Gravity

“I’m reading a book about anti-gravity. It’s impossible to put down.”

Which would you rather believe; a book about anti-gravity or ‘Roadmap 2035 (A Blueprint for Net Zero)’ from Oil and Gas UK? Both ask the reader to suspend disbelief.

The North Sea industry is in the grip of a deadly vice. It has driven down costs to what would have seemed unimaginable a few years ago and yet they are still the highest in the world. The oil price has recently collapsed, as it does every few years, but this time it looks different.

At around $42 per barrel the price of oil and gas is down in the doldrums but the more the price tries to return to a level of profitability, the less competitive North Sea oil and gas are.

Over a series of blogs we will examine a lot of products from the North Sea starting with electricity from gas-fired power stations.

Oil and gas producers have spent so long competing with each other (usually on cost) that they have missed the serious competition; renewable wind, solar and hydro-electric. Together with industrial battery systems, these technologies are making oil and gas increasingly expensive for power production.

Power can now be bought from a renewables market that has a twenty-year record of reducing costs. And this trend appears to show no signs of stopping. Being no longer economic, all coal-fired power stations in the UK will have shut down by the middle of this decade. Recent UK government annual statistics have highlighted the performance of renewables that provided a record 37.1% of the UK’s electricity in 2019, up from 33.1% in 2018, with wind power playing a major role.

Let’s be clear about this. The National Grid does not prefer renewable energy because it’s ‘green’; it prefers it because it’s the cheapest in the market.

Yes, the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine but industrial-strength batteries are already being deployed and are transforming the electricity sector. These batteries capture surplus electricity from the grid and hold it until demand exceeds supply. Then their speed of switching back online is within seconds, ensuring continuity of supply.

To add to the problems for the North Sea, the old reservoirs are depleting rapidly and any new ones being discovered tend to be uneconomically small, highly-fractured or otherwise awkward to exploit. And when a company eventually decides to shut down a reservoir and its platform, there is a large cost to decommissioning, typically in tens or even hundreds of millions of pounds.

No wonder that the oil and gas industry is disappointing the investment community. Over the past 10 years, returns for oil and gas stocks have been feeble in comparison to the overall stock market. Discerning investors are avoiding fossil fuel stocks not because it’s ethical but because it’s a smarter thing to do.

How can you take advantage of cheap renewable energy? Buy your electricity from a 100% renewable supplier, of course. Check out the ‘Energy’ section of this website to see the choices for your renewable electricity provider.

Finally, do you know where your pension and savings are invested? Do you read the literature from your financial provider? Are you exposed to fossil fuel stocks? If divestment from fossil fuels seems a little too radical for you, have you considered ESG investment? I know, that was too many questions. ESG investment is the management of funds according to Ethical, Social and Governance principles. A competent financial adviser would be able to offer you this choice (after thoroughly advising you on all aspects first).

Now, where’s that book I couldn’t put down?

 

 

Renewable Energy: At Home & Work

If you missed Climate Café number 3, here’s a summary of the talks. The next café will be on the 6th February and the focus is on food and the impact our food choices have on the environment. Please join us!

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Neil Stuart from Home Energy Scotland

Home Energy Scotland has expert advisors who visit homes and provide free and impartial advice on how we can reduce our energy bills. They can advise on renewables, energy efficiency, waste prevention, and even transport. There are government incentives home owners can access to encourage the uptake of renewables and Home Energy Scotland can help explain how these work. They include feed-in tariffs and interest-free loans. If you can generate your own electricity then you can sell what you don’t use and people typically only use about 25% of what they generate. If you’re interested in investing in renewables then you can access interest-free loans of up to £17,500 per household for renewable energy systems. The Energy Saving Trust has a tool you can use to find out what technologies are suitable for your home. There’s also a green homes network which is a group of homes that have installed renewable energy or made energy efficiency improvements and are offering to share their experience with others who are curious to see how it all works.

Lauren Milton from Élan Hair Design

Lauren Milton shared her inspiring story of how the family-run hair salon in Inverurie went green and has become recognised in the UK as the most eco-friendly and sustainable hairdressing salon. It all started with a switch to LED lighting which not only reduced their CO2 emissions, but also saved them money. From there they went to PV panels, and implemented other measures which resulted in a 68% reduction in water use, a 95% reduction in CO2 emissions, and increased turnover every year. The sustainable business approach has led to lower costs, better PR, and increased customer loyalty.

Erik Dalhuijsen on living offgrid 

Erik lives on a boat which has two solar panels that power everything except for hot water and cooking. He advocates for changing behaviour to match circumstances. For example, when there’s ample supply (the sun is out or the wind is blowing) run the instruments that require power. When there’s no power, turn them off. It’s very feasible to live this way and doesn’t make life difficult.

Dave McGrath from Grampian Energy

Grampian Energy can provide advice for homes and businesses in the North East of Scotland on renewables and energy efficiency. The first thing Dave recommends to those interested in reducing energy costs is to understand your demand and then reduce it. This is the single, easiest thing you can do. Most homes use about 3,500 – 5,500 kWh (kilowatt hour) per year and of that heating consumes around 60-70%.

An easy way to reduce demand is to replace all incandescent bulbs with LED. An incandescent bulb uses around 60W which is £35/year. LED lights use 6W which is £3.50. This is a huge saving for a very small investment. When buying new appliances get ones with a triple-A rating. Also consider the impact of cooking. For example Chinese cooking (e.g., stir fries) consumes very little energy whereas a roast which sits in the oven for several hours uses a lot. Consumer electronics also consume a lot of energy so think twice before buying a huge LCD TV for the teenager’s bedroom.

For heating costs, the amount of heat required to heat a building is equal to the amount that leaves it. The EPC rating of the property is very important and will give you an indication of this heat loss. The biggest loss is through the walls especially in Aberdeen’s granite homes that often have a thin layer of plaster as their only insulation. Some insulation is harder and more expensive to install than others. Roof insulation and double glazing is pretty easy whereas underfloor is hard to do. You can also reduce heat loss by sealing off drafts, especially around doors. Having a timer can also reduce consumption by turning on heating only when it’s needed. You can also turn it off/on for specific rooms according to need. You can fit radiators with TRVs (thermostatic radiator valves) which control the flow of hot water into the radiator allowing you to set the temperature of the room to the level you want.

In terms of renewable energy sources, free sources of power include solar PV, solar thermal, and wind. A solar PV system will set you back about £5200 for a 4KW system.  Micro wind works in rural settings but is not worthwhile in the city. A large system costs around 30k-35k. Other environmentally-friendly heating options are biomass boilers and heat pumps. A biomass boiler is good for people who have their own source of timber. Heat pumps are basically refrigerators in reverse but they’re very efficient producing around 3.5kWh for every 1kWh.


A big thank you to all our speakers for the inspiring and informative talks!

Tidal and wind power in Scotland, and adapting to a post-oil future

The second climate cafè last Tuesday evening was a great success. We heard two terrific talks. The first was on the future of tidal power in Scotland and was delivered by Dr Ian Davies of Marine Scotland Science. Then we heard from Dr Leslie Mabon from Robert Gordon University talking about the adaptation in the North East to a post oil future. Here’s my summary of the two talks.

The Future of Tidal Power in Scotland

Scotland is perfect for tidal and wind power with much of the Scottish coastline suitable. However before any project proceeds there are factors that must be considered. The Scottish coastline is also used by the fishing industry and there are ferry and shipping routes to take into account. There are also lots of protected animal species along the coastline such as birds and sea mammals. All these things are considered before a project is approved.

Stromness, which is in Orkney, is home to The European Marine Energy Centre. It’s a research and testing facility for wave and tidal power and is the only centre of its kind in the world. There are also a couple of offshore wind farms near Aberdeen. There’s one in Aberdeen Bay which is 2km offshore with 11 turbines, 176m high. There’s another just north of Stonehaven known as the Kincardine project which has 5 turbines. Just launched this year is Statoil’s Hywind project which is a floating wind farm and the first of its kind in the world. The cost of electricity generation from wind farms is falling rapidly and will continue to do so. The offshore wind farms are particularly good because there’s less concern from interaction with others. There’s also plenty of space.

Adaptation in the North East to a post oil future

For almost half a century Aberdeen’s fortune’s have been determined by North Sea oil. It created jobs and has made people rich. The average oil industry salary is £64,000, a substantially higher figure than the average wage in the UK which is £27,000. About 10% of all jobs here are in oil and gas. We have become dependent on one industry and this dependancy is a barrier to change. It has become a part of the fabric of the city. For instance, most airports have advertising for perfume, jewellery, or fashion but at Aberdeen airport you’ll see ads for drilling. You can even buy fridge magnets of oil platforms. For these reasons the people here will be resistant to change and maybe even defensive about the problem. What incentive does someone have to accept a much lower salary in a different industry?

What’s the solution?

We need to provide retraining schemes for workers as well as tax breaks and incentives for new industry. As individuals we can pressure politicians to support the transition.

Thoughts from our first Climate Café

The first of Aberdeen Climate Action’s (ACA’s) Climate Café series was fantastic. Over 85 people came along to Waterstones to listen and learn about local community renewable projects here in the North East. The speakers inspired us as they shared how their projects were created, and how the community energy schemes were just the first step in their communities’ journey to real sustainable living and also greater community empowerment.

We welcomed Donald Boyd from Greenmyres Community Energy speaking about the Huntly Community Wind Turbine.  Jim Currie from ACEnergy shared his experience with Donside Hydro, Aberdeen’s very own community hydroelectric power plant. Annabel Pinker from The James Hutton Institute highlighted a variety of fascinating community projects around Scotland. A common theme was one of empowerment of the individuals and communities involved in the creation and management of these projects. Having an independent stream of income means that these communities can develop more schemes to help their community and educate and inspire others.

The energy and enthusiasm in the room was palpable and the feedback we received is that people felt inspired to start their own projects. This is exactly what the Climate Café series is all about. Waterstones were terrific and created a wonderful atmosphere. There was great coffee served by Sloth Coffee as well as delicious home baking. Everyone had a great time eating, drinking, chatting and connecting after the talks.

We’re looking forward to the next Café on Tuesday 5th December, Waterstones, 7-9pm – Fast Forward to the Future: New Energy Sources and Post Oil, where we will be hearing about Marine Energy and the North East Post Oil. Please join us.