Building momentum towards a low-emission Britain

This week saw the launch of the UK Government’s proposals for supporting ultra-low emission vehicles (ULEVs). The report, “Investing in ultra-low emission vehicles in the UK, 2015 to 2020,” outlined the Government’s support of clean alternatives to combustion engines for the next five years.

 The Government is allocating £500m to support the take-up of ULEVs including funding grants towards the cost of buying ULEVs of up to a maximum of £5,000. This is welcome news and clearly demonstrates a commitment to low-emission vehicles. While this £500m funding was first announced during the 2013 Spending Round, the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) report provides further details on plans to support the nascent market for low emission vehicles, which include providing essential new infrastructure including a wider network of charge points for electrics vehicles. The report also shows OLEV’s firm commitment to work with industry and local authorities to identify ways to improve the consumer experience and boost the uptake of these vehicles.

 Drawing upon the conclusions of last year’s UK H2 Mobility consortium report that proposed an initial network of 65 hydrogen refuelling stations across the UK, the report reiterated its support for hydrogen as an ultra-low emission technology and stated that an announcement will be made by autumn 2014 on the actions that Government and industry stakeholders will be taking to position the UK as a lead market for the introduction of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

 As a founding partner of UK H2 Mobility, Intelligent Energy welcomes the OLEV report and the Government’s continued commitment to invest in ULEVs to reduce CO2 emissions and air pollution. We are also delighted to see that the Government is providing strong support to UK industry in its efforts to become a global leader in the design, manufacture of Ultra Low Emissions Vehicles. 

 We look forward to the Government’s announcement on hydrogen infrastructure as together we work towards the aspiration of 1.6m fuel cell electric vehicles driving on the UK’s roads by 2030.

 

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Energy projects need to balance environmental and community concerns

Last week, the UK Government’s Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) issued new planning guidance, which emphasised the importance of balancing renewable energy projects against other environmental concerns. It noted that “renewable energy does not automatically override environmental protection and the planning concerns of local communities.”

 

While the advantages of developing renewable energy may be relatively clear, others such as shale gas exploration offer less certain benefits to local communities who are increasingly vocal against the perceived growing intrusion of such developments. An approximate population density of over 250 people per sq. km in the UK increases the chances energy projects are going to cause interruption and disruption to communities.  Communities Minister, Baroness Hanham, recently highlighted that there are genuine concerns that planning officers are failing to properly consider the environmental considerations on the landscape and ‘local amenity’ of proposed renewable energy sites. In addition to this, the on-going media frenzy that is accompanying the fracking debate and proposed drilling sites means the stage is set for a protracted period of demonstrations and confrontations if more is not done to include communities at the early stages of planning.

 

Energy companies though are starting to recognise just how significant local communities’ concerns are in this area. For example, they have begun to offer communities who live near shale gas sites £10m each for fracking in their region – under the term ‘community benefits’. The UK Onshore Operators Group confirmed communities will be given a one-off payment of £100,000 when an exploratory well is drilled. If the drill proves successful and starts produced shale gas, the community will receive around one per cent of revenues, up to £10m over 10 to 25 years.

 

However, protests at potential fracking sites near Balcombe in West Sussex is testament to the fact that the local community refuses to back down nor apparently can their concerns be overcome with the prospect of cash injections alone. In addition, 15 Tory and Lib Dem MPs queued up in a lengthy parliamentary debate over concerns of their constituents regarding developing energy projects in their region.

 

While the directions from the DCLG is a step in the right direction, in addition to government licences and planning permission from local authorities, there is a real need to get ‘social licences’ for renewable and other energy related developments from the local communities that they will impact. This will involve obtaining early buy-in from the communities, not just relying solely on governmental regulations. True consultation and the provision of relevant information before sites are chosen may go along way of assuaging community concerns. In the past, energy companies may have considered obtaining local buy-in as important, but it may now become a necessity in the success or otherwise of their projects. Ultimately, without consultation with local communities and stakeholders and at least some form of acceptance, these developers will have a huge fight on their hands – one played out in the full glare of national and international media – when people are lying down in front of earth moving machines, it is often the sign of a PR battle and argument lost!

Power-to-Gas Moves From Theory to Reality

Hydrogen’s capacity to play a beneficial role in the global energy system, connecting together renewable generating capacity with existing fossil fuel infrastructure, is moving from theory to reality.

In parallel with similar programmes by French energy giant GDF, oil major Shell and other leading energy players, in June German power utility E.ON took hydrogen from a power-to-gas demonstration plant in Falkenhagen, northwest of Frankfurt, and injected it into the nation’s natural gas grid for the first time.

The demonstration plant had used surplus electricity from a nearby wind farm and transformed it into hydrogen by means of electrolysers made by Canadian company Hydrogenics.

Because of the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, which typically produce too much power or too little versus customer demand at a particular moment, they are a variable and therefore often unsatisfactory source of energy for the electricity grid.

That’s because national electricity grid systems need to match the supply of generated power to demand at any given time and power companies are incentivised to meet that fluctuating demand through the existing tariff programmes, rather than relying on small-scale, but unpredictable ‘distributed’ renewable generation such as wind farms or solar parks.

Power-to-gas solves the renewables problem of intermittency by storing energy in the form of hydrogen, which can then be used to generate electricity, stored for later use or injected into the national gas grid.

The added benefits of hydrogen as a flexible energy carrier are that it can fit into a country’s existing power infrastructure. There is no need to tear up the existing electricity and gas grid and start afresh.

As such, hydrogen can be stored by co-mingling it into the natural gas pipeline, reducing the overall level of carbon emissions from the gas grid. The stored energy can then be discharged where and when it is needed. The beauty of this approach is that it offers operators across the energy value chain an opportunity to increase both profitability and efficiency. For instance, renewable plant owners can arbitrage the wholesale price of their electricity between electricity and natural gas prices in the market place and, where they have the option of supplying fuel cell electric vehicles, gasoline prices as well.

In addition, the natural gas pipeline owner now has an asset which can be valued as a grid-scale energy storage solution as well as a transmission asset with the opportunity for improved pricing due to the higher thermal capacity of hydrogen blends compared with natural gas. Combined-cycle gas-fired power stations can also use the hydrogen-natural gas blend, increasing their efficiency and reducing their carbon emissions.

All this can be done within the existing infrastructure and without modifications with hydrogen blends containing up to 10-15% hydrogen. The E.ON demonstration is particularly significant as it ticks three boxes: it shows the benefits of hydrogen as a store for renewables-generated power, the flexibility of hydrogen gas within the existing natural gas infrastructure and the potential to achieve the significant and cost-effective scalability needed for energy grids worldwide.

The US Department of Energy recently released a report, “Blending Hydrogen into Natural Gas Pipeline Networks: A Review of Key Issues“, which was optimistic about the benefits of injecting hydrogen into the gas pipeline system. Studies are underway into using hydrogen to produce low-carbon ‘synthetic’ methane. Although significantly less energy efficient than straightforward hydrogen blending, it would allow for more gas to be injected into the grid without significant modifications to the system.

During the E.ON test run, 160 cubic metres of hydrogen were successfully injected over the space of an hour. When the plant comes fully online – currently scheduled for the end of August – it will inject 360 cubic metres an hour of renewable hydrogen into the gas grid.

 

(This blog was first published by the CEO of Intelligent Energy, Henri Winand on the Huffington Post on 17th July 2013)

Introducing – New Energy World Industry Grouping

ImageThere have been several innovative steps taken by public and private organisations in order to meet the EU’s 80% carbon reduction target by 2050. Fuel cells and hydrogen continue to play a major role in this effort but further investment in these technologies is needed if the EU is to have a sustainable carbon-neutral future.

One of the organisations leading the charge in this area is the New Energy World Industry Grouping (NEW-IG). NEW-IG is a leading European industrial association dedicated to the market deployment of fuel cells and hydrogen technologies. It brings together more than 60 innovative companies with a joint ambition to contribute to a cleaner, healthier and more prosperous life-environment for European citizens. Intelligent Energy has been part of the NEW-IG since its inception in 2008. Henri Winand, CEO of Intelligent Energy, is currently serving his second term as Treasurer of the Grouping.

As its core activity, NEW-IG acts as the private partner in the European programme for Fuel Cells and Hydrogen, the so called “Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking”. This public-private scheme provides a unique platform for cooperation, much-needed long-term stability for investment and concrete support for a portfolio of circa 150 projects. The continuation of the programme under Horizon 2020, the new European innovation framework, is currently being discussed. To ensure Europe has a strong and efficient programme until 2020, NEW-IG has worked closely with the European Commission to collect necessary data and provide expert input on this proposal.

NEW-IG is also actively engaged with policymakers to shape legislation for the adoption of hydrogen and fuel cell technology. It organises high-level meetings with key European decision-makers, such as the EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger in 2012, or events that help Members of the European Parliament understand what innovative technologies can do for the European economy. The “Drive ‘n’ Ride” projects are prime examples. Since 2008, it has been offering opportunities to experience hydrogen and fuel cell technology first-hand, through test-drives of fuel cell powered electric vehicles (FCEVs).

The drastic carbon reduction of the energy and transport sectors will require tremendous effort, substantial investment and close cooperation between the public and the private sectors, and all at a time of high economic and environmental uncertainty in Europe. Organisations such as NEW-IG are leading the way to secure a clean energy future.

More about the Drive ‘n’ Ride project & images: http://www.new-ig.eu/newsroom/103/82/MEPs-test-the-latest-generation-of-zero-emission-vehicles-in-Strasbourg

More about NEW-IG: www.new-ig.eu

Outlook for 2013 (Part 2): Automotive – Alternative Power

ImageIn the second part of our outlook series, we take a look at the emergence of the fuel cell electric alternative for the automotive industry.

Tailpipe emissions are responsible for numerous environmental and public health issues. As such, European Union legislation sets mandatory emission reduction targets for new cars. This legislation is the cornerstone of the EU’s strategy to improve the fuel economy of new cars sold on the European market.

The European Commission’s Roadmap for moving to a competitive low-carbon economy in 2050 has agreed to cut emissions to 80% below 1990 levels through domestic reductions alone. The roadmap set outs various milestones, which form a pathway towards reaching this goal – reductions of 40% by 2030 and 60% by 2040. However, the move towards to low carbon society by 2050 will require a 95% decarbonisation of the road transport sector.

As it stands, the number of passenger cars is set to rise to 273 million in Europe – and to 2.5 billion worldwide by 2050. As such, full decarbonisation will not be achievable through improvements in the traditional internal combustion engine or the use of alternative fuels alone.

To date, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) have been the more popular of the alternative power solutions. However, ultra low-carbon electric power-trains featuring hydrogen fuel cells provide one of the most promising, practical and efficient options..

In recent months, a number of carmakers have bolstered their commitment to develop a commercially available fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV). Pike predicts that about 3,500 units will be shipped from the likes of Toyota, Daimler, Hyundai and Honda – primarily to companies that manage public and private fleets. Beyond 2013, Nissan has announced the TeRRA concept, a hydrogen fuel cell powered SUV; Mercedes is planning its fuel cell debut for 2014 with the B-Class F-CELL compact; Toyota and Hyundai have revealed they will release their fuel cell cars in 2015 with the FCV-R and ix35 respectively.

The advantage of fuel cell cars is shorter fuelling times and greater range. A battery-powered car will tend to have a limited real-world range and can take many hours to charge. In contrast a fuel cell car be driven for hundreds of miles and refuelled in minutes at the pump – much like conventional internal combustion engine vehicles. In short, FCEVs provide practical zero tail-pipe emission electric vehicles, with performances similar to existing vehicles, which do not require significant changes to consumers’ motoring behaviour, routine and performance expectations.

In a survey of carmaker executives conducted by KPMG, respondents expected that among electric vehicles, hybrids will have the highest customer demand by 2025, followed by FCEVs, outdoing the demand of battery only-powered cars.

Outlook for 2013: Energy Markets and Policy (Part 1)

ImageIn a series of forward looking blog posts, we’ll take a look at some of the key energy trends to dominate to agenda in 2013. This will include: Energy Markets and Policy; Automotive; Mobile Devices and Battery Life; and Telecom Infrastructure. This week, we take a look at Energy Markets and Policy.

Global energy infrastructure is aging; much of it needs replacing and under extreme pressure from increasing demand. However, the cost of updating or replacing it is expensive, which calls for a smart approach to maximising existing and new infrastructure. To complicate matters, this approach needs to meet our vision of future energy needs, infrastructure capabilities, and as such, the energy mix.

Fossil fuels will dominate the energy markets for some time yet, but demand for renewable / alternative / clean energy sources will continue to grow. This transition to a new energy landscape will be a feature of the coming decades, as new technologies, energy infrastructure expansion, and tougher policy measures help to carve out a more sustainable energy mix. 

Infrastructure investment and policy decisions will define the environmental and energy security legacy of today’s political and business leaders.

  • In the US, a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline is likely to emerge early this year. The 2,000 mile long pipeline will be a $7bn infrastructure investment, creating over 20,000 jobs across the five states it runs through
  • Europe requires an estimated investment of EUR 200 billion within the next 10 years for the construction of gas pipelines and electricity grids.  Current investment levels are not enough to achieve this level of energy infrastructure modernisation.  In 2013, European leaders will vote on the much needed regulation to enable the trans-European energy infrastructure.  This will be a huge step towards energy supply stability across the region – one that will also create positive ripples for the European economy and jobs market
  • Governments and policy makers in Asia will increasingly embrace progressive national energy policies and encourage a drive towards greater energy efficiency.  The age of government subsidised, cheap energy will soon be behind us, as seen recently in India.  The Indian government reduced diesel subsidies in September 2012 – also sending a clear sign to the world that it is serious about fiscal consolidation, under the current economic climate.  The regional energy mix will also shift the balance in favour of energy from renewable sources – also in a bid to reduce CO2 emissions and pollution levels in some of the busiest cities in Asia
  • During the 1981-2011 period, China’s energy consumption increased by 5.82 per cent annually, underpinning the 10-per cent annual growth of the national economy.  China’s Energy Policy 2012 whitepaper (published in October 2012) lays clear a path of hi-tech infrastructure, low consumption of resources, light environmental pollution, sound economic returns, as well as energy security.  The Chinese leadership has actively stressed the role and development of hydropower, solar power and wind power generation within the energy mix by 2015.

Large-scale energy storage will also move into the spotlight, as foundations of a smarter connected energy infrastructure are laid in 2013 and beyond.  As we become more dependent on the connected conveniences offered by technology, demand for electricity will only increase. 

The important question is: in addition to the need to build new energy storage capabilities, can we exploit the existing infrastructure to help manage intelligent storage?