Friday, 24 March 2017

Government admits gas is substituting for cheap renewables

In the latest Government forward energy projections the Government implicitly admits that reductions in contracts to be awarded for renewable energy are to be replaced by more generation from natural gas plant.

You can see an analysis by Carbon Brief of the Government's latest projections. The Government recognise that the costs of renewables have continued to fall but for reasons that Carbon Brief has been unable to find out (from Government) the Government have cut back its previous projected growth in renewable energy.

Well, I can tell you why the Government has cut back its projections of renewable energy even though onshore wind and onshore solar have become the cheapest electricity supply sources: the Government prefer more expensive, carbon emitting natural gas for political reasons. They much prefer seeing UK natural gas reserves run down to having windfarms and solar farms built.

However the Government has even let the cat out of the back. Carbon Brief (CB) explain this, taking readings from from the latest political tealeaves (posing as models) generated by the Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). So says CB's Simon Evans:
'Finally, in the latest BEIS projections, the output of renewables dips in the early 2020s. BEIS says: “This is due to a number of factors, including the temporary increase in gas generation to maintain system flexibility.” Consequently, gas output picks up the slack in the projections. See

I notice that Cornwall Energy insight are saying that there is a possibility of a 'technology neutral' bidding round for renewable energy coming around soon for new renewable energy to be installed after 2020.

Technology neutral? Well, only in the sense that it's a bit like a race when you go around and break the legs of the strongest runners before you start. Only technologies like offshore wind and tidal power will be allowed to compete for contracts. Onshore windfarms and solar farms would be barred.

I think it is quite funny when economists at large call for 'technology neutral' bidding auctions to supply electricity. It was only a few years ago it was assumed that this would lead to gas fired power stations followed by nuclear power with renewables energy having to have a separate rather larger subsidy scheme for them to be economic. The wise consultants hired by the power industry establishment to justify their own existence would sneer at the alleged green fantasists like me for suggesting that this was not what would happen in the future! Now, though reality has turned out to be different from all those glossy consultants reports that the industry paid so much money for (note, I'm not talking about Cornwall Energy here!)

Today separate rather larger subsidy schemes are reserved for nuclear power and 'capacity markets' for fossil fuel power schemes. These people need the subsidies, so much in the case of Hinkley C that not only are EDF to be paid loads more than onshore wind is getting paid per MWh (under the Renewables Obligation) but EDF, the developers, are also getting handouts from the French Government!

In fact all onshore wind and solar need now is a level playing field with the rest. But instead they get nothing. Nix. Not a sausage. In fact they are banned from been given any government contracts to supply electricity!

It rather reminds me of Ken Livingstone's saying 'If voting changed anything they'd abolish it'. In this case of course you can read a parallel saying that 'if technology neutral auctions of electricity contracts gave lots of opportunities to onshore wind and solar they would abolish them' (for onshore wind and solar).

That's precisely what they have done!

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Why we need smart grid charges before smart meters

We desperately need green NGOs and campaigners to campaign for time-of-day-electricity charging. Then we will get real smart meters, not the sham ones that are being installed now. The so-called smart meters, being rolled out in a house near you, are mainly a bit of meaningless hype which won't do the very thing that popular mythology thinks they will do - that is ensure that electricity prices are geared so that they fit in with when electricity is being generated.

The Government and OFGEM need to implement grid and distribution charges that would discourage electricity companies from supplying energy at peak times. Such charges would make it much more likely that the electricity industry would encourage their consumers, through their pricing policies, to consume less electricity during peak times.

As the green energy revolution gathers pace, and the number of electric cars increases we ought to be making the system really smarter. This involves incentivising consumers to charge their electric cars and perform other functions (wash clothes etc) at times when there is a surplus of generating capacity rather than when there is a shortage.

But practically none of the 53 million smart meters being rolled out across the country will do this. I have heard of one small supplier that offers tariffs according to time of day, but regrettably such efforts will be stymied by the failure of the electricity system to encourage this type of scheme.

In theory electricity suppliers will have an incentive to encourage their consumers to buy electricity at times when there is a surplus of electricity, and thus when it is cheapest on the wholesale electricity markets (ie power coming from power generators). Alas, the system does not do enough to encourage this. This is because if a brave electricity company (eg 'Green Energy') does introduce time-of-day pricing they will help their competitors as well by reducing the general prices on the wholesale market. The other electricity companies will just act as free loading parasites and the smart company will be sharing their gains with them.

One solution to this is for the Government to regulate the electricity distributors to ensure that they introduced substantial charges on suppliers for use of the system when there is peak demand for electricity. Thus all electricity suppliers will have a greater interest in introducing 'time-of-day' electricity charging schemes. Then we might see some real smart meters being installed that allow this. There are some small variable charges for using the system at the moment but they are paltry compared to what needs to be done to encourage a decentralised energy system that responds to consumers and clean energy needs rather than the needs of the big electricity companies.

Electricity distributors also need to be given more incentives to develop storage systems on their local electricity 'feeder' systems rather than increase distribution capacity through bigger transformers etc.

However this will not happen if the electricity industry is left to itself. The Government and OFGEM will shuffle a few reports and do nothing of any consequence. All the electricity industry  will do, as witnessed by the current smart meter fiasco, is to channel slogans about how consumers can be greener into feather bedding their own interests. In this case this doesn't extend much further than saving costs on sending around somebody to read the electricity meter! Rather than put all their efforts into ensuring system flexibility the network operators emphasise how we need more power lines to be built.

Organisations like FOE and 10:10 need to get to grips with the smart meter issue and start making demands. Otherwise we shall carry on hearing the same old stories about how we need dozens of gigawatts more of centralised power stations - rather than decentralised, variable renewable energy sources. The committees that decide policy are stuffed with with the representatives of the existing energy establishment. Slogans like decentralised energy and smart energy systems will remain meaningless marketing catchphrases used by the electricity industry merely to reproduce themselves as near as possible in their current form.

Please don't let this happen!

Some useful references:

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Tens of billions of taxpayers money at risk as pressure mounts to spend billions more on new nuclear

Giant portions of public spending are now at risk of pouring down a nuclear power black hole as calls for the Government to make direct investments into new nuclear power plant intensify. Ultimately the sums at risk would be much larger than the Government's own estimates of the cost of the Trident nuclear weapons system.

Former Minister and House of Commons Energy Committee Chair Tim Yeo is the latest to call for the Government to take 'minority' equity shares in new nuclear m projects. There has been a flurry of such demands in the wake of the near bankruptcy of Toshiba, who spearhead the 3GW proposed plant at Moorside in Cumbria.

In fact nuclear power is proving to be virtually undeliverable and ruinously expensive in western countries. Toshiba's problems stem from the fact that they own Westinghouse who are responsible for the construction (so-far non-construction) of AP1000 reactors in South Carolina and Georgia in the USA. These plant are as costly as the failing French EPR design that is so disastrous in  the cases of the Finnish and French reactors, something which is bankrupting the French nuclear industry and EDF.

Despite the manifest bankruptcy of the technology, rather than question whether it is right to continue with the new nuclear programme, its supporters are in effect wanting to bet the British economy on it. If the Treasury are forced against their will to sanction 'equity' stakes in new nuclear reactors, the losses and., eventually, all the liabilities will fall on the UK Government. Nobody else will invest in the projects unless the Government guarantees the lot. Hinkley C (3.2GW planned) will cost over £24 billion according to the European Commission. The reactors at Moorside and Wylfa, assuming they cost similar amounts, would thus make the taxpayer responsible for around £50 billion of debt. People will claim that the Government is 'only' taking a minority equity stake. That's how it will start, and then would represent an enormous amount of state spending and liabilities. After all one quarter of £24 billion is still £6 billion. But it won't end there, as sure as night follows day, not with the construction costs as well as the rest. It never does with nuclear power!

Normally of course under the Government's 'low carbon' programme, project raise their own finance and the project owners earns their money from premium price contracts (CfDs) awarded through the Government. That is always the case with renewable energy projects. They find their own money. Electricity consumers pay a premium price to enable this on their bills. But now for nuclear to go ahead, so it is said, not only will the consumers have to pay a high premium price, but taxpayers will have to fund at least part of the construction as well. This is money, please note, that will disappear from the Government's coffers as the plant is built - it is not something that will be shuffled onto future generations like decommissioning

The fact that the Government is effectively financing the building will produce a conflict of interests with the Government negotiating with itself in setting the CfD price. No doubt a 'lower' CfD price will be set (that is less than the notorious Hinkley C price) when in fact it will be the taxpayer that will end up paying out countless billions for the projects.

Annual spending on primary education is around £26 billion. Hence building just Moorside will give the Government liabilities (which are likely to be paid by the Government) which will rival this spending.

But then to listen to some people, you'd think building Moorside was more important than closing down all primary schools for a year.

It isn't.

Some sources:

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

No we don't need any more nuclear power stations to power electric cars

Desperate to cover the latest catastrophic meltdown to hit the nuclear industry as Toshiba sinks under the weight of its failures to construct nuclear power plant through its Westinghouse subsidiary, nuclear supporters are spreading fake news about the alleged need for new nuclear power stations to power electric cars.

Last Saturday the Times published a headline stating 'Electric cars mean UK could need 20 new nuclear plants'. I organised the submission of a letter to the Times objecting to the headline. The letter has not been printed, although today they did carry a correction (lower left hand corner, page 26) that the headline ‘was a significant miscalculation based on a confusion of energy and power. We apologise for the mistake’.
Yet, the headline and story was repeated by The Mail on the very day the Times retracted it. See

Will the Mail also carry an apology? I doubt it. 

Of course, as could be expected, far from the Toshiba meltdown causing the UK Government to re-think its nuclear strategy, there are reports that the UK Government is now considering putting billions of pounds of taxpayers money at risk to prop up the failing Moorside nuclear project. Moorside is dependent on the AP1000 reactor design that has failed so miserably and catastrophically to be delivered in the USA (in South Carolina and Georgia). It has ruined Toshiba.  Up until now the Hinkley C project (to be developed by EDF) is relying on a 35 year payment of £92.50 in (2012 prices - now about £97/MWh) and on EDF being propped up by large infusions of cash from the French Government. 

The electricity consumer will have to pay for Hinkley C, but no more than £2 billion of taxpayers money is being risked as a guaranteed loan. But now people seriously expect the Government to step in as equity providers for Moorside where no company in the world would have the madness to risk their money without a Government guarantee to foot the bill.  Indeed the taxpayer plan to fund Moorside is likely to escalate so that tens of billions of pounds of taxpayers money could do down a nuclear black hole, as well as the electricity consumer paying over the odds for 35 years. See

It is surely madcap politics to take as a lesson from the fact that a technology is failing for the Government to re-double its efforts to back it - pouring tens of billions of money that could be spent on public services (that is already in very short supply) down the drain for power plant that may take several decades to be built.

Meanwhile of course wind and solar pv farms don't need any taxpayer money. They can be built at lower prices than nuclear power - but of course the Government is only now issuing contracts for nuclear power!

Paul Dorfman made some useful comment on the Toshiba meltdown at

See our letter below:


We are concerned about the highly tendentious headline ‘Electric cars mean UK could need 20 new nuclear plants’ (report February 11th). The story speculated about the need for increased electricity supply.

The headline implies dogmatically that increases in non-fossil generation can only come from nuclear power rather than green energy. Why not speculate instead about the number of windfarms, solar farms or energy efficiency measures needed?

The changing profile of UK electricity requires a flexible supply system based on variable renewable energy, storage, power plant reserves and responsive demand and charging systems - not outdated, inflexible and, so far, undeliverable nuclear power.

In the last 15 years renewable energy has expanded from around 3 per cent to what will soon be 30 per cent of UK electricity consumption. In the same period not a single nuclear power plant has come on line, nor is likely to at least until 2026, and even then only with luck and huge expense.


Corresponding signatory:
Dr David Toke, Reader in Energy Politics, University of Aberdeen, tel 07583568643, email:, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Aberdeen, Kings College, Aberdeen AB24 3QY

Jeremy Leggett, Solar Century, email:

Jonathon Porritt, Forum for the Future, email:

Professor Andrew Stirling, Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex, email:

Professor (Emeritus) Dave Elliott, Department of Engineering and Innovation, Open University, email:

Tom Burke, Chairman, E3G, email:

Professor Mark Pelling, Department of Geography, Kings College London, email:

Professor Gordon Walker, Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, email:

Professor Jeffrey Henderson, Professor of International Development, University of Bristol, email:

Professor (Emeritus) Andrew Blowers, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Open University, email:

Professor (Emeritus) Bryan Wynne, Science Studies, Lancaster University, email:

Professor Mark Lemon, Institute for Energy and Sustainable Development, De Montford University, email:

Dr Alan Terry, Senior Lecturer in Geography, University of West of England, email:

Dr Philip Johnstone, Research Fellow, Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex, email

Dr David Lowry, independent consultant email:

Dr Abhishek Agarwal, Senior Lecturer in Strategy and Policy, Robert Gordon University, email:

Dr. Gabor Sarlos,  Senior Lecturer,  University of Worcester, email:

Emily Cox, Associate Tutor, Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex, email:

David Thorpe, Sustainability Author and Consultant, email:

Michel Lee, Senior Analyst, Promoting Health and Sustainable Energy, email

Dr Matthew Cotton, Lecturer, Department of Environment, University of York email:

Katherine Begg, email:

Dr Paul Dorfman, The Energy Institute, University College London, email:

Dr Ben Fairweather, Faculty of a Technology, De Montford University, email:

Dr Ian Fairlie, independent consultant, email:

Dr Matt Watson, Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Sheffield, email:

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Will US force the UK to water down GM food rules in a Trade Deal with the USA?

Newspapers are already carrying stories about how the UK may be forced to accept GM food from the USA under a trade deal. But how realistic is this? The answer, ultimately, is probably no, but the probability is that the UK Government will start off by vacillating. This will re-ignite the British GM food controversies that exploded after the first US imports of GM food neared European shores in 1996.

American farmers will undoubtedly press the US Government to demand that the UK abandon EU rules about labelling of GM and to scrap rules which ban imports of milk and beef products from cows treated (in the US) with somatropin (BST). BST is a GM growth hormone enzyme that makes cows more 'productive'.

I actually doubt that the US will achieve a total victory here, although they might be offered some concessions.  The idea that consumers want to know if a food product is made from GM food is well entrenched in British consumer culture, and it is difficult to see how the UK Government could afford to row back from the labelling of GM foods, at least in principle. We should remember that it was the Daily Mail which campaigned vigorously against GM food in the late 1990s with tasty headlines such as 'Frankenstein Food Fiasco'.

There will be a lot of talk about how the UK will now be able to give authorisation to grow GM crops, but the fact is that the big retailers won’t stock anything that has to have a GM label. As a result there is little prospect of commercial GM farming in the UK starting anytime soon. In addition, a lot of US food cannot be sold in the UK since it contains GM food products and the US does not allow GM food to be labelled to allow supermarkets to know the difference between GM and non-GM US food.

It is perhaps even more unlikely that British politicians would be allowed to legalise imports of milk and beef from the US. There is plenty of evidence that cows treated with BST suffer adverse health effects, not least from the side-effects of increase in milk they are induced to yield, and the animal welfare lobby in the UK is, if anything, rather stronger in the UK than even (other) EU countries generally.

Ultimately the areas of conflict are likely to be what the trade negotiators will say are 'marginal' issues. But anti-GM food campaigners won't see it that way. You can see from the coverage of the run-up to the (now abandoned) attempts at a US-EU trade agreement and also the TPP (involving anti-BST Canada) that there were arguments about standards for testing how much GM food and BST milk there is in food imports from the USA. The UK will be under great pressure to water down the 'zero-tolerance' approach to food imports that demands certification on non-GM content that currently obtains under EU rules. The EU didn't give way in its negotiations, but will the Brits have the same resolve? Maybe, eventually, after some prodding from the Daily Mail and a campaign from environmental groups.

Another major point of controversy of course will be the adjudications mechanism used to decide disputes between the US and the UK in a bilateral trade agreement. The proposed EU-US trade deal fell down ultimately precisely on this point. Campaigners in Germany and other EU states pointed out that the adjudication mechanism would allow privileged access by multinational corporations to get their way over environmental and social legislation without any recourse to democratic accountability. Now, at first sight you'd expect the UKIPers under their 'take back control' slogan to involve rejection of such tyranny. Surely much worse than the EU which was at least subject to political pressure from democratically elected politicians? But no, because to some the 'take back control' slogan is but a cover for giving even more control over our lives to the corporations!

We can look forward to a big and long row about the UK-US trade deal!

David Toke is author of 'The Politics of GM Food' (2004, London: Routledge)


Monday, 9 January 2017

How Scotland could double the amount of low carbon electricity being generated for the same amount of consumer spending

A new report written by me has just been published by the Scottish Green Party on how spending on renewable energy rather than nuclear power will result in around twice as much low carbon electricity being generated . It explains how the Scottish Government could be given new powers to fund renewable energy out of the monies that Scottish consumers would otherwise have to pay for new nuclear power.


See Scottish Green Party press release

Executive Summary:

This report argues that the costs of delivering the UK s low carbon programme could be reduced substantially if the Scottish Government were given powers to fund its own renewable energy programme. This could be done by giving the Scottish Government control to spend money that would otherwise be added to Scottish electricity consumer bills to fund the Hinkley Point C (HPC) nuclear power plant (and any other new nuclear plant). UK electricity consumers will each have to spend around £16 a year extra for 35 years to pay for HPC. If Scottish consumer s money was spent on supporting renewable energy rather than paying for their share of Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant then, even on conservative calculations, nearly double the amount of electricity would be generated from wind power as from Hinkley C. The costs of onshore windfarms and also offshore windfarms even on current prices need much less support from consumer surcharges to generate an equivalent amount of electricity compared to HPC. Wind power costs are falling rapidly, with some especially low prices being reported in Denmark and The Netherlands. Under such a programme organised by the Scottish Government the cheapest onshore windfarms could start generating in 2020 and offshore windfarms organised under a new, Danish-style framework, could be online in 2026. The Scottish Government s own preference for renewable energy over nuclear power lends support to the suggestion that the Scottish Government should be able to use Scottish consumers money to pay for new renewable energy rather than new nuclear power. Moreover the best value for money for Scottish consumers in terms of generating non-fossil fuels is likely to come from the Scottish Government having powers to fund its own renewable energy programme from Scottish consumer bills. This is because the Scottish Government will be able to decide on what contract length to offer wind developers, for example offering to pay guaranteed prices for 20 years rather than 15 years as done by the Westminster Government now with renewable energy. Also, the Scottish Government will be able to organise a much more effective offshore windfarm programme than is being done by the Westminster Government. The Westminster Government s methods are increasing the costs of offshore wind by leaving too much uncertainty to be dealt with by developers. The Scottish Government could organise a much cheaper offshore wind programme on the lines done by the Danish Energy Agency. This is likely to lead to lower costs and less confrontation in the courts over planning issues than is the case with the current offshore windfarm programme.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Why leaving the EU is a bit like building nuclear power stations

Britain's efforts to leave the EU are a bit like trying to build nuclear power stations, that is it takes a lot longer than you expect, you're not quite sure it will actually happen and it is very expensive.

Of course we have to decide what Brexit actually means. Whatever the status of the 'have our cake and eat it' notes may be as reported in The Times this morning, this will be viewed as fantasy by many except if you take the Daily Mail very seriously. Leaving the EU could actually be much like Norway or Switzerland's position in that we take all of the rules, including rules on free movement of people. We just won't have any say on them. That'll mean we can whinge all we like with the absolute assurance that we can't do anything except shout at the foreigners rather than speak their language. A perfect English sereotype!

However the notion that we can leave and have some sort of Canadian-plus style of free trade agreement with the EU any time soon (as implied in the Times story) is stretching things too far. Like Hinkley C, such a thing might be possible in theory in many years to come, but in the near-term it is not going to happen. In terms of the EU a Swiss-type agreement is much more likely.
That's because trade deals take an awful long time to negotiate, and as we have seen with the EU-Canada agreement, are fraught with the difficulties of getting every EU nation to agree with it. It's taken 7 years to negotiate this agreement, and it is not finished yet.

Sure, the UK could agree a quickie-ish exit from the EU, within or around 2 years as stipulated in the much-mentioned article 50. That would be covered by the Article 50 injunction that a leaving deal would be agreed by a qualified majority in the EU. But the subsequent agreeement detailing trading relationships would have to wait, leaving the UK having to face trade tariffs in the (could be very lengthy) meantime.  The Government has already given assurances to British industry that this will not happen of course (Nissan, CBI etc). So what's to give?
Well, not the EU, since it is sticking very hard to the principle of free movement in its negotiations with Switerland who seem to be accepting a face-saving compromise in order to stay in the Single Market. So, logic has it that the UK might get a more speedy deal if it simply accepts a Swiss type deal, since that appears to be much more a la carte than much else on offer. The Government would trumpet that it has got a concession that British employers could, if they wanted, give British people first peiority in job appointments, but that would be all they could do apart from reinstate the social security chnages that were agreed by David Cameron.

Even that of course maybe looking on the hopeful side because that will enable an optimistic reading of what is possible within two years.

Of course you might say, and UKIP et al seem to be saying this, why not just leave and take the tariffs. Well, we're back to the assurances given to Nissan etc, which rules that out, and anyway business will riot (not a pretty picture). So using the chess analogy, the Government is in check, and can't get out of check within several years unless it concedes staying in the Single Market. The effective choices of the UK Government become reduced either to staying in the EU as we are at the moment under some temporary basis, or doing a Swiss or Norweigian style deal. Given that the Government does not want to go into a General Election in 2020 without any imminent prospect of leaving, the UK Government is in a very weak negotiating position. It will have to accept what is offered. A Swiss deal is almost certainly the best it will get (although there's plenty of Remainers who will still say that full membership is still best!).

Those are the rules of the game, and the only plausible way out of it is if the game, that is the EU, collapses in the meantime. Much as Nigel Farage seems to want this, the collapse of the euro at least is not something that anyone who has money in a bank would wish for.

Below (underneath the link to the Times article) is a link to a UK Government discussion of leaving the EU. see page 14 in particular