Energising the Future

Another fixture in the JRI calendar is our annual conferenceincollaborationwithRedcliffeCollegein Gloucester. Each year we take a different environmental topic, and this year we decided on energy (12th February 2011). Andy Kingston-Smith, the Redcliffe organiser, and the students started the day with contemporary worship. JRI Director, Margot Hodson, the chair, then introduced the day. It would not be a debate between different energy sources. Realistically we will need all of them. We had four key note speakers:

Andy Brown (Progressive Energy)

Andy first painted coal as the villain of the piece. Coal is a major source of carbon emissions. Atmospheric CO2 is going up and so is temperature, and the two are correlated. That is not the only problem with coal as it also contains sulphur (acid rain), ash (particulate deposition), other elements including uranium, and burning it leads to nitrogen oxide production as well. Guilty as charged!!

Andy then explained the concept of base load, taking as an example the case of UK electricity. Base load is essentially energy sources that do not shut down. It is met by nuclear power, and the most efficient fossil fuel generation. Wind is a variable and is difficult to regulate. Generating power is switched on and off to meet demand, for instance the breakfast peak. Bringing on new sources takes 30 minutes at least, and so generators plan for peaks. If we abandoned fossil fuel then the situation becomes more variable still!

them. We have: solar; hydro; wind; biomass; geothermalheat;andtidalenergy.Thebigthreearesolar, biomass and wind. Many technologies are available, and they give comprehensive coverage. The science is advanced in all areas. John thinks they can do everything by 2050. Most houses can be 50% better easily. Changes in lifestyle are needed, with less meat consumption. There will be many more electric vehicles. Fossil fuels will still be needed for metal processing. John recommended the REN21World status report 2010 (www.ren21.net). Renewables are growing very rapidly. Investment is growing, jobs are growing. The UK is very poor on renewables, whilst Sweden is very good. We have proven technologies available, but much still to do.

Ian Hore-Lacy (World Nuclear Association)

Ian spoke in favour of nuclear energy. Abundant nuclear fuel is available. Nuclear energy is large scale and reliable. It is a mature and timely technology. There are 443 operating plants, 62 under construction and 150 planned. The drivers for nuclear expansion are: fuel prices; carbon emissions; insurance against price rises; and energy security. Nuclear energy is good at meeting base load, which is 50-60% of supply. Capital costs for nuclear are high, but fuel cost is low. Uranium supplies are good. No CO2 is emitted from nuclear energy directly, but mining of uranium does. We have nuclear shipping, icebreakers and submarines. Soon we may have floating nuclear plants, offshore nuclear farms and nuclear desalination. A hydrogen economy may be possible. Fast breeder reactors are coming on fast.

The nuclear energy safety record is very good. At Three Mile Island nobody died. Chernobyl was an outlier unlikely to ever happen again.

(Since Ian spoke at Redcliffe we had the disastrous tsunami in Japan. Ian was very much in demand as spokesman for the nuclear industry at that time.)

“Coal to the rescue.” Andy pointed out the progress that had been made in improving coal‟s environmental credentials. Flue gas desulphurization has led to reduction in sulphur emissions. In many cases retrofitting has happened, but the other plants have closed down. Andy then went through the various options for reducing carbon emissions, ending with carbon capture and storage (CCS). There is a vast capacityforstorageofCO2insandstone.Naturalgas BrendanBowles(ClimateStewards) is presently stored there and so is water. So we can pumpCO2down2-3kmandwaterisdisplaced.CCS can reduce CO2 emissions by 85%.

Andy concluded by asking “How clean is clean?” Sulphur dioxide is really cut back in modern stations. Nitrogen oxides are also reduced, but CO2 not so good and the moment, and CCS is needed to rectify this.

John Twidell (AMSET)

John concentrated on renewable energy: the natural and persistent currents of energy in the environmentsunshine, wind and rain. Why dig up stuff? Leave it out of the way! Is it possible?? There is plenty of energy– we need technologies to use it. We need heat, fuel and electricity, and renewables cover all of

Brendan looked at energy in the developing countries,someofwhicharedevelopingfast.Canyou develop without carbon? He took Ghana as his first example, as Climate Stewards work there. There are now traffic jams in Accra, and it was not like that 5/10 years ago. Energy is needed to get out of poverty. Growth is happening, but there is a lot of poverty. Rules and Health & Safety do not appear to matter as much. Charcoal is burnt to cook on, and it comes from trees. Ghana has lost 1/3 of its forest in 30 years. Even richer people still like to cook on charcoal. Ghana is an oil producer. Is this a cause for hope or a curse? There is corruption, conflict, inflation, and destruction. Ghana is just buying their first warship to protect supplies. Climate change is bringing floods, mudslides and drought. To lift people out of poverty and develop always uses more energy. But more oil and coal equals climate change.

China is an emerging economy showing meteoric growth. It is now the biggest CO2 emitter, and obtains 70% of its energy from coal which is “difficult to alter.” Vice Premier Li said, “If we don‟t solve resource and environmental problems, domestic development will be difficult to sustain.” Li has no doubt that climate change is a big threat to China. There could be a tax on fossil fuels in the next five year plan. They have big dams, and big everything! China is very aware of environmental constraints. If China goes wrong then we are all in trouble. Brendan then assessed the alternative energy options for developing countries. Solar PV is possible if a large desert is available (e.g. Sahara). There are millions of solar cookers, but they tend not to be used as they involve sitting in the sun. Wind energy is possible in some rural communities. Hydroseems a good idea, but big dams have problems with water flow and silting up. Geothermal has a scale problem. Nuclear energy is possible where infrastructure is available. Biofuels use a lot of land, and are not good on biodiversity. Geo-engineering tends to be big scale. Brendan concluded by saying that developing countries face a choice: develop and have climate change and social instability; and don’t develop and have inequity and social instability.

For several years at Redcliffe, some students have given short talks over coffee from their own experiences. This year Josephine from Zimbabwe talked about coal mining and climate change. In Africa it is already happening, and is very unfair. We should campaign for climate justice. Janet spoke about the Amazon rainforest. In 2005 a 100 year drought struck the Amazon, and a second one happened in 2010. Millions of trees died. The CO2 loss from the two droughts cancelled 10 years of absorption. The rain forest may threaten our habitat as we have threatened it. Ubong from Nigeria spoke about the Niger delta and oil. There had been many pipeline fire disasters. Farm land had been destroyed, the environment is crying, and the land groans. In the afternoon we broke into seminar groups covering a range of topics including biofuels (John Bryant) and Peak Oil (Martin Hodson).

Redcliffe College have uploaded the talks and PowerPoints from this meeting as part of their Encounters Magazine.