Frackers in UK get fresh hope government will loosen rules

A change of British government has given the much maligned fracking industry another opportunity to make out its case for stimulating the controversial technique to tap unconventional natural gas reserves.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his new business minister, Andrea Leadsom, have come out in favor of hydraulic fracturing in the past. That could provide impetus for an industry that has all but ground to a halt thanks to strict regulatory limits on the seismic activity around fracking wells.

As Cuadrilla Resources Ltd. resumed work at a site in Lancashire, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy said Thursday that it saw shale gas as a crucial domestic energy source that can cut gas imports as well as working as a bridging fuel to get to net zero emissions by 2050. That may indicate the government could loosen rules that have hobbled the industry.

“For our industry in particular, we do need a review” of seismic limits, said Ken Cronin, chief executive officer of the U.K. Onshore Oil and Gas body.

Some sort of change is necessary to keep fracking alive. Cuadrilla has until Nov. 31 to work at its Preston Road site. After that, planning permission expires and only flow tests of existing boreholes are possible. The firm has applied to Lancashire County Council for an 18-month extension, but a decision on that is unlikely before summer 2020, a spokeswoman said.

Fracking involves pumping water and tiny particles into underground rock formations under high pressure, opening cavities to allow gas to flow into the wellbore. The technique can cause tremors in the earth, although most are so minor only scientific instruments can detect them.

In Britain, rules restrict fracking to operations that have underground seismic activity of below 0.5 on the Richter Scale. That’s a fraction of what’s allowed in Texas and Oklahoma where fracking has revolutionized the oil industry.

“We were stymied by the 0.5, and we think that there is good scientific evidence out there to increase that level,” Cronin said.

It’s one of the few technologies that could slow or even reverse the sharp declines in oil and gas production from the North Sea as conventional deposits run dry. Exploration has been halted a number of times over concerns about earthquakes caused by fracking, most of them too small for people to notice.

By comparison, a passing truck produces magnitude-3 quake on the Richter Scale, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. Cuadrilla Resources Ltd. had stopped its U.K. fracking operations in October, following a series of mini-seismic events at its site in Lancashire, north west England.

After years of delays, fracking in the U.K. seemed closer than ever when Cuadrilla Resources Ltd. said in February that the nation’s first horizontal fracking well had uncovered a large reservoir of high-quality fuel.

But that optimism however was short-lived as Cuadrilla blamed overzealous controls on seismic activity that prevent it from being able to fully tap the potential of the well. Both it and Jim Ratcliffe-owned Ineos Group Ltd., have said that unless the government loosens regulations they won’t be able to frack in the U.K.

Cuadrilla Chief Executive Officer Francis Egan said that government policy to explore and develop shale-gas “has not changed.” He said he took encouragement by government climate advisers, the Climate Change Committee, recognizing natural gas as an essential energy for the U.K.’s net-zero commitment.

“Give the British people their mineral rights, and get fracking at last,” Johnson wrote in the Telegraph in 2014. As Mayor of London, he told the Times of London newspaper that the city “should leave no stone unturned, or unfracked, in the cause of keeping the lights on.”

Leadsom wrote in the Yorkshire Post in 2016 that “a shale gas industry will not only boost our economy and create thousands of jobs across the supply chain it will help to guarantee a secure energy supply which is an absolute must for this government.”

Despite apparent support at ministerial level, dozens of lawmakers in the Conservative Party oppose the practice partly on environmental grounds and partly because of the threat dozens of wells would have to the countryside.

So far, the government hasn’t committed to changing the rules. On Thursday it restated its enthusiasm for fracking without saying how it would balance the environment concerns.

“Shale gas could be an important new domestic energy source reducing the level of gas imports while delivering broad economic benefits, including through the creation of well-paid, quality jobs,” the business department said in a statement. “It could also support our transition to net zero emissions by 2050.”

Opposition parties point out fracking and producing more gas isn’t compatible with goals to rein in fossil fuel emissions and climate change.

“There is no way we can reach net zero by 2050 if we fully exploit the UK’s shale gas reserve,” said Rebecca Long-Bailey, the member of Parliament who speaks for the Labour opposition on business. “Simply put, there is no room left for fracking and it should be banned immediately.”

Environmental questions
The practice has come under fire from environmental campaigners concerned about the affect it has on rock structures and water systems as well as the emissions. Protesters have consistently disrupted prospective shale gas sites up and down the U.K. and have taken the issue to court to have it stopped.

In a new study from Cornell University, globally the industry is found to be behind rising greenhouse-gas emissions, according to Robert Howarth. The process contributes more methane than cows and wetlands. The gas has global-warming potential, 84 times greater than carbon dioxide across a 20-year period.

“The industry seems to have struggled to convince the British public that developing a new fossil fuel resource is an environmentally responsible thing to do,” Laurence Williams, a research fellow in environmental politics at the University of Sussex, said in an email Wednesday.

The argument that shale gas can work as a transition fuel “had only limited success in persuading environmentally minded people to support fracking,” said Williams. “And it struggles to compete with the simplicity and clarity of a phrase like ‘keep it in the ground.’”


Renewable Energy

Clean, renewable energy is a vital tool in our plans to reduce the worst effects of climate change. Replacing fossil fuels with wind and solar to power our homes and businesses will dramatically cut our greenhouse gas emissions. The added bonus is it will cut air pollution at the same time.

enewable energy comes from the Earth’s natural resources – sunlight, wind, waves, the tides and geothermal heat from deep within our planet. It has two great advantages: unlike oil, coal and gas, it will never run out, and it’s clean – it doesn’t pollute the planet or cause dangerous climate change.

It is versatile and adaptable. Renewable energy can supply huge cities on the grid or remote villages unconnected to any mains electricity. It can also be built close to where the power is actually needed, and the sheer range of technologies means that one or another will be suitable almost anywhere.

The UK has some of the best renewable energy sources in the world. Our islands, battered by wind and waves, are perfect for tapping into these power sources. Even solar energy has a role to play – solar panels are more efficient in direct sunlight, but can generate power even on a cloudy day. New developments in battery storage mean renewable energy can be used even when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun shining. This provides a fantastic opportunity for the UK to be at the forefront of technological innovation, creating jobs and driving down costs even more.

The rise of renewable energy
In fact, renewable energy is slowly replacing fossil fuels. In 2015 renewables generated more power than coal for the first time ever, and by 2018 was approaching the level of gas generation and is set to continue growing. It’s also getting much cheaper – wind power now costs far less than nuclear, and between 2015 and 2017 the price of offshore wind halved.

All this makes much of the government’s attitude towards renewable energy at odds with its claim to being an international leader on tackling climate change. Cuts to government support for solar power has led to a drop in the number of solar panels being installed, and continued political and financial backing for fossil fuels and nuclear power just don’t make sense. The UK is legally committed to tackling climate change and, by 2050, reducing emissions by 80% compared to 1990. There is pressure on all governments to get to zero carbon emissions even before 2050 if we have any hope of keeping global temperature rises below 1.5 degrees.

Massively increasing renewable energy is the most important way the government is going to meet its commitments, and for us to have a chance of stopping the worst effects of climate change from happening.

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Strong winds in Europe boost Innogy’s H1 renewables profit

Above average winds in most of continental Europe coupled with higher electricity prices have boosted earnings in Innogy’s renewables segment during the first half of this year, ahead of the likely re-incorporation of the German utility’s green generation business into parent RWE.

Adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation in renewables rose to €415m ($464m) in the first half of 2019, compared to €322m in the same period a year earlier.

Innogy’s renewable generation business together with that of rival E.ON will be bundled under a new RWE, while Innogy’s grids and retail segments are slated to go to a beefed-up E.ON if a complex share and asset swap deal wins final approval by competition authorities – a move expected in September by E.ON.

Wind levels in North-Eastern, Central and much of Southern Europe – regions where most of Innogy’s onshore wind farms are located – during the first half were higher than the long-term average, more than compensating for lower winds in the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands.

That helped the utility’s output from renewable sources to rise to 5.5TWH, from 5.3TWh in the year-ago period.

Rising electricity prices in the UK and Germany also pushed earnings higher, although some 60% of Innogy’s renewables earnings are quasi-regulated due to fixed feed-in tariffs (FITs) in Germany.

A positive contribution to earnings came also from operational improvements of the existing portfolio in part from a bonus for timely, on-budget completion of the Galloper offshore wind farm in the UK and higher earnings at the Belectric project development subsidiary.

“In Renewables, the fact that we extended our scope to international markets right from the outset has paid off,” said chief executive Uwe Tigges.

“We currently have three large-scale projects simultaneously under construction: the Limondale solar plant in Australia, the Triton Knoll offshore project in the UK, and the Scioto Ridge onshore wind farm in the US.”

Earnings were also bolstered by onshore wind farms commissioned in 2018 and 2019 in the UK, Ireland and Italy.

Innogy’s overall adjusted Ebitda fell to €2.14bn during the first half compared to €2.25bn in the same period in 2018, while net profit went down to €488m compared to €662m during the first half of 2018, as lower grids and retail earnings pulled results down.


Ørsted earnings hold firm as utility on track for ‘ambitious green transformation’

Ørsted remains on track to deliver what it’s described as “one of the most ambitious green transformations” in the energy sector after it reported steady growth in H1 2019.

Reporting its half-year results today, Ørsted revealed its H1 earnings to have reached DKK8.8 billion (£1.1 billion), up marginally (2%) on last year’s performance.

That performance means the utility is on track for its full year guidance of earnings between DKK15.5 (£1.9 billion) and DKK16.5 billion (£2 billion).

First half profit did however slip 6% to DKK3.7 billion (£457 million).

It achieved this, chief executive Henrik Poulsen said, undertaking “one of the most ambitious green transformations in the global energy industry”, triggered by a commitment to the Paris Agreement and UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Its share of energy generation determined to be green rose from 71% to 82% in H1 2019, and Poulsen said the firm was on track to meets it target of achieving a 98% reduction in its carbon emission intensity from generation by 2025.

Furthermore, the firm said it was now taking the “next major step” in its decarbonisation agenda by targeting indirect carbon emissions from its business, occurring primarily within its natural gas and consumer-facing units, while phasing out all fossil-fuelled cars from its fleet by 2025.

“We remain very pleased with the operational and financial performance of the company as we continue to expand our position as a global leader in green energy,” Poulsen said.


Turning Natural Gas Into Fuel Just Became Cheaper

The advantages of natural gas over the other two fossil fuels—coal and crude oil—seem to be indisputable when it comes to carbon emissions. Natural gas is a much less carbon-intensive fuel, which has drawn attention to it as an alternative to oil-derived liquid fuels. However, there have been challenges that now a team of Chinese scientists claim to have come closer to solving.

Natural gas consists mostly of methane and some propane. Methane is a sticking point between the industry and environmentalists because it is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon. But if this methane can be turned into fuel it would be a win-win situation since the byproducts of burning natural gas are water vapors and carbon dioxide.

Processing natural gas into liquid fuel is tricky, reports in an article on the Chinese scientists’ breakthrough. This processing involves the introduction of oxygen-hydrogen compounds into the gas, which rearranges its atoms. However, not all atoms react to the oxygen and the hydrogen at the same speed and this could ruin the resulting alcohol that would be used as a fuel.

What the Chinese researchers did, essentially, was increase their control over the conversion process, which allowed them to manipulate the speed at which the carbon and hydrogen in the methane and propane rearranged themselves to create alcohol molecules. This, according to the team, would make gas-derived fuel more economical to produce.

The potential of natural gas as a replacement for gasoline and diesel should not be underestimated especially amid the current abundance of natural gas, notably in the United States, thanks to the shale revolution.Related: Why Oil Prices Plunged Today

“Our conclusion is that natural gas as a transportation fuel has both adequate abundance and cost advantages that make a strong case to focus interest in the technology as a real game changer in U.S. energy security.” This is what one engineer from the Argonne National Laboratory told Talking Points Memo, a news outlet, seven years ago, a few months after the Obama government launched a US$30-million grant program for research into making natural gas a more popular fuel for vehicles.

Since then, however, little progress has been made and part of the reason is that challenging conversion process. A simpler form of natural gas—compressed natural gas or CNG—is already in use for some countries’ public transport vehicles and also in passenger vehicles, but it has yet to become a real challenger for gasoline and diesel. While cheaper and more efficient, CNG gets burned up more quickly, it requires a larger tank, and has less torque than gasoline and diesel.

This is where the potential of liquid natural gas fuels lies. In liquid form, natural gas would probably be more competitive with oil-derived fuels but only after the challenges with its conversion into liquid are overcome.

It’s a positive that scientists are working on this. If research is successful it could eventually motivate oil producers to seek ways to reduce gas flaring, which in the U.S. last year grewby 48 percent driven by the shale boom. That’s a lot of methane being burned for no revenues when it could be captured and turned into fuel at some point in the future.

By Irina Slav for


Low-carbon energy makes majority of UK electricity for first time

Rapid rise in renewables combined with nuclear generated 53% in 2018

Low-carbon energy was used to generate more than half of the electricity used in the UK for the first time last year, according to official data.

A rapid rise in renewable energy, combined with low-carbon electricity from nuclear reactors, made up almost 53% of generation in 2018, the government’s annual review of energy statistics revealed.

Renewable energy sources set a new record by meeting a third of the UK’s power generation last year after the UK’s capacity to generate power from the sun, wind, water and waste grew by 10%.

The UK’s use of coal fell by a quarter to a record low of just 5%, according to the report.

The government’s annual “energy bible” confirms a string of record green energy records broken in recent years, as the UK undertakes more renewable energy projects and shuts down old, polluting coal plants.

National Grid said earlier this year that the UK had recorded its greenest ever winter due to windy weather and dwindling coal-fired power.

This followed the second greenest summer, which fell narrowly short of the 2017 record for renewable energy due to a long heatwave. Very hot weather can have a negative impact on renewable energy generation because high pressure weather systems can suppress wind speeds, and solar panels produce less electricity if temperatures climb too high.

The rise of renewables has edged out coal and gas plants which together made up less than 45% of the UK’s electricity last year.

Gas generation fell to 39.5% of the generation mix last year, from 40.4% in 2017. Coal generation continued to decline, falling to 5.1% last year after the Eggborough coal plant shut and Drax converted one of its units to burn biomass instead.

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Only five coal plants will be left running by the end of the coming winter after SSE announced plans to shut its last coal plant at Fiddler’s Ferry near Warrington, Cheshire, in March 2020.

Emma Pinchbeck, the deputy chief executive of Renewable UK, said the record-breaking figures “clearly show that investment in renewables and the government’s championing of offshore wind is delivering rapid change to our energy system”.

“As well as helping keep prices down for consumers and boosting the competitiveness of our businesses, renewables are a huge economic opportunity, bringing employment and investment to all parts of the UK,” she said.

The government threw its weight behind the offshore wind sector earlier this year by promising developers the chance to compete for a share of £557m of state subsidies in exchange for industry investment of £250m over the next 11 years.

The deal could help offshore wind grow to 30% of the UK’s electricity by 2030 as the UK works towards a 2050 target to cut emissions from the economy to net zero.

But ministers have refused to lift a block on support for new onshore wind farms, which are unable to compete for subsidies despite being one of the cheapest forms of electricity.

“To achieve its net zero ambitions, the new government needs to go further and faster – and the first steps should be removing the barriers to onshore wind which is our cheapest source of power, and building on our successes in innovative technologies like tidal energy and floating wind where the UK can be a world leader,” Pinchbeck said.



The UK’s shift to clean energy is about to get really, really tough

Renewable electricity in the UK has had a great year, but with our homes and transport still almost totally reliant on carbon the hardest part of the zero-carbon future is still ahead

It’s been a bad year for fossil fuels in the UK. In May, Great Britain went two weeks without burning any coal for electricity – the longest stretch of coal-free electricity since the first coal-fired power station came online in 1882. In late June the National Grid confidently predicted that in 2019, fossil fuels would make up less than half of the total electricity mix for the first time ever.

Fossil fuel, it seems, is entering its twilight years. In 2009, 75 per cent of Great Britain’s electricity was produced by burning coal or gas. In the first five five months of 2019, that portion fell to just 44 per cent. In the same time period, wind has soared from providing one per cent of total electricity to just under a fifth.

But the decline of high-carbon energy might not be as imminent as the headline make things seem. In the UK, heating is still overwhelmingly reliant on fossil fuel. And on the electricity front, the UK is due to lose seven of its eight nuclear power plants in the next decade, leaving an energy production gap against the backdrop of increasing electricity demand from the rise of electric vehicles.

So are fossil fuels really on the way out in the UK? Not quite yet. While electricity production has been shifting fairly speedily towards renewables, heating – which makes up 40 per cent of the UK’s energy consumption – has been lagging way behind, says Martin Freer, director of the Birmingham Energy Institute. Some 85 per cent of UK households are still heated using fossil-fuel based natural gas. Cleaning up in-home heating would require switching to heat pumps, which run on electricity and draw warmth from the environment to heat homes, or burning biowaste.

Artificial islands in the North Sea could power millions of UK homes

Artificial islands in the North Sea could power millions of UK homes

But heat pumps are only useful if homes are so well insulated that they only require a small amount of heating. And the UK isn’t doing well on that front either. According to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the UK’s 29 million existing homes aren’t being insulated fast enough to save on needless carbon emissions.

To push the government towards cleaner heating, the CCC – an independent body that advises the UK government on tackling climate change – has set a 2025 deadline, after which any new homes should not be connected to the gas grid at all. But homes aren’t being heated by gas, then they’ll need to be heated by electricity, and there’s no guarantee that electricity will come from renewable sources.

Although the UK’s dirtiest form of electricity generation – coal – has been on the decline, that gap has mostly been filled in by burning natural gas, which still releases about half the amount that coal does. While coal plummeted from 25 per cent to three per cent of the energy mix between 2015 and 2019, gas went up from 28 to 41 per cent. “You can’t build a low carbon energy strategy out of gas,” says Freer.

And nuclear is about to drop out of the energy mix too. Nuclear power plants – which are only slightly more carbon intensive than solar panels – currently supply 18 per cent of the UK’s energy. But by 2030, only one of the UK’s currently operational nuclear power stations will still be active: Sizewell B, which currently supplies around three per cent of the UK’s energy. Hinkley Point C, which is currently under construction and projected to come online in 2031, is expected to provide seven per cent of the UK’s electricity needs.

For Freer, this signals a big problem. Even if wind power continues to grow in popularity – and there’s every sign that it will – the UK will always need backup power plants. “Wind power is intermittent,” he says. “Nuclear power is always generating electricity.”

Batteries could provide a solution to our need for always-on energy production. Large-scale battery storage would let suppliers stock up on renewable energy and release it when the wind isn’t blowing. “Once you have cheap storage, then you can use all that variable power all the time,” says Catherine Mitchell, professor of energy policy at Exeter University.

In January, the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy announced a £20 million initiative intending to fund large-scale energy storage solutions, but it’s not at all clear whether the UK’s storage capacity will scale up quickly enough. This could be partially remedied, Mitchell points out, by more flexible electricity demand that cuts down the amount of wasted energy generation that’s wasted, but that doesn’t solve the storage problem altogether.

Whatever happens, Mitchell is confident that our overall energy mix is only heading in one direction. “It’s always cheaper to take wind and solar, because they have zero marginal cost – so you always want to take wind and solar when it’s on,” she says. “The overall system, just because of the economics, is definitely decentralising and it’s a good thing for the environment and society – it’s going to be cheaper for everyone.”

Will things happen fast enough to meet the UK’s clean energy goals? In a swansong piece of legislation, Theresa May committed the UK to reaching net zero UK carbon emissions by 2050. Given our current trajectory, that might be a stretch. Of the 38.4 million licensed cars in the UK, only 226,000 of them are plug-in electric vehicles. The decarbonisation of heating, too, is far from resolved.

For Mitchell, this suggests that leaving things to market forces alone isn’t enough to secure a zero-carbon future quickly enough to meet the demands of climate change. A little – or a lot – of governmental nudging will be required. “The system is just inexorably moving that way, but it’s not moving that way quickly enough to meet those targets so it needs far more help from the government than we have.”


Sizewell B nuclear plant ammonia leak closes part of beach

A beach near a nuclear power station had to be closed to the public after a “small amount of ammonia leaked”, an energy firm said.

EDF Energy said the leak from a storage tank at Sizewell B in Suffolk on Friday afternoon was “immediately contained”.

But part of the beach was cordoned off “as a precaution” because ammonia fumes could have a “strong smell”.

A spokeswoman said: “There is no risk to public health and no-one was hurt as a result of this incident.”

She said the power station remained switched off for planned maintenance and refuelling.

The beach has reopened.

EDF Energy said ammonia was used on the site to control pH levels.

Business-utilities-UK -with-background

EDF Energy bids to shift gear in EV infrastructure with NEoT Capital deal

EDF Energy has signed a partnership with investment firm NEoT Capital to accelerate its deployment of EV charging infrastructure in the UK.

The deal will see EDF become NEoT’s preferred partner for EV charging infrastructure, providing engineering, procurement, construction and management services, while NEoT will take on the mantle of becoming EDF’s preferred provider of financing for EVs, batteries and related infrastructure.

The duo pointed towards a “limited” investment by businesses into electric fleets, with few businesses able to finance the kind of energy systems necessary to support EVs, including battery storage and vehicle-to-grid systems.

EDF recently launched a nationwide advertising zeroing in on its proposition in electric vehicles, and the two companies said they intend to trigger “more meaningful” investment into EVs by providing their business customers with an end-to-end solution.

Energy suppliers in the UK are racing into the EV space in their droves, with end-to-end packages incorporating financing, vehicle ownership, charging infrastructure and clean power supply proving popular.

The likes of ScottishPowerDrax and Centrica have launched special purpose, end-to-end EV product offerings in recent times, while Volkswagen launched its own clean energy supplier – Elli – in Germany earlier this year to secure its position in the EV power supply market.

Beatrice Bigois, managing director for customers at EDF Energy, said: “To accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles, we need to find innovative ways to finance the required investments. This strategic partnership with NEoT Capital will help us make electric mobility a reality for our customers.”


Innovate UK and ENGIE launch £4m energy innovation competition

Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), has joined forces with ENGIE to discover and fund innovative projects that can speed up the development of solutions to decarbonise, digitise and decentralise energy and help achieve a sustainable energy transition.

A £4m competition will link government grants from Innovate UK, awarded alongside and simultaneously with private sector investment from ENGIE.

It’s the first time an Innovate UK programme has private funding from overseas.

ENGIE, a French energy and services company, will work with Innovate UK to make joint investments and the competition’s aim is to allow organisations to form investment partnerships at an early stage.

To do this, ENGIE and Innovate UK are bringing together Innovate UK’s expertise in identifying promising innovations and using funding to materially change their risk profiles as well as ENGIE’s expertise in the commercial sector.

Ian Meikle, director of clean growth and infrastructure at Innovate UK, said: ‘We are seeking the very best of British ideas in clean growth innovation.

‘By teaming up with ENGIE we can multiply our funding and do even more to grow the industries, businesses and jobs of tomorrow by bringing in the private sector at an earlier stage through this investment accelerator programme.”

Nicola Lovett, CEO of ENGIE UK & Ireland, added: ‘We are delighted to be working with both Innovate UK and ENGIE’s Paris-based New Ventures team to directly assist innovative UK companies in the clean growth sector – in areas such as renewables, energy services and e-mobility.

‘This initiative also supports our own ambition to be a leader in making zero-carbon transition possible for businesses and local authorities.’

The first round of the competition closes on August 14.