chinwag: noun. "a long and pleasant conversation between friends" [example: "We had a good chinwag over a bottle of wine..."] Informal but Informative - your guide to issues around the UK and global clean energy transition
In our final episode of 2020, we both brought along three 'picks' from this year's clean energy activity.
They don't necessarily reflect the stories that made the biggest headlines or even the most exciting individual news items. Instead we arrived at an eclectic mix of items, some important in themselves but, more interestingly, all exemplify some of the fundamental and disruptive changes that we are seeing in the energy landscape. They range from India to the Gulf of Mexico and from grid balancing to floating wind.
We hope you enjoy the listen, and the holiday season ahead. See you next year!
This week the UK Prime Minister announced a bold vision for the future of UK energy; one with potentially transformative impacts on not only energy but on the country's wider economic activities too.
We cast our eye over the various points and targets it contains, discussing whether they are surprising or not, what might be new and how the plan may progress and turn out in reality.
In the excitement over electric vehicles, hydrogen and other 'hot' topics in decarbonisation, it can be easy to overlook the role that biofuels have played in replacing fossil fuel usage. Not without controversy of course, the political and perceptual fortunes of the sector have varied over both time and geography.
In this episode we talk to Ryan Lamberg, an alternative fuels and transportation consultant who has worked as a sustainability and technical consultant with the National Biodiesel Board (a trade association of U.S. Biomass based diesel producers) for over a decade.
In a fascinating discussion, we talk about sustainability, scale, competition and various other issues - in particular based on the US experience in this still-important sector.
In this episode we have a fascinating chat with Gavin Catto, founder of Green Cat Renewables (a specialist renewable energy consultancy focused on driving down the costs of project development).
From the UK to North America and from wind power to ammonia, batteries and grid congestion, we cover our usual varied ground. In particular we hear the views of someone with long experience in the renewables sector, at a variety of project scales and focused very much on developing projects and business cases that make sense on the ground.
The sound quality may be a little more Internet-affected than normal, but we hope you find that the content certainly isn't!
Ammonia production consumes lots of natural gas and is a big contributor to global carbon emissions. So decarbonising that production by using clean hydrogen sources is one obvious way forward. But what about some of the other ideas that are discussed with regards to ammonia: using it as a hydrogen transport method or as a fuel in itself?
In this latest chinwag, we compare some of these issues, discuss some of the pros and cons and try to untangle if, how, where and when ammonia might play a role in the ongoing clean energy transition.
If there's a subject that's bound to either delight or dismay people - often with little in between - it's nuclear power. Still, we never shy away from any topic - and are always open to learning something new. So this week we invited along Brian Matthews, a guest with in-depth knowledge of the subject.
Brian helpfully answered a whole variety of questions and thus enabled us to bring you a highly informative podcast covering technologies, financial challenges, geopolitics and a whole lot in-between.
This week, the UK's Prime Minister promised to 'build, build, build', referring to housing and infrastructure. There have been statements about 'coming back stronger and greener'. So it's no surprise that industry sectors from hydrogen to carbon capture to EVs and more are busily lobbying to grab a share of whatever money eventually proves to be available.
So this week, we chatted through some of the issues: where should that money go? What will be the priorities? WIll short-term recovery always be in line with long-term sense? Could small firms lose out to the lobbying power of the biggest ones?
Many people are talking about the hydrogen economy at the moment - indeed UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson specifically referred to it as he outlined the UK’s recovery proposals this week.
Very few a have actually delivered hydrogen projects though, and even fewer have created a ‘hydrogen economy’. In this chinwag podcast we are joined by Jon Clipsham, who, together with myriad stakeholders, has done just that on Orkney, which can claim to claim to be the global leader in the creation of an island hydrogen economy; enjoy!
The titular phrase was coined recently by a German government minister and was one that intrigued us.
What might it mean? What might it imply as a goal and how might one reach it? Where might comparisons with the original space port make sense and where might the analogy break down?
Like another topic we've discussed before, hydrogen, CCS is not new to the world. But, like hydrogen, it has had false dawns in the past, is back in the minds of industry now - and is on the hunt for policy support in order to progress. So it was another ideal topic for us to delve into, in our travel around the potential options available to a new energy industry.
It's sad, but also topical and unavoidable. So in this episode we decided to chat through what some of the implications of the virus might be for the clean energy sector.
We were more interested in some of the immediate-term issues, both positive and negative, though as usual the discussion does jump around to include some of our thoughts on what might be further afield. While there are bound to be challenges for current projects and smaller companies, there's also the prospect that such a sudden, enforced change in behaviours and energy patterns means we've just brought forward a bunch of changes and innovations that would have happened more slowly otherwise.
We've mentioned 'clusters' and 'hubs' in passing before, in our podcasts covering both hydrogen and offshore wind. They are receiving more and more attention in the clean energy world, so it was high time that we delved into them in a bit more detail. What are the advantages of clustering and, of equal importance, what might be some of the downsides and the barriers to their creation?
Starting off by discussing how a move from fixed to floating foundations might impact the offshore wind supply chain here in the UK, we widen the scope to innovation and supply chain more generally. Along the way, we touch on our usual wide range of relevant issues: from industrial strategy and big company purchasing power, to SME innovation challenges and global export considerations.
Amer Gaffar is Director of the Manchester Fuel Cell Innovation Centre at Manchester Metropolitan University, here in the UK. Not surprisingly therefore, he's a keen advocate of the role hydrogen could potentially play in out future energy system! He's also active in the various projects, collaborations and other activities that are looking to place the northwest region of England at the forefront of any future 'hydrogen economy'.
So we hear what Amer has to say, both about activities he's involved in and his wider view of progressing the sector, from education to policy. Having chatted about this topic in the past, it's always useful to get another perspective on the subject!
We've mentioned energy storage a lot in passing, in our previous podcasts. So it seemed like high time to have a chat specifically about this increasingly important subject. What is it being used for? Is it all about batteries or are there other technologies we should keep an eye on? What are some of the issues and market-specific variables that make energy storage such a diverse landscape? This and more in another 45 minutes of wide-ranging energy chat!
This week the UK government announced a consultation into changes to its core mechanism for encouraging utility-scale renewable power deployment. That mechanism is the 'contracts for difference' (CfD) system, with these contracts awarded through competitive auctions. The headline-grabbing proposal is that, having been excluded for several years, onshore wind and solar will both be allowed to bid in future such auctions.
So does that mean a big comeback for new projects, particularly onshore wind (given the UK's excellent resource)? Or are there other barriers to growth which need to be addressed too? And what other details were hidden away amidst that announcement? As usual, we chat through our thoughts on these matters...
We are joined once again by Lincoln Bleveans from Burbank Power & Water, for another view from 'across the pond' (and a lot of land) in California. In particular we explore how this US utility is approaching the challenge of integrating more renewables into their power system. What are the biggest challenges and what are the range of different solutions and approaches that exist? In particular, how can utilities make the transition while delivering the same levels of reliability that customers expect? As usual, the discussion is wide-ranging, covering everything from storage to conventional plants and transmission capacity to demand response!
This week - the one in which BP announced its intention to be 'net zero' by 2050 - we decided to chat about the oil and gas industry. It's an industry which is often painted as the flat-out enemy of decarbonisation, and one that needs to simply go away rather than adapt. But its also one that employs an awful lot of people, pays out big amounts of tax to the government and has both a lot of attributes (such as big project and risk management expertise) and a lot of investment clout - both of which should be helpful in speeding any energy transition.
So how realistic are targets like BP's, where might traditional oil and gas company expertise play into the clean energy sector and what other challenges does the fossil fuels industry face?
One of the many sustainability issues gaining more coverage these days is the idea of a 'circular economy'. With critics warning that the clean energy sector risks piling up mountains of end-of life turbine blades, solar panels and EV batteries, we discuss what the circular economy might mean. Why it should matter to companies - particularly in cleantech - and what influences might bring it to fruition? Does it just mean extra hassle and cost for product producers, or are there opportunities for innovators in there too?
For this exciting new 'international' episode, we were delighted to have a guest expert join us: Lincoln Bleveans, Assistant General Manager for Power Supply at Burbank Water & Power in the Los Angeles area of California. As always on New Energy Chinwag, we covered a lot of ground and a lot of different topics! Given our guest, it's no surprise that the focus was on what has, is and will be happening in the clean energy world in (and around) California.
California is a market that matters greatly to the development of this industry. Not only is it a leading market in this particular sector but it's a big one in global economic terms too: according to figures published by the IMF and others in 2019, it's now the 5th biggest economy in the world on a GDP basis - that's bigger than the UK!
So, like us, we're sure you'll be hugely interested in Lincoln's view of the energy space there.
The clean energy transition is usually couched in terms of technologies, energy mixes, carbon impacts and other such numbers. However if we change where we source our energy, we inevitably change the trade flows and politics and geopolitics of energy too.
So, to start 2020, we decided to have a chinwag on some of the issues involved and likely to arise. The implications for different countries could be very profound, changing spheres of influence, import/export patterns and energy security considerations. As with any system, there will be winners and losers.
Hopefully we raise some thought-provoking issues and ideas!
For our last podcast of 2019, we decided to pick and explain our six highlights - three each - from our perspective here in the UK energy market.
From plunging battery costs to policy certainty and subsidy-free wind to industrial strategy, we hope they strike a chord with you too. Naturally, there are plenty of other items we could have picked and we'd love to hear where you agree, where you don't and what your own would be.
In the meantime, happy listening and see you again in 2020!
In March of last year we chatted for the first time about hydrogen. Since then it's been a year of strategies, roadmaps and reports - there seems to be a new one every week. The industry is awash with 'momentum'. But is this all talk, or has there been action on hydrogen since we last discussed it? Are we starting to see signs that hydrogen is set to take off in 2020 and if so, in which applications and market sectors?
In this episode we discuss those other two "offshore" energy sources: wave and tidal energy. A few years ago there seemed to be much excitement about their prospects, but despite various technical trials and innovations, few actual projects have materialised. Why is that and how might things change?
It's fair to say that we arrive at a fairly downbeat view of both wave and tidal, albeit with some ideas of niches they could exploit. However, new proposals for marine energy projects do continue to appear, so we always reserve the right to be wrong!
Fracking has, at least for the moment, ground to a halt here in the UK. For a variety of reasons from earthquakes to election politics, the government has decided to withdraw its support from the nascent industry. Remember though, that natural gas accounts for over 40% of UK electricity generation and the vast majority of its heat supply.
So in this episode we discuss the background to this change of policy, plus the implications it has for the UK market - not least the opportunities for alternatives which could replace natural gas in the energy mix. It's a discussion that touches on a wide variety of issues, from stakeholder engagement and project planning to geopolitics, trade deals, renewable power and alternative gases.
In this episode we look specifically at floating wind. The term 'game-changer' is one which is vastly over-used in the clean energy sector, but are floating wind turbines worthy of that tag? Will they open up entirely new project locations compared to fixed foundations, or will they start to compete in areas where fixed solutions have thus far ruled? Will they open up entirely new offshore energy applications, beyond those possible with today's technology? And, crucially, how far away are they and what are the practical hurdles which could slow down their implementation?
We address all these questions and more, in one of our most forward-looking and thought-provoking podcasts to date!
Yesterday, Charley attended the Round 4 Bidders Day at the Crown Estate in London. If that sentence makes little sense to you, then what it means is he was getting up-to-the-minute insight into how the process for the next tranches of UK offshore wind licensing is going to work. Where will future growth be happening, who's interested in it and how will they get their licences?
So if you're interested in UK offshore wind, then this - one of our shorter podcasts - is a great short update into how that growth story is set to continue going forwards.
Regular listeners will know that 'the grid' pops up regularly in any of our conversations about the transitioning power system: it's key to renewable power project development, impacting costs, land use, permitting and a variety of other key issues. Without a grid connection, a project can't sell its production (unless it plans to be private wire or entirely off-grid, selling to a specific customer base rather than into the wider market).
So it was high time we had a proper chat about the grid, discussing what it is, how it's developing and even getting into issues of ownership and long-term planning.
We return to one of our core subjects for this week's podcast: offshore wind.
It's particularly timely in the week that the latest UK government auction saw bidders winning contracts at prices below those projected to be prevailing in the market at their time of deployment. In other words, these latest projects are set to be 'subsidy-free' (in fact they may well end up paying back money to consumers!).
No sooner has that auction been wrapped up than discussions are set to accelerate regarding the next one: so-called 'Round 4'. What can we expect from that, not just in terms of prices, but in terms of market entrants and investors? Will this be where the oil and gas industry makes its big move?
So tune in for our perspectives on these developments, plus your usual access to our insights above and beyond the headlines!
Rather than build just a wind project (or just a solar project, or a battery project), doesn't it make more sense to build hybrid renewable power projects? Why not take advantage of shared infrastructure and land, and combine multiple technologies to increase the value of the energy that's produced?
These are questions we discuss in this latest 'New Energy Chinwag'. As usual, we discover that there's no simple yes/no answer. Instead there's a balance between the advantages of hybridisation and the disadvantages of additional complexity in project planning, financing and development.
The energy world is sometimes prone to debates where two sides of an argument take up entrenched, 'winner takes all' positions. One example of this at the moment is the discussion around electric vehicles: in particular, will the electricity to power those vehicles come out of a battery or a fuel cell (the latter fuelled by hydrogen)?
It sounded like an excellent question for a relaxed, non-partisan chat; and once again we recorded this for - we hope! - your enjoyment.
For this week's podcast we review some of the key themes that have come up in the course of our recent work activities, which has encompassed a range of things from teaching a Filipino coal power plant operator about solar power, to meeting an investment firm in Manchester (the UK one). In talking to a wide variety of people from varied backgrounds and geographies, what kinds of energy issues, both current and future, are we proving to be of interest?
In the week that the UK put into legislation its target to be "net zero" by 2050, we had a chat about the options for renewable heat. After all, without decarbonising heat, there is no chance of coming close to that target - heat in northern climates such as the UK is usually a much bigger energy user than is electricity. So can we decarbonise electricity and use that for heat, or should we be decarbonising the natural gas (methane) that currently provides most of the UK's heat supply? We discuss the options and some of the practicalities around their deployments.
In May, we visited the All-Energy show in Glasgow, UK. It's just about the biggest clean energy show here in the UK, so a good event to catch the mood of the industry and hear what they are talking about.
Regular listeners will have already listened to our preview of the show. So how close were we when anticipating what would be the key themes there? Now you can find out: here's our post-event wrap-up! (spoiler: we were pretty much on the money, but as always there were some interesting specifics and extras to highlight).
In this, the week that a parliamentary committee recommended that the UK set a target for the country to be zero-carbon by 2050, we focus on offshore wind. Without a vast increase in our usage of the latter, such a target stands no chance of being reached. So offshore wind will be crucial to the UK's future energy mix and its economy, and represents a tremendous opportunity to become a world leader in this sector.
So what's happening in offshore wind? As well as chatting through some of the current technological and deployment trends, we also indulge in some crystal-ball gazing to imagine where it might be heading in future - and who might drive it, including great opportunities for diversifying oil and gas companies.
Feedback and comments always welcome, so get in touch with us via www.astutenewenergy.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Both John Massey and Charley Rattan (together, Astute New Energy) will be at the All-Energy conference and exhibition again in Glasgow, in the middle of May. In this New Energy Chinwag, we chat about the kind of topics we're going there hoping to find out more about - and the ones we think the industry will (or should) be focusing on. Let's see if we're proven right!
If you want to meet up there, then either get in touch via LinkedIn (via the links in our names above), or at Astute New Energy.
In this episode, Charley Rattan & John Massey chat about the growth of connected energy, smart grid, energy Internet of Things (IoT) - call it what you will... What does this actually mean, what impacts might it have on the industry and on energy users, and where are we with it currently.
As always, we'd welcome your views, news or feedback - so please contact either of us via LinkedIn or at www.astutenewenergy.com.
There's recently been lots of talk recently about the role of hydrogen in decarbonising energy systems. So, is the "hydrogen economy" back on the agenda? If so, how will hydrogen be produced and for which applications? Is it really low-carbon?
In this latest chinwag, we briefly run through some of these questions and outline the key issues involved in taking hydrogen forwards; including how hydrogen might fit into the energy mix alongside other growing sectors such as offshore wind, and how it provides a way to decarbonise while linking the different sectors of power, transport and heat.
Most discussions around offshore wind focus on giant turbines, fixing foundations to the seabed and fancy cable-laying vessels. So it's easy to forget that all that offshore work is pointless without also delivering those crucial aspects of an offshore project which lie on land.
In particular that means connection into the onshore grid, but also sites for construction and O&M. As with any onshore project, key stakeholders (and their preferences or objections) will play a big role in determining how this onshore part of an offshore wind project plays out.
The first podcast from Charley Rattan and John Massey, who together are "Astute New Energy".
In this episode we have a general chat about the differing fortunes of offshore wind and nuclear power here in the UK. Both provide important sources of low carbon power from huge power generation projects. Yet one is booming and seeing its costs plummet, while the other is beset by delays, high costs and investor disinterest. Why the difference? It's not a story simply of technology and money, but one where supply chain, policy and industrial strategy issues will all play major roles.
Forgive some first-effort 'quirks' (barking dog anyone...) and feel free to get in touch with any comments or suggestions for our future discussions.