that view—and puts its toe in the new technology water.
The core argument for every scenario in the report looks very simple: renewables, taking account of whole system costs, are far and away...
The Heathrow Runway Case - (March 2020)
MUCH HAS BEEN SAID about the Heathrow Runway case and much of it has been wrong or misleading. It’s an interesting case, partly as a result of what it doesn’t do and partly as a result of where it leaves the government.
The Appeal Court found the arguments of the parties who were opposing the Heathrow runway (because that’s what the case was about, even if it had been cast in different terms) wrong, misfounded or based on misunderstandings and misinterpretations. But on one point (and, to a lesser extent, on an associated point) they were right...
The Price and Future of Biomass - (February 2020)
THERE IS A NEW SET of recommendations for government to deal with as it revamps its climate change policies*. They concern incentives for and restrictions on land use, biomass sources, biomass uses and, inevitably, biomass costs.
In Phillip Hammond’s last budget, provision was made for a scheme to buy carbon from new woodland. An auction (the auction: there is just the one) closed this month.
At the auction bidders offered a price at which they were prepared to supply Woodland Carbon Units (WCUs), each of which is equivalent to one tonne of CO2 (calculated at any given time by halving the biomass of a tree). The bidders offer to supply a...
The Extinction Rebellion Effect - (January 2020)
EXTINCTION REBELLION has just been classified as an extremist organisation. Alongside that, one of their major demands is in the process of being put into law, viz1:
Government must create and be led by the decisions of a Citizens’ Assembly on climate and ecological justice.
There is to be a Citizens’ Assembly; it is to determine well-being goals for the future, covering the environment, culture and economic and social conditions; these goals will be binding on all public bodies.
The route to the Citizens’ Assembly and its decision-making tasks is through the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill2. It has a bit of a history, which explains the surprising parts of the Bill and also the impact of Extinction Rebellion.
In 2015 the Welsh Assembly passed into law the Well-being of Future Generations Act, (restricted to Wales, of course). The Act appointed a commissioner, set out a list of broad and general ‘sustainable’ well-being goals and instructed all public bodies to take note. It’s probably true to say that this Act of grand ambitions...
AI and Algorithms in Energy - (December 2019)
THE CAPACITY MARKET (CM) is a once or twice a year electricity e-auction designed to maintain security of supply in the UK.
Tempus Energy brought the CM to a halt when it complained to the European Court of Justice that, among other things, the CM discriminated against it. The Court agreed and directed the European Commission to undertake an investigation: until that was done, the CM was suspended.
The Commission has now completed its investigation and approved the CM, which has restarted. We don’t know the details of the decision because it is taking a remarkably long time for a ....
A Binding Email Contract - (November 2019)
THE LAW COMMISSION has published a report dealing with the issue of whether there needs to be new law to deal with electronic signatures. The report may be of interest to lawyers but, by and large, it will be of interest to no-one else. Except that it enabled a county court judge to take a decision in a case* about whether the two solicitors on opposite sides of a dispute had concluded a contract on their clients’ behalf.
Although the case revolved around the issue of land, at heart what it was about was, simply, whether when one solicitor sent an email in response to the other and said ‘yes, I agree’ his client was ....
Transforming Regulation - (October 2019)
ACTUAL, SUBSTANTIAL, MEANINGFUL energy policy which contains the basis of its implementation is needed now. The current glaring policy gap is what is needed to enable the zero-carbon target to be met.
We know what could happen because the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) laid it out in detail (see Update May 2019). Almost immediately the CCC’s report was published, parliament adopted a zero-carbon target. But that isn’t a policy; it’s a goal.
Government might claim that it has policies; they are the same policies it has been parading for some time. But they are vague and general, hand-wavy and without anything that could lay the basis of planned action going forward. The CCC in its June 2018 report criticised government’s main decarbonisation policy ....
The Smart Meter Revolution - (September 2019)
ONCE UPON A TIME gas and electricity meters were owned by the old supply companies. They are now owned by (or in many cases, they are rented by) the new supply companies.
Whereas in the long, distant past meters were unimportant and uninteresting, government intervention has meant that they are now profitable (for the meter-leasing companies), problematic (for consumers and suppliers) and potentially expensive (for suppliers).
They are also now meant to be exciting new ways into ....
When is a Plant a Power Plant – (August 2019)
A RECENT CASE will likely come to be called the case of when a power plant is not a power plant.
X and Y were contractors for the construction of a waste-to-energy (WtE) power plant. They had fallen out (we aren’t given the details) and, as is usual good practice, they went to adjudication.
Their contract provided for adjudication under the Construction Act (CA) - but the CA specifically excludes from its scope power generation.
The adjudicator found in favour of X and ordered Y ....
The New and Future Agenda - (July 2019)
ONCE BREXIT IS SORTED (within the next twelve months?) the issue on the table for the government then in power will be climate change.
What has caused the issue to become this focal is partly the apparent evidence of climate change, partly protests against presumed inactivity to deal with climate change and partly because zero-carbon is now a target enshrined in law. And global politics, of course.
Achieving zero carbon, the detailed work of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) shows, can be done, but only just and only if we now step up the pace significantly to deliver intermediate targets in the 2020s.
We know that the UK is behind the curve. We know that it cannot, without change, meet....
Incentivising Renewables - (June 2019)
THE FUTURE FOR RENEWABLES is encouraging, robust, even rosy, is it not? The government has accepted (and has almost completed the process of legislating for) the recommendation of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) to adopt a binding 2050 zero-carbon target.
The target demands a huge increase in low-carbon power. To reach the intermediate targets (every five years from 2020), much is needed soon. Since solar and onshore wind are the cheapest form of low-carbon power it is obvious, is it not, that if we need more and we need to keep the cost down, we need much more onshore wind and solar power?
It is equally obvious that unless these technologies are at grid parity (cost the same as the alternatives), they need some form of financial support. But they haven’t reached grid parity, therefore...
Getting to Zero Carbon - (May 2019)
the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), has published its report on whether the UK should and, if so, how it should, aim at a zero carbon target for 2050.* It is profoundly ambitious.
Such a target is a big bullet for any government to bite (several have done so: the UK is by no means the first). We currently have an 80% target and interim targets of 51% by 2025 and 57% by 2030. We won’t meet them; we are off course and government is failing to face its policy deficits head on.** A zero target will be that much harder.
The new target needs policy of the kind and breadth we don’t have. Zero carbon means most sectors must get close to zero without offsetting. What is proposed is wide ranging. The main points are...
Operational Flexibility - (April 2019)
THE COST OF USING the electricity networks is high. For domestic consumers it’s about 26% of the bill; business costs vary by consumption but can be as much as 20% which, for any form of consumer, is a hefty chunk of a bill. It could get higher, very much higher.
Before renewables came on the scene, most electricity was delivered from large power stations via the transmission network, down into the distribution network to businesses and homes. It was a one-way traffic that the emergence of renewables overturned. Now distribution networks are...
Capacity Market Restart - (March 2019)
THE CAPACITY MARKET WAS SHUT last November when the European Court of Justice (ECJ) annulled the approval of the scheme by the European Commission, thus making its continued operation illegal. Almost immediately the UK announced the closure was entirely technical and implied the interruption would be short-lived—by describing the closure as a “standstill”, i.e., in suspension until a final decision was taken by the Commission.
At the end of January the Commission lodged papers to appeal the ECJ decision. That appeal is likely to take upto 18 months to be heard.
In February, the Commission opened a detailed investigation into the CM scheme saying it needed to do so because....
An Energy White Paper - (February 2019)
THE GOVERNMENT has announced a new Energy White Paper for this summer.
The Energy White Paper will (as all white papers do) set out the thinking behind government big-picture plans for the future. It will enunciate what government will plan to do, consultations it will undertake and its reasoning behind plans whose details are yet to be specified.
What it won’t deal with is what happens after a no-deal Brexit. We know what will happen in that eventuality; in case we didn’t, BEIS has outlined possible outcomes*. Any fallout needs solutions for immediate implementation, not at some point in the future.
There are three main transformative spurs to energy policy we should expect to impact ......
Unfair Charges - (January 2019)
GOVERNMENT IS CLEARLY far too preoccupied to pay heed to what is happening outside the Brexit conclave. But it will be forced to do so if the network-charging proposals from Ofgem are to be implemented.
Ofgem has over the last four or so years been picking away at the questions of how to get more generators onto overcrowded networks, how to cut the costs of doing so, who should pay for the networks and how they should be run.
This is all part of the government’s flexibility programme which foresees a future (a pretty near future) in which domestic consumers, as well as everyone else, can buy electricity by the half hour or can sell capacity (by not consuming), in which more generation can enter the system, intermittency can be dealt with and storage can play a big role.
As Ofgem has reached its conclusions along the way over this time, industry arrangements have been changed. Sometimes the results have been......