Saturday, February 22, 2014

Crowd-sourcing the IET's 2050 Pathway

I am giving the Clerk Maxwell Lecture for the IET on 6 March 2014 at the Royal Institution, London, UK. This post and its discussion area are for the IET audience who are coming to the lecture.

I'm aiming to make a highly interactive presentation in which we will try to crowd-source an "IET consensus pathway" in the UK's 2050 Calculator. To help the discussion go well, I'd like to encourage people who are planning to be in the audience, before the lecture, to play with the calculator, and to identify the levers they would most like to discuss during the lecture. Please use the comments area at the foot of this blog-post now as a discussion area. Please feel free also to discuss your preferred pathways or preferred settings of individual levers, and to discuss particular issues or trade-offs that you think should be part of a useful conversation using the calculator.

For background reading, please see my posts about version 3 of the calculator and about some other people's preferred pathways.

The outcome - Here is the pathway that we got to after one hour - I will write a few notes and propose possible tweaks in a moment. Top things that needed doing: (a) check which fuel mix for the CCS power stations works best; (b) check which choice of fuel from bioenergy works best; (c) explore space-heating options - the audience asked for a 15:25:60 mix of fuel-in-home (eg gas boilers):district-heating:heat-pumps, and the "CD" heating mix doesn't match this perfectly. Thank you to the audience for a fun evening!

Update - After the lecture I made a few adjustments to the above pathway which I think the audience would have been content with. The resulting final IET London pathway (March 2014) is here. The changes I made were as follows: (a) I checked which choice of CCS power station fuel (solid/gas) was best for emissions, and selected "D". (b) I checked which "type of fuels from biomass" was best for emissions, and selected "B" (mainly solid). (c) I adjusted the commercial heating choice to "D,A" so as to make the overall heating mix for homes and commercial closer to the heating mix that the audience voted for. (d) I double-checked whether choices (a, b) were still optimal. The resulting pathway achieves a 77% reduction in emissions on 1990 levels (pretty close to the 2050 target of at least 80%), and requires no backup generation in mid-winter when the wind doesn't blow.


John Scott said...

The technology choices are immense but what are the 'options' for societal engagement? How deliverable is a low carbon future if the majority of consumers stay in a 2014 mindset?

Phil Lawton said...

The peak demand for heat has a short duration. How can we meet that demand without installing expensive heatpumps, networks and generation that would then operate with a very low load factor?

Simon Harrison said...

Most of the low cost and low carbon choices are in energy efficiency and energy conservation. How can we better create policy and a consumer environmnent to enable large scale change, particularly in legacy infrastructure?

Paul Mott said...

I should like to see some choice around UK-based international aviation growth/decline. The 2050 carbon calculator is only allowing me to choose between a major growth of +85% (effort level 4 only), and +130% (applies under effort levels 1 to 3). The +85% growth, is assumed to only translate into +5% more fuel. Sustainable energy without the hot air, on the other hand, tells one that : "Any plane, whatever its size, has to expend an energy of about 0.4 kWh per ton-km on keeping up and keeping moving. Planes have already been fantastically optimized, and there is no prospect of significant improvements in plane efficiency".
NB, within-UK aviation isn't shown, so one can't discern the growth assumption there.

Michael Dubery said...

I am surprised by how small an impact various 'sustainable' energy sources have even if they are extensively implemented. The huge impact of embracing nuclear power in this model makes me think that this might be just what we need to keep society functioning while we await technological leaps forward that will make solar/tidal/wind power a more realistic option.

Murray Forsyth said...

David - this is a brilliant tool, thank you.

In terms of energy demand, perhaps we could debate which would come top of the list if you sorted them in two ways:
(1) if you sorted the list by EASE/COST of change per domestic user (i.e. swapping light bulbs for LEDs is easier/cheaper than swapping batteries for fuel cells (i think) but yields a greater saving, therefore should be promoted
(2) if you sorted the list by IMPACT on total energy demand (perhaps there are different ways of measuring this - ie energy saved per £ spent or per person)

By highlighting/sorting this list by EASE and by IMPACT, perhaps we could target the Easiest & most Impactful changes - which would help people prioritise where they should spend their efforts (i.e. should we worry more about reducing food miles or unplugging phone chargers?)

Nick Cook said...

In view of the intermittent nature of many RE sources we are likely to need a very large quantity of ‘energy’ storage if RE is to provide a significant proportion of our energy needs without resorting to fossil based reserve backup, with or without CCS. I would therefore like to see the storage given as energy, i.e. in GWh rather than GW (power), or better still TWh.

Another aspect of the calculator is that the choices are fixed and they do not cater for the input of alternative technologies and approaches. John Scott says that “the technology choices are immense” but I would suggest that they are significantly wider than those listed in the various categories. For instance there are four categories that reference CCS, two explicitly, but there is no mention of either CCU (CC & Utilisation) or CCR (CC & Recycling), both of which, in my view, are superior to CCS in that they can create a market for CO2 rather than just treating it as a waste product. Some argue that EOR gives value to waste CO2 but in my view this is not a ‘clean’ use, each tonne of CO2 allows the recovery of about 1 tonne of oil in turn producing about 3 tonnes of fossil CO2. Energy storage in synthetic fuels is another technology not mentioned.

CCU has the potential to mop up a significant proportion of CO2 emissions by incorporating it in other products, e.g. in polycarbonate manufacture, look up the CO2Chem organisation for more info. CCR on the other hand could provide a mechanism for converting the captured CO2 back into carbonaceous fuels for energy storage, possibly using algal bio-reactors but synthetic conversion would be more efficient and I believe likely to be more economic, also it would not require arable land and/or nutrients for their production. There are a number of technologies, some new some existing, that could, I believe, combine to make CCR a viable route for storing massive quantities of clean energy but a detailed description is outside the scope of this blog.

David MacKay FRS said...

To Nick Cook: the calculator does show energy storage in GWh as well as in GW. - just click on the tourist information icon ["i"] next to any lever, and you'll get a one-pager of transparent information - such as this one.

Jonathan Radcliffe said...

David, I like this idea...
I'm going to ask 3rd year engineers at the University of Birmingham, taking my energy economics course, to be another crowd!

Perhaps you can outline a process for your crowd-sourcing? I imagine one round of voting for the trajectory on each option, look at where that gets us on emissions and costs, and iterate.

Would be interesting to compare an IET vs. next generation crowd.

Jeff Douglas said...

As has been suggested, we do have a number of systems choices, significant consumer requirements and a challenge to build an appropriate policy framework. I would like to hear the IET audience’s view on the best way for the really key messages to be identified and then socialised.

Anonymous said...

Many of the measures look too small scale for much impact. The reality is that by 2050 UK population will be around 72 million, with likely a higher standard of living (more stuff, more travel, etc). Overall energy demand will be higher, despite efficiency improvements. The big challenge looks like energy security. It's difficult not see greater volumes of oil and gas, from where and at what price?

Chris Dace said...

Morgan Stanley predicts there will be 3.9 million Tesla EVs on US roads by 2028, providing 237 GW of storage capacity. Elon Musk's Giga factory aims to reduce the cost of storage by 50% by 2020, which could "upend the utility sector as we know it". Does this potentially disruptive technology change the 2050 pathway beyond 'Level 4' (20GW UK storage), and does that make much difference?

the1nigel said...

My 'most realistic' prediction came to about 62% carbon reduction by 2050. My choice were largely made from an underlying feeling about what I thought was realistic in a given political/economic/social atmosphere. All of this was completely subjective and so I think it would help to have some extra levers that somehow reflected these over-arching considerations and allowed users to set the 'triple bottom line mix' before making their technology choices using the existing levers.

I also thought the graduation on some levers was a bit clunky and over-prescribed. If there was a version that had tumble-wheels to allow users to set their own percentages for each lever, this would be a nice touch.

The "storage, demand, interconnection' lever is too concentrated. These are all powerful influencers on future scenarios and I think warrant separation into their own levers to enable more choice. I would agree with Nick Cook's comment below about the number of choices being limited.

Elizabeth said...

Looking at final energy demand it is interesting to see that the greatest impact on 2050 figures is not from transport, insulation or lighting, but rather controlled by the temperature we set our thermostats and the growth (or rather shrinkage) of industry. A 4 degree decrease and we save nearly 300TWh/yr, yet add maximum insulation of homes and there is only an additional 50TWH/yr decrease. I feel that the level 4 insulation figures are highly conservative - only 24m homes better insulated... surly we could do more?

The land use map is frightening when you go to level four of the "Land dedicated to bioenergy" - the amount of land given over the energy crops makes me ask serious questions with regard to whether it is more important to grow food or energy - after all, we teach our children in schools that local is best and food miles are bad yet in a level 4 scenario we risk turning into a country too reliant on food imports.

David MacKay FRS said...

To Nigel (March 6, 2014 at 1:44 AM) - you said "I also thought the graduation on some levers was a bit clunky ... If there was a version that had tumble-wheels to allow users to set their own percentages for each lever, this would be a nice touch."
Your wish is our command!
You will find that most of the supply levers in the calculator support percentages - to get level "2.7" for example (which is 70% of the way from 2 to 3) please select level 3, then click the level 3 button 3 more times. Each click decrements the setting by "0.1". This feature has been used in several of the calculator's Example Pathways. Hope this helps!

David MacKay FRS said...

To Elizabeth (March 6, 2014 at 1:48 AM) - you said "only 24m homes better insulated... surly we could do more?" - actually the total number of homes in the UK is about 26 million, so level 4 is actually assuming that 95% of all homes currently standing get a good retrofit.
You can see more details in the excel version of the calculator, and check whether you agree with the expert group's view of what "a good retrofit" would look like for each category of house.
You are definitely right that the "thermostat" lever is one of the most powerful levers in the calculator!
David M

David MacKay FRS said...

Anonymous said "The reality is that by 2050 UK population will be around 72 million, with likely a higher standard of living (more stuff, more travel, etc)." (March 5, 2014 at 2:39 AM)

Just to be clear: that is exactly what is assumed in the default settings of the calculator: the calculator has a built-in assumption of population growth to about 72 million in 2050, and it also assumes 2.5% per year growth in GDP, which (under business as usual) implies more travel and more stuff, as you said. That is exactly what the calculator displays when you set all the levers to level 1. The interesting question is whether society can choose technology changes and perhaps lifestyle changes that make big changes in demand and supply so as to meet the targets, in the context of the population growth and GDP growth assumed. The calculator shows that technically this is possible. Can we achieve consensus on a pathway that delivers?

David Liversidge said...

The calculator is great and reinforces much of the information in David's book which I read some years ago - and which prompted me to try and move my career towards RE. Having done a very similar exercise recently using India as a case study as part of my RE masters project (Loughborough), where we looked at different energy mixes to 2050 from an energy security and sustainability perspective, I think I come to largely similar conclusions.

I believe there are a number of scenarios that are 'doable' from a technical and energy resource perspective (and which are economically affordable) which put us on a sustainable pathway to 2050 (eg in line with the IEA 450 scenario). However, they all require massive change; e.g. cultural, economic and political change at individual, national and international levels. Having managed large, complex change programmes, I believe the real focus now should be on mobilising people and nations into action as this is probably more of a blocker than developing the technology and hence will be the limiting factor in achieving a sustainable future (we need the solutions to be pulled rather than pushed).

There are many ways of thinking about how we achieve the required scale of change , but I like Kotters' steps and I would say we haven't even yet managed to 'create the burning platform' (step 1) as most people are still in denial despite compelling evidence such as the IEA AR5 report. Despite the recent weather, I don't think I heard the BBC use the words 'climate change' once as one of the possible causes.

I am therefore really interested in the cultural, economic and political levers and how we achieve the required behavioural change at individual, national and international levels as much as I am interested in the technical and policy levers (even though I am an engineer!).

One comment on the model - can't we be more ambitious about out behavioural assumptions on domestic transport? With the novel ways of working that technology is enabling, is the best we can hope for really only that people continue to travel as far as they do today by 2050?

Harriet Windebank said...

We are focussing on the end point, or at least trying to derive the “optimum” end point. The “optimum” is highly subjective. Every stakeholder wants the best that they can have. Therefore the only solution is to develop a system that satisfies all stakeholders - electricity consumers, suppliers, generators, distributors, grid, regulators and policy makers - and delivers the required benefits of each stakeholder across all time. This means that an approach cannot be proposed that jeopardises any requirement in the short term to achieve a desired long term goal as it simply won’t work. The scope of what can be done is bound by the current constraints of policy, economic conditions and commercial considerations. Such things are extremely difficult to change on a fundamental level, and so we must derive a path that fits within them, as well as within the technical constraints that we are all used to working with. It may well be, that we can never reach, or even agree upon an “optimum” pathway, and it is therefore far more imperative that we concentrate on deriving the best steps that can be taken given the current constraints of reality.

As these things tend to play, it’s what’s NOT in the models, what lies between the explicit options, what can be achieved by combining options or the best parts of options in new ways and what hasn’t even been invented yet that will deliver the innovations needed to deliver a sustainable future for the UK. Wind power with mechanical, electrical and chemical storage, combining biomass and gas plant, fossil fuelled generation and nuclear within the same plant, solar and fossil fuelled generation to deliver energy over night, co-siting to make best use of land, clever uses for CO2, product switching etc. It is our duty as engineers to support policy makers in moving from policies that limit innovative development by silo-ing technologies to a position that adequately supports any development that delivers sustainable energy on any scale, be it through a combination of renewable and non renewable technologies within the same plant, demand reduction, storage, product switching etc. This is because, whilst the scope of possibility is bound by the constraints mentioned about, the number of “Pathways” within these bounds is 645 infinite.

Looking forward to continuing the discussion this evening.

the1nigel said...

David, I tried your suggestion with clicking on the numbers to fractionate their values but it doesn't seem to work. Nor does the ranging feature you demonstrated at the lecture. Perhaps these features are platform or browser specific? I use a Mac and Firefox...

As a general comment, I think the calculator is a wonderful tool and thank you for it. However I am often challenged when using it by the thought, what levers could I pull to make decarbonisation happen or what settings should I make in respect of what I think will happen given the social, economic, environmental and political trends I see. As you can imagine the outcomes could be quite different and be seen as a case of what I would like to happen (idealistic) in contrast to what I think will happen (realistic). Additionally, there is the issue of environmental impacts, as global warming increases and affects political and social mindsets.

This thought does not detract from the value of the calculator but in order to create realistic scenarios over idealistic ones, it perhaps points to the need for levers that represent the triple bottom line in some way? Politics, economy and environment are such powerful underpinning influences on the choices we make they can hardly be ignored in scenario building and hence the calculations we make as a consequence.

Erwin said...

Thank you very much for the lecture yesterday evening. I found it both entertaining and informative.

The calculator is a superb communication tool. There are however a few additions / changes that would make it even better. Here are my suggestions:

1. Show cost as a fourth graph or as a separate tab

2. Make the generation options more granular at the low end (e.g. option 2 for nuclear is already quite high and 4 seems unrealistic)

3. Include carbon used in delivering options (e.g. building nuclear power station, batteries in PEVs) or at least provide an indication of impact in the help section (s you did last night, e.g. insulation: negligible)

4. Provide more explanation on imports or implied imports (e.g. reducing manufacturing output will only have a global impact if we reduce consumption of such goods).

Thanks again for the lecture, your book and your ongoing contribution to the debate.


Larissa Nora said...

Thank you again for the great lecture last week, it was eye-opening in many ways.

I took the liberty of writing a piece about it on my own popular science blog. Below is the link, if you happen to be interested in reading it and have a few spare minutes:

Kind regards,

Larissa van der Laan

Anonymous said...

It would be great to get a reduced individual travel option. With urbanization level still rising and share of jobs in agriculture and manufacturing (which require longer commutes on average) decreasing, that seems like a possible path. A 4-day workweek in some jobs would further reduce commuting.

Likewise for heating/cooling: the number of houses is very important and growth in the number of houses doesn't have to follow population growth.