Guernsey’s Energy Policy Advisor speaks with Sustainable Guernsey

March 7th, 2012 by Richard Lord

Steve Morris, former Engineering Director at Guernsey Electricity, has been appointed as Guernsey's Energy Policy Advisor (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

Steve Morris, former Engineering Director at Guernsey Electricity Ltd., begins his role as States of Guernsey Energy Policy Advisor on 26 March 2012.

Steve Morris discusses below some of the energy issues facing the island during an informal conversation on 5 March.

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“One of the things that needs to be done is to start getting islanders to understand ‘energy’ more than they currently do because if they don’t understand it, how can they take control of their usage of it, which is a big part of turning down Guernsey’s carbon footprint.”

“Tackling our carbon footprint and tackling rising energy bills is equally important because people at the bottom of the socioeconomic tree are suffering from relatively high bills and those bills are only going to carry on getting bigger, at least in the short and medium term.

The rate at which they get bigger is debatable but nevertheless they will get bigger. If we are going to protect people from rising bills, then one of the ways we are going to do this is to help people change the way they live their lives so they don’t use so much energy. That’s not something that happens overnight. It is a long-term objective.”

Although this is a long term objective, the time taken to achieve it will also be long, so we actually need to make a start on it otherwise we will never get there.”

I expect Guernsey’s Energy policy will tackle the broad problem of energy use because the problem is broad.”

Transport

“If you look at our consumption of energy on the island, transportation is a big energy user but in many ways it is the most difficult energy use to tackle, not because there aren’t techniques available, because there are, but because the domestic car that we all know and love is actually a very, very hard act to follow.

It’s got one hundred years of development behind it. It’s incredibly sophisticated, incredibly comfortable, and incredibly inexpensive for what it does for us. It’s a very hard act to follow and it will take a while for newer techniques to actually pull back that advantage.

On the other hand, every time someone goes out and buys themselves a new car the chances are it is probably a great deal more fuel efficient than the one they are replacing.

Modern small diesel and hybrid cars can deliver at least 50 mpg, which was unheard of twenty years ago, so efficiency is moving in the right direction but it would be nice if we could speed that up slightly.

The popular Honda Jazz diesel car is also available as a hybrid (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

For the medium term I think it is unrealistic to expect to make much change in the energy consumption of our air and sea transport systems.

Guernsey’s Energy Resource Plan

“The goal for the States of Guernsey Energy Resource Plan is for the island to slowly but surely become more energy efficient and less carbon intensive. That is where we want to go.

I don’t think Guernsey will have too much problem meeting the 2020 carbon emissions target but I think unless we start setting ourselves on a different course, we will have a big problem meeting the 2050 target. That is the key point.

The Energy Resource Plan suggests a number of actions but also states that there is currently no money available to enact these actions. If there is no money at all, then progress will be very slow indeed because progress will only occur at the rate at which people naturally choose to become more energy efficient, and I think that is probably not fast enough. If we’re going to speed up energy efficiency measures we are going to need to put some resources into the plan.

Half the problem is that the gestation period for change is very long. People don’t go out and change their domestic heating systems every five years. They might change them every 20 or 25 years so if you want to make a difference by 2050 you have effectively one and a half chances to do it, so you have really got to get cracking to make that happen.

One thing you can change is people’s use of energy inside their homes and their offices.”

Solar hot water and heat pumps

“Most of us heat our houses using carbon based fuels.

Although they are not yet inside many people’s price range, there are sensible new technologies available to replace most of the fossil fuel usage inside islander’s homes.

Our sunshine hours are not as good as southern Europe, but solar hot water works well in Guernsey and I use it myself.

Similarly most homes can be heated by heat pumps, particularly those homes which already have hot water based underfloor heating.  I have also recently purchased a heat pump for my own home and have been pleasantly surprised by its effectiveness.

I am keeping the house permanently heated with the heat pump, albeit at lower overnight temperatures, because it is highly efficient and because of the way it works. It runs the radiators at a much lower circulating temperature than the previous central heating system did so it needs longer to heat the place up.

The lower circulating temperature is important to maximising the efficiency of the heat pump cycle. Is it different? Yes, it is different. Is it convenient? Yes, it is convenient. It works very well. It is also proving to be reasonably economic, since I expect the annual cost for heating my 5 bedroom house to be something like £800, compared to the £2500 I would have spent on oil at today’s prices, giving something like an 8% return.

The coefficient of performance (COP) of my heat pump, which is monitored by a heat meter, is 3.7 to 3.8 (it produces 3.7 to 3.8 times more energy as heat than it consumes in electricity)”

Macro renewable energy

“The work of the Renewable Energy Team is a significant part of the overall Energy Resource Plan. Macro renewable energy is part of the overall picture because it is the only indigenous energy that Guernsey has. Guernsey has no coal and no oil resources. The island does have some wood but we would get through the wood very quickly if we started burning it for fuel and none of us would like the environmental side effects. So in reality the only forms of energy we have, which are ours, are renewable.

The question is: when is it sensible and economic to develop them? And the answer is, with tidal energy, not quite yet. I am optimistic that it will be sooner than many people think.

Siemens buy-out of Marine Current Turbines  has got to be very good news because for technology like that to make real progress it’s got to have engineering companies with seriously deep pockets to take the risks and production steps which need to be taken.

Marine Current Turbines' SeaGen in Strangford Narrows, Northern Ireland (click image to expand - image courtesy of Siemens)

At the moment the numbers, in terms of the cost escalators, are too high. If it’s costing four or five times current electricity production costs then that is too much. My view is that those numbers have got to come down to the costs of offshore wind or less.

How fast that happens depends on how much effort is put in.

The financial crisis of 2008 was a major factor in slowing down development. All of a sudden development companies couldn’t get access to finance.

Guernsey also has a good wave regime, but the technology for harnessing wave power is at least as underdeveloped as tidal stream devices, so it will not be available to us in the short term.”

Our vulnerable fossil fuel supply

“I don’t think anybody can sensibly turn their back on where a lot of our fossil fuel resources lie. As the demand for fossil fuel increases and existing resources are depleted, it will drive people to do more and more difficult excavation and drilling in parts of the world where many people would rather they didn’t go.

There are serious risks associated with that. Being more in charge of one’s own destiny is definitely preferable but it can’t be done overnight. It is essential that any renewable energy system for Guernsey is part of a greater whole.

Having connectivity into Europe is exactly what we want to have, and we’re always going to need some fossil fuel. You’re not going to succeed in engineering it out of the equation. What you have to do is re-balance so that you have more inputs of different sources of energy and hence more security.”

Wind energy

“Wind energy is a fantastic technology for the UK, because it has a good wind speed regime, but I do understand why some people don’t like it.

I don’t think for Guernsey, that wind turbines are necessarily the right technology. They could be, but there needs to be some more technical development. When people talk about ‘offshore’ in other jurisdictions, they mean turbines situated in 20 to 25 metres of water depth and in many case 15 to 20 miles away from the coast.

If you want to get the turbines a reasonable distance from the Guernsey shore so they are not aesthetically unacceptable you have to go out into 50 metres of water and that’s the problem. I am not saying it won’t be conquered. It probably will, but at the moment even if you were to go to 50 metres water depth the costs are high.

To bring the turbine installation back to a reasonable cost, at present, you have got to be in 20 metres of water depth.”

A wind turbine near Goch, Germany on 8 January 2012 (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

“A modern 2 to 3MW output machine has a tower height in the area of 100 metres, roughly twice the height of the Vale Power Station chimneys. The industry has concentrated on producing such large machines because their economics are much better than those of smaller machines. The downside, unfortunately, is that they are very large and if positioned off our west coast would be highly visible.

My personal view is that such a development is unlikely to attract the support of the majority of islanders, but perhaps we should put that question to islanders.”

 

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