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Author Topic: The end of coal  (Read 1194 times)
TonyK
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« Reply #30 on: June 19, 2020, 09:19:09 am »


At some point in the not-too-distant future we will need to replace our domestic gas boiler. I'm certainly prepared to consider an air-sourced heat pump; at the moment these are more expensive to install and run than gas boilers (though, interestingly, cheaper than oil-fired systems to run), but have the advantage that the electricity that powers them could at least in theory all be produced without burning stuff.

I have been in somewhere heated by an air-source pump. For something that runs all the time, it seemed to make remarkably little difference to the ambient temperature, and I am glad I had a coat. The physics is good, but it won't heat a house on its own, especially not a 17th century one. I don't think we could install one easily in any case because of the layout and the composition of the walls, and I am not going to be owning the place long enough too make the outlay worthwhile. My options are limited - solar panels don't mix with thatch.

I agree that we are going to have to stop burning stuff for energy, at least the fossil fuels that currently account for half of our electricity and almost all of the other three-quarters of our energy consumption. At the main home, I have the benefit of state-of-the-art design, intended to maximise heat from the sun even in winter, and with underfloor heating powered by a beast of a gas boiler, plus a small solar panel out of sight on the roof. I know from my smart meter (anathema to some) that it all works, but I see little prospect of the whole country being transformed any decade soon. I am watching development of ground-source heating, which could be worth digging holes in the garden for, but I am also secretly planning to change the gas boiler just before that becomes impossible. That should see me out nicely.

I have serious doubts about the timescale the government has set itself. One of the chosen options for change, of converting a couple of coal power stations to burn dried wood pellets imported from America, looks far from green to me, and I think HMG is beginning to realise that too. Unless a big cheap alternative for heating homes is found pronto, the 2030s will see 20 million homes warmed by increasingly elderly gas boilers kept going somehow by an army of engineers travelling the nation in clapped out diesel vans. I would say that it will be a boom time for the boiler service industry, but that would be a pun too far.
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Bmblbzzz
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« Reply #31 on: June 19, 2020, 09:54:16 am »

Ground-source, air-source and water-source heat pumps sound wonderful but in practice it's probably going to be a long time until most people can afford them without some form of assistance and there must be many buildings where it's impossible for engineering or geological reasons. Not to mention that landlords are not going to invest in these unless forced by law, and as at present rented domestic property is not even within scope of energy efficiency rating, there's scant likelihood of that. So for everyone else, if forced to give up gas heating, it will presumably be electric hot water and storage heaters.
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Tuesday had come down through Dundrum and Foster Avenue, brine-fresh from sea-travel, a corn-yellow sun-drench that called forth the bees at an incustomary hour to their bumbling.
stuving
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« Reply #32 on: June 19, 2020, 10:25:02 am »

Ground-source, air-source and water-source heat pumps sound wonderful but in practice it's probably going to be a long time until most people can afford them without some form of assistance and there must be many buildings where it's impossible for engineering or geological reasons. Not to mention that landlords are not going to invest in these unless forced by law, and as at present rented domestic property is not even within scope of energy efficiency rating, there's scant likelihood of that. So for everyone else, if forced to give up gas heating, it will presumably be electric hot water and storage heaters.

If/when we are forced to give up gas for heating, it will get a lot clearer - the sums for paying capital now so as to pay less for electricity (a lot less) during the system's lifetime are familiar ones. That would/will be very different from the current choice of burning gas at home or burning it in a power station and reversing the process to push heat into the house. In theory that can have a small gain; in the real world it doesn't so the sums don't add up (though they may if you add heat capture locally, either PV or solar thermal).
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TonyK
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« Reply #33 on: June 19, 2020, 11:22:11 am »

Not to mention that landlords are not going to invest in these unless forced by law, and as at present rented domestic property is not even within scope of energy efficiency rating, there's scant likelihood of that. So for everyone else, if forced to give up gas heating, it will presumably be electric hot water and storage heaters.

Not quite so - I am a landlord in Bristol on the smallest scale possible. A licencing scheme covers the area where I own the property, and I have to submit certain documents to comply with the growing list of obligations. One is an electrical safety inspection every five years, which is twice as often as is normally recommended but still a good idea. Another is the energy efficiency stiffcut. This was 9 years into its allotted 10 year validity at the time the latest tenant arrived, so took no account of the replacement windows, LED bulbs etc installed since it was done. It wasn't worth the 65 to replace it with a new meaningless piece of paper, so I didn't. I will have to before either I sell up or get a new tenant, but whatever it says, there is little scope for improvement. The cottage is exempt because it is listed.

There is talk of a hydrogen network, said gas being generated by wind panels and solar turbines, and delivered via the existing gas grid. I can't really see that progressing beyond mere talk for a long time, and certainly not quickly enough to be ready for when the nation needs new heaters, quite apart from the practicalities of producing the gas on such an enormous scale. Carbon capture and storage has been "just around the corner" for nearly as long as nuclear fission. It works very well in a modified way on the international space station, but that's a sealed environment with predictable renewable energy.
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ellendune
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« Reply #34 on: June 19, 2020, 12:32:26 pm »

There is talk of a hydrogen network, said gas being generated by wind panels and solar turbines, and delivered via the existing gas grid. I can't really see that progressing beyond mere talk for a long time, and certainly not quickly enough to be ready for when the nation needs new heaters, quite apart from the practicalities of producing the gas on such an enormous scale. Carbon capture and storage has been "just around the corner" for nearly as long as nuclear fission. It works very well in a modified way on the international space station, but that's a sealed environment with predictable renewable energy.

There are trials underway at Keele University on converting the gas network to Hydrogen.  IIRC existing appliances can run on up to 20% Hydrogen (80% Methane) without modification.  Any further would require a conversion programme in the way* it was done when we went over to natural gas in the 1960's.

Finding an efficient low carbon source of hydrogen is likely to be the issue as using electricity to produce hydrogen by electrolysis is not very efficient. 

*Actually it has been suggested it would be the opposite way rather than the same way, as coal gas was typically 50% hydrogen, 35% methane
10% carbon monoxide, 5% ethylene. So conversion was reversing the 1960's conversion
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TonyK
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« Reply #35 on: June 19, 2020, 01:51:13 pm »


There are trials underway at Keele University on converting the gas network to Hydrogen.  IIRC existing appliances can run on up to 20% Hydrogen (80% Methane) without modification.  Any further would require a conversion programme in the way* it was done when we went over to natural gas in the 1960's.

Finding an efficient low carbon source of hydrogen is likely to be the issue as using electricity to produce hydrogen by electrolysis is not very efficient. 

*Actually it has been suggested it would be the opposite way rather than the same way, as coal gas was typically 50% hydrogen, 35% methane
10% carbon monoxide, 5% ethylene. So conversion was reversing the 1960's conversion


I had heard about the study. The main problems with hydrogen are first of all its leakiness, being a tiny molecule, and secondly a tendency to make things brittle. I assume that the boffins are looking into some form of liner that will mitigate both. It is going to have to be very very good, though, if it is to scale up to national grid size. Natural gas came to Lancashire just after I started secondary education. I recall doing experiments in the laboratory at school, where we blew burning gas from the Bunsen burner taps across metal oxides in a small charcoal crucible to produce the metal - Alchemy was one of my favourite subjects, the other being the one where you produce electrickery using magnets. Witchcraft, I think it was.

The case for hydrogen also depends on using cheap abundant renewable energy to make it. As most of our electricity is still made by burning gas, even without converting all transport to electricity, that looks a bit of a pipe dream. It is very energy intensive, whether made by electrolysis or by superheated steam and methane over a catalyst, a process that still produces carbon dioxide.
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« Reply #36 on: June 19, 2020, 03:05:33 pm »

The manufacture of hydrogen from natural gas is pointless from an environmental point of view, it would make more sense to use the natural gas directly, thereby avoiding the costs and energy losses in converting it into hydrogen.

The manufacture of hydrogen from electricity shows more promise, but as has already been said it would need a great deal of cheap and renewable electricity.
There is no point in producing hydrogen from electricity that has been produced by burning natural gas.

Electricity, wholesale and at off peak times is about 5 pence a unit.
Hydrogen produced therefrom at 50% efficiency would cost about 10 pence a unit.
Natural gas, wholesale costs about 2 or 3 pence a unit. (less at present)

And the above 10 pence a unit is without considering wages, rates, insurance, return on capital invested, or other expenses of doing business.
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A proper intercity train has a minimum of 8 coaches, gangwayed throughout, with first at one end, and a full sized buffet car between first and standard.
It has space for cycles, surfboards,luggage etc.
A 5 car DMU is not a proper inter-city train. The 5+5 and 9 car DMUs are almost as bad.
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