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The week ahead - shale and storage: two aspects of future energy

An energy-related double header is scheduled this week, with one camp considering energy storage options for renewables and the other scrutinising the potential shale boom.

Renewable energy sources tick all the right boxes when it comes to carbon targets but wind and tidal et al are subject to the fluctuation and variability, which makes energy storage a pressing requirement. Earlier in the year The Engineer’s Stuart Nathan discussed the subject at length. Click here to read more.

The subject comes under further scrutiny tomorrow in Bristol where the Energy Institute (EI) is hosting a conference on the role of energy storage in the UK energy system.

EI say the event ‘will bring together industry experts to examine the potential of energy storage as a key element in the UK’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions whilst increasing energy security and sustainability.’

This will become particularly pressing as the UK moves toward its 2050 carbon reduction target of at least 80 per cent from a 1990 baseline, prompting government and industry to look closer at ‘new and emerging technologies which will help meet carbon reduction goals and enable a greater role for renewables in the energy mix.’

This in turn has given rise to a pressing need to develop what EI say are ‘affordable, effective ways to scale up energy storage projects and stimulate investment to bring them into production.’

More information on tomorrow’s event can be found here.

The organisers of this week’s UK Shale Gas Summit believe the event will ‘take a hard look at how the government, shale operators and local communities can work together to develop a commercially viable and sustainable UK shale industry.’

Efforts have already been made to encourage the often controversial issue of shale gas extraction - returning one per cent of revenues to local communities where fracking is taking place, and announcing a consultation on tax incentives to encourage shale exploration being just two of them.

Taking place at the KPMG Conference Centre, the event has gathered an expert speaker panel to address the key issues through roundtable panel discussions and presentations.

The day centres around five key themes:

  • Shale in the context of the government’s energy policies
  • Potential scale and economics of the UK shale industry
  • Taking advantage of the opportunity – technological and practical considerations
  • Winning the argument I – environmental and safety concerns
  • Winning the argument II – bringing the local community on board

Perhaps a sixth item could be added that goes something like ‘Winning the argument III - what’s in it for domestic consumers? Lower gas bills or not?’ Let us know your thoughts below.

As if by some timely coincidence, the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee meets tomorrow to hold the first evidence session of its new inquiry into the possible impact of shale gas and oil on the UK economy.

The Committee will hear evidence from Prof Alan Riley from City University and Richard Sarsfield-Hall and John Williams from Poyry Management Consultants.

The Committee will ask the witnesses whether the government’s energy policy is suited to encourage early and substantial development of the use of shale gas and oil, whether the UK’s energy market is flexible enough to absorb a significant increase in provision of shale gas and how far shale gas and oil extraction would benefit the UK economy.

The session can be viewed here.

A far less controversial event takes place in Devon this week that, in isolation, isn’t necessarily front page news but the context in which it takes place deserves more attention.

Manufacturing South West, hosted at the headquarters of XYZ Machine Tools in Tiverton, is a new exhibition involving 18 specialist companies representing all aspects of manufacturing and production.

The event brings together latest developments and demonstrations that for many will be the first chance to see new product launches.

The organizers say leading industry names will be presenting the latest turning, milling, CNC sliding head, 5-axis machining, EDM sheet metal forming, laser cutting and tooling, sawing and cutting-off, cutting tools, workholding and bar feed equipment, coolant and filtration.

This event forms part of Manufacturing Matters, a Manufacturing Advisory Service initiative designed to raise the profile of England’s SMEs and their role in reviving the economy.

Backed by BIS, GrowthAccelerator, IMechE, and UKTI (UK Trade & Investment), Manufacturing Matters aims to debate key challenges and opportunities for England’s SMEs and opening up dialogue with the media, politicians and industry influencers ‘to ensure the right support is in place to encourage growth and future job creation’.

It will culminate with a week of activities in November that will include the launch of the next MAS Barometer, a series of debates and events covering topics such as innovation, skills, international trade and access to finance.

In a statement, Stephen Peacock, director at Grant Thornton, which leads the consortium delivering MAS, said: ‘The larger companies are the ones that usually get the column inches and airtime, yet it is the SMEs in the supply chain that make up 95 per cent of industry.

‘They are doing more than most to help drive the recent resurgence with many taking on staff, launching new products and investing in the latest technology.

‘We…want to raise some of the issues affecting the sector and by engaging with the larger manufacturers, the Local Enterprise Partnerships, other business support partners and industry bodies, ensure they have access to the specialist assistance they require.’

A dedicated website has been set up to host interviews and key issues being discussed by SME manufacturers, who are encouraged to use the website and Twitter (via @mfg_matters or #mfgmatters) to say exactly why ‘manufacturing matters’.

Finally, this Wednesday sees David Willetts, minister for Universities and Science, deliver the IET’s 2013 Mountbatten Memorial Lecture at the Royal Institution.

Entitled ‘Eight great technologies – and more’, Willett’s speech will be based on his recent paper that identified the technologies expected to have potential economic importance for the UK, namely: big data; satellites; robots; modern genetics; regenerative medicine; agricultural technologies; advanced materials; and energy storage.

Willetts maintains that Britain’s research base is strong in the eight areas identified but states that investment alone will amount to little if the nation doesn’t improve in applying the research that is currently available.

Readers' comments (11)

  • Shale gas presents a number of different problems:

    - there is still insufficient data available about the long term effects of the methodology on the surrounding geological strata, in terms of both the disruptive nature of the process and the effects of the chemicals used on the surrounding water table

    -shale gas is an hydrocarbon fuel and will not contribute in any way to reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, specifically CO2; it just represents more of the same in this respect

    As far as renewable energy systems are concerned:

    - with sufficient investment in the correct control and output technologies, the fluctuations and variable outputs from renewable energy systems can be managed (see the WIRE project funded by the EU as one example)

    - lack of progress on the wide-scale adoption of renewable energy devices and systems is, I think, a result of consumer ignorance (not sufficient easily understood information in the general circulation, and too many NIMBYs), vested interest opposition from the major utility and oil/gas companies, and weak political will

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  • Many commentators suggest that hydrogen fuel-cells are the best solution for future power, especially for cars, so how about using the wasted spare capacity from wind turbines etc to produce hydrogen from water? This would tick two boxes, one for electricity storage and another for clean energy.

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  • The problem with so-called renewables isn't consumer ignorance or NIMBY's it is simply maths. We need tens of thousands of turbines to give a significant proportion of our generation needs. Now factor in the scale of the storage you need to deal with a load factor of about 30% and you begin to appreciate the scale of the problem. The idea of using the spare capacity from turbines to generate hydrogen is fine except that we will never reach the stage of having excess capacity. Now, if you are talking about nuclear as the zero CO2 option you could have excess generation, e.g. at night, to generate hydrogen. Unfortunately the politics and public opinion would rather peddle the idyllic vision of renewables. I'm far from anti renewables if the numbers really work and we can build the capacity quickly enough. However, I fear they fail on both counts. All I'm appealing for is for some sensible maths to be done so that we can stop the lights going out.

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  • The Numbers DON'T "Add Up" whichever way you count them! We are DESPERATELY short of capacity in this country! We import natural gas from near Europe and Far Asia (notably the Russian Federation), Electricity from France and increasingly elsewhere in Europe. We Import more oil and gas than we produce. Coal in unfashionable and our domestic industry is a shadow of it's former self and our existing nuclear resource is ANCIENT and was destined for the scrap heap TEN YEARS AGO !!

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  • As I have said before, put solar panels on every building facing south. Not as microgeneration, but joined together for the national grid. I estimate somewhere in the region of 3+Gwatts of power could be produced, and it would be a lot cheaper than some nuclear power stations! And the main thing is it could be done now, no pollution and waste.

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  • Why is it that the only argument direction you see around the oil and Gas industry, is the one of money? I've been around long enough to have seen and heard it all before. We were told in the early 60's Britain was going to be one of the wealthiest countries in the World with our, due to come on line North Sea Oil and Gas. Well we've had nearly 50 years of these energy sources and we are financially far worse off now than we were before North Sea Oil and Gas. So what happened to all the wealth?

    Yes I can hear all the argument pundits screaming if we hadn't had it we would be worse off than we are now. Well here is a surprise for them. No we wouldn't. Why ? because we would have seriously developed the alternative energy program aggressively and be ahead of the World in renewable's. Notwithstanding the World would be immensely cleaner environmentally. There are Photo-Voltaic Cells erected in the 60’s that are out there and still working. Clean non contaminating and continuing their return on investment over and over again.

    What we have here is the same old arguments being spun out by the propagandist scaremongers of the energy industry. It’s all about Money. No not yours or mine, Theirs and how much they can make while they have their snouts in the trough.

    What is not being done ( in the UK ) because the industry doesn’t want you to look too closely.

    Is intelligent and unbiased detailed study and observation of all information ( from everywhere ) of what this Industrial method of Gas production is capable of doing to the health of the general environment and Human health. If anyone is serious about this Shale and Coal Gas Industry ? and it is not just about shale gas it’s also about coal bed methane gas.

    Take a long hard look at this website:

    and check out all the information and videos in the section “Chemicals in Natural Gas Operations"

    Then if you have children and grandchildren tell me you believe there is no danger to their future health. Oh and for all the Smart asses out there who won’t do the research ! this is no Hick organisation, these people know their game.

    For the benefit of the Engineering Techies out there. Think on this. This process cannot be reverse engineered. You cannot stop it once it has been done. It will continue to contaminate indefinitely.

    Bob Gronow

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  • I agree entirely with the comments of Mark Thomas. Future generations will look back on the last few decades of foolish energy-plant investment in the same way that we regard primitive man's worship of the sun and moon. We have had a almost a generation of misguided belief that a self appointed and self-selecting body (the IPCC) understood the climate.
    The immediate needs appear to be
    i) to throw out the carbon taxes and subsidies for wasteful investments such as wind as quickly as law allows;
    ii) get fracking as soon as possible;and,
    iii) to extend the life of our existing coal and nuclear stations as far as possible while investing in new sensible power generation for the future.

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  • They'd really be better revisiting those government targets instead to find out if they are either realistic, required or worthwhile because all available data points to them being none of these. With that issue kicked into the long grass there is no need for hand-wringing.

    Shale gas may or may not lower prices but the power supply industry says we already have lower prices than most of Europe. Hence it is security of supply that is the real issue.

    Point of fact: Renewables don't tick any of the right boxes regarding CO2 reduction - they only give a useless feelgood factor to the chattering classes. To replace fossil fuels they need base load generation which they don't have and they need to be a darn sight cheaper or we'll bankrupt ourselves in the short term. Likely that's the medium term result anyway if we keep hamstringing our industry with energy tariffs and spending borrowed money on offshore wind - a huge transfer of wealth from poor to rich if ever there was one.

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  • Graeme Morpeth's claim that "shale gas is an hydrocarbon fuel and will not contribute in any way to reduction in greenhouse gas emissions" simply is not true.

    If you get your energy from shale gas, you release much less carbon than if you get the same amount of energy from coal.

    Just look at the USA where CO2 emissions have fallen dramatically in the wake of the shale boom. That the USA now exports unburnt coal to other countries is irrelevant. Stamp out that trade in coal and CO2 emissions go down.

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  • I agree with Bob Gronow, but the UK Government started investing in the wrong technologies earlier than North Sea Oil and Gas. When they invested heavily in nuclear power, which an American Admiral had declared would be too cheap too meter.
    Renewable technologies have received a pittance from the Government, whilst the Oil and Gas industries receive tax-breaks. Those, that are still arguing for fossil fuels, are obviously not looking at the evidence of the detrimental affect they have on human health. As for nuclear, this country has spent over £50 billion propping this industry up, and it will cost another £50 billion to decommission the old reactors. And we still do not know what to do with the waste.
    Continuing with the 'business-as-usual' scenario is no longer an option.

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