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Oxburgh On Decarbonising Heat

October 3, 2020

By Paul Homewood




While we are talking about demands on the grid from EVs, it is worth looking back to Lord Oxburgh’s report to the Secretary of State in 2016 on decarbonising heat.

This was what he found:








To summarise:

1) Even with much better insulation, maximum heating demand would amount to 200 GW, four times  the maximum demand for electricity

2) On top of this would come additional load from EVs.

3) There would be issues with grid stability if we went the heat pump route. Heat pumps in any event are not a practical solution for existing housing stock.

4) Even with extra wind power, there would need to be a significant amount of dispatchable generation from either CCGTs and/or small nuclear reactors.

5) There is currently no known cost-effective form of inter-month storage available at the scale required to meet these demands

6) Electrification of heating would involve an enormous increase in generating capacity to meet winter demand, but this would be of little use for the rest of the year.

7) The only alternative would be hydrogen, which is ridiculously expensive, wasteful, and crucially still needs CCS to mitigate emissions.

  1. Phillip Bratby permalink
    October 3, 2020 11:13 am

    I don’t understand where the “low cost” in the title of the report comes from!

    • October 3, 2020 7:38 pm

      ‘Lowest cost’ means: the best we might be able to do is insanely expensive (and impractical), but we could make it even more insanely expensive (and impractical).

    • Tim C permalink
      October 4, 2020 1:20 pm

      Simple, if nothing is done millions will die and civilization will crumble, therefore even if the cost runs into trillions (and it will) its (comparatively) low cost

  2. Joe Public permalink
    October 3, 2020 11:15 am

    Hi Paul

    This is perhaps a more instructive animation of the challenge, and more up-to-date.

    Note that when the peak electricity demand of 53GW occurred, gas generated 31.5% of it, and renewables contributed just 25.3%

  3. Joe Public permalink
    October 3, 2020 11:24 am

    “7) The only alternative would be hydrogen, which is ridiculously expensive, wasteful, and crucially still needs CCS to mitigate emissions.”

    Hydrogen can be obtained via electrolysis of water. Greenies & enviros push that solution.

    However, they conveniently fail to mention electrolysis is even more energy-intensive AND energy-inefficient than cracking natural gas.

    Hydrogen’s proponents would do well to read & understand this Sept 2020 publication ‘Missing Link to a Livable Climate:
    How Hydrogen-Enabled Synthetic Fuels Can Help Deliver the Paris Goals’ – section ‘2.1 Hydrogen Basics’ here:

    Click to access 2fed7a_0d2e1cc06bff412cb3031fd4bdf93cb0.pdf

    “Hydrogen is not really a fuel—it is more properly described as an energy carrier since it does not occur in free form on Earth, and therefore unlike fossil fuels cannot be mined or drilled and burned directly. Hydrogen needs to be liberated from where it is bound to other molecules, such as methane (CH4) or water (H2O) so that it can carry this energy in liquid or gaseous form for future combustion.
    Producing hydrogen from water is clean and easy. This is done via a process called electrolysis, where an electric current is passed through water, such that hydrogen and oxygen bubble off separately. However, electrolysis of water requires the input of large amounts of energy to break the strong molecular bonds of H2O. The process is only 60–76% efficient, and further energy losses occur when hydrogen is stored, compressed, or converted to other fuels. Fuel cells and combustion also generate further losses, so the round-trip efficiency of hydrogen (from electricity in electrolysis back to electricity in a fuel cell or an engine) can be surprisingly low: at best 45% and at worst 16%. This is why direct electrification of sectors like transport (via electric cars) will always be more efficient than a hydrogen- centered approach which turns electricity into hydrogen and then back again.”

    My bold.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      October 3, 2020 11:48 am

      Joe, your final summary reads much like the blog post on ‘Drilling For Hydrogen’ from Willis over on WUWT. Both extremely illuminating.

      As to the original article here (head post), how do eminently qualified scientist authors (assuming Lord Oxburgh merely fronted this report, written by a ghost author) get away with writing so-called technical documents yet manage to get away with the howler in Point #2: ‘This is likely (likely??) to be the result of better insulation in Austrian homes….’. So, it’s all just a guess then.

    • Jackington permalink
      October 3, 2020 12:18 pm

      Great to have this paper on file – thanks

    • Graeme No.3 permalink
      October 3, 2020 12:21 pm

      Continuous electrolysis is around 62% efficient, and good luck getting a continuous supply from wind.
      Steam reforming of methane results in 15.4% (ideal equation) yield of hydrogen. The rest is theoretically CO2 but in practice contains some carbon monoxide. That sealed storage had better be very, very good.
      Handling liquid hydrogen is difficult and its use in IC vehicles would require extensive modification. The comment about overall efficiency is certainly true, although I think the “round-trip efficiency” would be closer to 16%. That would imply a cost to use about 6 times that of the cost of the electricity from wind.

    • Ian Magness permalink
      October 3, 2020 12:29 pm

      The only theory of hydrogen energy efficiency that I have seen advanced is that the energy for the electrolysis comes from “spare” energy from renewable installations like windmill farms. The puff about the Orkney hydrogen project is illustrative. In very localised cases – like powering a small part of Orkney’s needs – I am minded to believe that it might just be vaguely commercial (actually worth the effort is another matter given that CO2 doesn’t control the climate but I digress). As with windfarms, solar arrays (in Britain? ROTFLMAO) and so forth, however, I cannot see that the sums to convert this to grid scale (leave alone transport in addition) stack up at all, not least because there generally won’t be remotely near enough “spare” energy to work massive, grid-scale electrolysis. You’d just end up needing full back-up from non-unreliable power stations – so no change there and thus no point.

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        October 4, 2020 2:30 pm

        The teality is that to generate “spare” power you must invest to create it. Most of the time that investment will not be producing spare power at all, so it isonly available on a highly intermittent basis. If wind farms aren’t paid for generating surplus power then they must charge more for the power they produce that is not surplus in order to cover their costs. That means the only rational evaluation looks at the levelled cost of power as the true input cost.

        But it gets worse from there. We are now at the point where wind capacity just about exceeds minimum demand levels, so we get curtailment when it is windy and demand is low simultaneously. Despite the high unit cost of constraint payments, the frequency and duration of surpluses would be highly unfavourable for operating electrolysis. In any event, they would need to pay the constraint cost as a minimum. As capacity increases, there will be longer and more frequwnt periods of surplus. But the amount of surplus will become more variable, so the marginal electrolysis plant will still be stuck with very low and intermiitent utilisation. It will still be cheaper to curtail than to run this plant. In short, the economics printed are utterly bogus.

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        October 4, 2020 10:35 pm

        I did a chart showing the relationship between electrolysis capacity and the utilisation you could expect for different levels of wind capacity.

        Bear in mind we already have ~22GW of wind installed.

    • October 4, 2020 8:37 am

      The round trip energy efficiency of hydrogen energy storage and recovery is said to be very low. I have seen figures as low as 33% efiiciency for the round trip, store and recover. 2/3 of the energy is lost.

  4. Geoff Sherrington permalink
    October 3, 2020 11:42 am

    In point 9. above, there is mention of converting gas burners from existing gas to hydrogen in a program similar to smart meters.
    Here in Australia, the hue and cry about smart meters has gone quiet. Has it also gone quiet elsewhere? My conclusion about smart meters is that we were sold a pup by smart operators. I have heard of no national benefit from smart meters. I have heard the sound of silence to questions about who made how many millions of $$$.
    Yet planners refuse to avoid mistakes of the past, over and over, almost as if they are from a different species of human that knowingly accepts problems and dangers as a way of life needed for their mental progress.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      October 3, 2020 11:53 am

      Geoff, here in the UK there seems to be a renewed push to get people to have them installed. The advertising, as disingenuous as ever, is claiming that the mere presence of the meter in your house will save the nation energy. I’m toying with another go at the ASA…

      • Phoenix44 permalink
        October 5, 2020 8:11 am

        I wonder whether the regulator can be involved as the lower tariffs all require a smart meter. My elderly (but still spry) mother refuses to have to have one so is forced to have more expensive electricity. That seems to be wrong.

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      October 3, 2020 12:42 pm

      Conversion to North Sea gas was much easier in the 1960s and 70s. Town gas networks were just that – town by town, each with its own supply. Building out the methane grid could be done a town at a time, and then street by street. I recall the fitters coming to our house, fitting a new meter and replacing the stove and boiler burners, and purging the system until there was a good methane flow.

      Trying to organise grid delivery of methane one day and hydrogen rich gas the next is a very different proposition, as the grid is not dualled except on the highest capacity mains. Conversion work would have to be suspended during cooler months.

    • Joe Public permalink
      October 3, 2020 1:16 pm

      So-called Smart Meters were palmed-off to UK consumers primarily for their ability to implement expensive Time-of-Use charges during the periods consumers most need electricity.

      Strangely, that ‘feature’ was hardly mentioned in the £multi-million advertising splurges.

    • Phoenix44 permalink
      October 5, 2020 8:09 am

      The world is plagued by those who think the reason problems haven’t been solved is because they aren’t in charge. Obama was a classic example, a man convinced he could solve any problem merely by being the president. Previous problems were the result of lesser beings trying to solve the issue.

      Those in charge now are vaguely aware there are problems with Green malarkey but are supremely confident that they are right and so the problems are not an issue.

  5. October 3, 2020 12:07 pm

    Regarding the nonsense of CCS and the whole charade of demonizing of CO2 the gas of life. What planet are these people on? Not only is it clear from Geological History that we have a looming extinction event if we do not find a way to get MORE CO2 back into the atmosphere but also….I appreciate only a small point, there is no empirical data based proof that CO2 is responsible for the current 350 year old warming….none whatsoever! Does’t that strike you as odd?

    • Jackington permalink
      October 3, 2020 12:20 pm

      There’s non so blind as those who cannot see!

      • Graeme No.3 permalink
        October 3, 2020 12:23 pm

        There are none so blind as those who don’t want to see!

      • Mike Jackson permalink
        October 4, 2020 1:24 pm

        The other half of this, Graeme, (Yorkshire version) is “… and none as thick as them as wants to be.” And if recall, the original is … as those that *will not* see.”

        Variation of the Upton Sinclair quote, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”!

  6. john cheshire permalink
    October 3, 2020 1:00 pm

    Here’s my suggestion:
    Why don’t we build a few new coal fired and gas fired power-stations to give time for the lunatics to depart from the public arena? And reality in the public debate can be resumed.

    • Robert Jones permalink
      October 3, 2020 3:24 pm

      Why don’t we build a range of small Modular Reactors instead and put one in every city?

      • Mack permalink
        October 3, 2020 9:26 pm

        Good idea, Robert, but they’re not quite ready yet for deployment on national scales. And, as they emit less co2 than any of their energy producing equivalents, greenies don’t like them. Go figure! As you may realise, the whole current ‘climate crisis’ has nothing to do with co2 emissions changing the climate and more to to do with using climate concerns as a means to change society.

  7. Broadlands permalink
    October 3, 2020 1:09 pm

    Those who can see are seemingly blind to the fact that CCS technology cannot take enough CO2 from the atmosphere to make a difference to Earth’s climate. Yet, it is routinely thrown into the mix to lower global temperatures under the guise of NET-zero emissions.

    “Atmospheric CO2 levels are expressed in parts per million by volume (ppm). To convert from ppm to gigatonne of carbon, the conversion tables of the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center advise that 1 part per million of atmospheric CO2 is equivalent to 2.13 Gigatonnes Carbon. Using the 44 over 12 rule, this means 1ppm = 7.8 Gigatonnes of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere.”

    The Global CCS Institute has been meeting these past few months. They report: “Collectively, the 19 large-scale CCS facilities in operation have the capacity to capture and permanently store 39 million tonnes of CO2 every year. The total capture capacity of all 51 large-scale facilities in the pipeline is 98 million tonnes of CO2 per year.”

    Simple arithmetic shows us that to store 39 million tons per year would take 200 years to remove that one ppm. Divide 7,800 million by 39.

    The Critical Role of CCS???

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      October 3, 2020 1:45 pm

      Have you ever said this to your MP, Broadlands? If you have I bet you got a pretty useless reply. I guess you could try somebody like Ferrari on LBC…

      • Broadlands permalink
        October 3, 2020 2:49 pm

        Harry… No, but I have tried with others in the US, including those at the Global CCS Institute. The replies are usually silence. There is too much invested in “climate change” and in the Paris Agreement’s useless approach to mitigation to expect a change in thinking. Maybe when they see the CO2 level rising each year they might begin to wonder instead of doubling down on the urgency. Don’t hold your breath.

  8. David permalink
    October 3, 2020 1:17 pm

    We are told that water vapour’s greenhouse effect is many times greater than CO2’s .What about all this water vapour emanating from burning hydrogen?

    • dave permalink
      October 3, 2020 5:16 pm

      “…water vapour emanating from burning hydrogen?”

      It would descend as rain.

      • Geoff permalink
        October 4, 2020 8:05 am

        “It would descend as rain”

        The key word here is eventually, as all atmospheric water vapour (whatever the source) falls as rain after about 9 days. During those 9 days it is responsible for the so-called “greenhouse” effect.

        So, any additional atmospheric water vapour burden, e.g. from the hydrogen economy will certainly contribute to heat retention. According to the IPCC this is a positive feedback and would enable the atmosphere to hold more water vapour, which would cause more heating, etc., etc.

      • Phoenix44 permalink
        October 5, 2020 8:14 am

        So a hydrogen economy will change the climate. More rain.

      • John Cullen permalink
        October 5, 2020 12:54 pm

        Descending as rain might not be too bad for a country like the UK which is used to lots of rainfall. However, could it be that on a windless day of high relative humidity it will hang in the air as fog? I don’t fancy city and motorway commuting in semi-permanent fog; such conditions are not much fun for pedestrians and two-wheeled vehicles either.


  9. CheshireRed permalink
    October 3, 2020 3:15 pm

    ‘Lowcost’. lol.

  10. Tony Budd permalink
    October 3, 2020 5:56 pm

    Nobody seems to mention the fact that EVs need electric heating rather than using waste heat from a standard engine, and electricity for air conditioning too, but plug-in EVs are now using the battery for both. In very cold winters (we might still have one or two) and hot summers, the plug-in EV’s battery will need an even heavier recharge overnight or when travelling on long runs.

    I’m also amused that the obsession with CO2 means that we ignore the fact that most of the atmospheric heating is actually down to the huge amounts of heat we now pump into the atmosphere from industry, home air and water heating, air conditioning, all forms of powered transport, and – er- electricity generation and transmission of all sorts. Just do the sums: the UHI doesn’t simply vanish, it merges into the atmosphere as a whole.

    And I like the idea that the major source of atmospheric CO2 measurement is in Hawaii, directly downwind of China and other East Asian CO2 emitters!

  11. October 4, 2020 7:43 am

    Maybe the “Planetary Management Authority” can help figure this out.

  12. Coeur de Lion permalink
    October 4, 2020 8:50 pm

    Oxburgh chaired the most useless of the Climategate enquiries, described as ‘beyond parody’ in its failure to call witnesses or even have its members consistently attend its meetings. Quite surprised therefore to see this paper which actually kyboshes Zero Carbon 2050. Well done. There is more joy in heaven over one sheep that er, etc etc

  13. Coeur de Lion permalink
    October 4, 2020 8:52 pm

    Further to – shd have said ‘whitewashing enquiries’

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