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Where are DECC's numbers coming from?

Last week, DECC responded to a question from Labour MP Jim Cunningham about the carbon emissions savings from using "biomass energy crops". Minister of State Andrea Leadsom said this:

The 2013/14 Renewables Obligation sustainability data [1] indicate that, for data available, the average greenhouse gas saving from energy crops on the European Union fossil fuel electricity average, by consignment, was approximately 90% (within a range of 85-94%).

This looks jolly impressive (or should I say "completely implausible"?), but less so when you read in the Renewables Obligation Annual Report that operators of biomass stations self-report this information. Even less so when you actually look for the figures given in the dataset linked. I certainly can't find it.

Can anyone throw any light on where the figures come from?



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Reader Comments (21)

Did someone at RenewablesYUK just pluck the figures out of Fresh Air?

They do pride themselves on their production of absolutely Fresh Air.

Sep 18, 2015 at 9:54 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

I suspect their data are quite accurate, especially when you take into account that they also probably burn the bullshite they spout!

Sep 18, 2015 at 10:02 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

From their report:
""The total quantity of solid biomass used increased, from 3.9 million tonnes in 2012 -13 to 5.7 million tonnes in 2013-
""Biomass– other includes peanut/peanut- derived, lignobond, palm kernel expeller, sunflower /sunflower-derived, cocoa husk residue, shea, oat (including oat derivatives) and straw."" Most of this does not even originate in Europe.

So it looks as though they can plant, harvest, process, store and transport more than 5.7 million tonnes of biomass and still save 90% of the CO2 from equivalent fossil fuel burning. No doubt they do not use a comparison with piped gas power stations.

Sep 18, 2015 at 10:06 AM | Unregistered CommenterIvor Ward

FIFA, the Federation Internationale of Fresh Air has demonstrated how to make large quantities money of money disappear into Fresh Air without a trace

DECC has demonstrated how to make large quantities of Facts Appear, without a trace, having spent large quantities of money.

Do they share accountants? I am sure there is a link somewhere.

Sep 18, 2015 at 10:20 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Most of DECC's data is based on assumption. They don't go in for evidence. I've been involved in several applications for anaerobic digester (AD) plants which consume vast quantities of crops. None of the AD plants do any calculations of how much CO2 is emitted by the fossil fuels used to plant, harvest and transport the crops. Given also that AD plants are very inefficient producers of electricity, it is likely that none of them save any CO2 emissions; all they do is generate subsidies and destroy crops. The new consultation on FiTs is supposed to introduce new sustainability criteria, but you can bet that farmers who run AD plants will just make all the data up - they are not very good at keeping records of what they do.

Sep 18, 2015 at 10:20 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

I've just looked into the Renewables Obligation Annual Report and it would seem that DECC refer to use of the Defra conversion factors for greenhouse gas reporting on its website. However, the Defra conversion factors are for company reporting:

What are greenhouse gas conversion factors?
In order to report the greenhouse gas emissions associated with an organisation’s activities, users must convert ‘activity data’ such as distance travelled, litres of fuel used or tonnes of waste disposed into carbon emissions. This online tool provides the values that should be used for such conversions, provides step by step guidance on how to use the factors and allows users to tailor the volume and types of greenhouse gas (GHG) values they use during their reporting process.

Thus DECC is using the wrong conversion factors. It should be using the conversion factors for electricity generators which DECC publishes on its own website.

One thing is certain. The assumptions that go into the "greenhouse gas savings" are not based on evidence or reality. The figures are totally unreliable.

The other thing that is certain is that DECC make so many assumptions and present the results in reports that are totally unreadable and opaque, that it would takes many weeks of effort to try and fully understand what they have done.

Sep 18, 2015 at 10:41 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

I notice, with some astonishment, that some biomass quantities are specified to 100 picograms. Given such precision we can hardly doubt the rest of the data!

Sep 18, 2015 at 11:13 AM | Unregistered CommenterRich

Andrea is a nutjob.


Sep 18, 2015 at 11:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterRightwinggit

Here's Drax's take on the CO2 savings of biomass: an 86% reduction.

But note that they admit the CO2 / MWh required to harvest and transport the fuel to the mouth of the furnace is 4 times higher for biomass ( 121 kgCO2 / MWh for biomass vs only (876-844) = 32 kgCO2 / MWh for coal )

The 'saving' comes entirely from the assumption that net CO2 from burning wood is zero. This totally ignores forest regrowth time and assumes a steady state where wood is being regrown at exactly the same rate as burnt which we know is not the case due to the rapid expansion of demand for wood.

Sep 18, 2015 at 11:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterChilli

There are some useful links and resources on the subject here:

Sep 18, 2015 at 12:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Ronan

Surely they mean 'approximately' 97%?

Sep 18, 2015 at 12:33 PM | Registered Commenterflaxdoctor

flaxdoctor, they mean 97% with a high level of certainty. They calculate their 'certainty' based on their confidence in getting a pay rise, for saying what the bosses want.

Sep 18, 2015 at 1:00 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

I would guess that they are taking a credit for the CO2 that went into the product during its lifetime - so it is essentially renewable energy.

Sep 18, 2015 at 3:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterMikeN

The problem I have with the biomass issue is the sustainability angle. Compare the time it takes to grow, for example, a tree to the time it takes to burn it, it won't be long before the whole earth is totally de-forested. In no way can supply keep up with demand.

Sep 18, 2015 at 3:48 PM | Registered Commenterdavidchappell

davidchappell, in order to grow more biomass, we would need warmer temperatures, and more CO2, just when warmer temperatures seem to be not happening very quickly, if at all. I think the "grow and burn" argument seems to have burnt itself out, just as producers had grown to meet the subsidies.

Sep 18, 2015 at 4:13 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Does this mean that England can procure chopped up trees, ship them across the Atlantic, burn them as 'bio-fuel and manage to claim a 90% CO2 savings?

Imagine how much CO2 they would save if they burned the wood chips in China and only imported electricity?

The report is a shell game, looking under the pea is not allowed.

Sep 18, 2015 at 7:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterATheoK

If you could see the amount of diesel that is burned in order to grow, harvest and transport the massive amounts of maize thats fed into biodigesters in the UK, plus all the machinery, fertilisers and agrochemicals used, you'd probably conclude that biomass creates a net addition of CO2 over fossil fuel electricity generation.

Sep 18, 2015 at 7:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterJim

"Can anyone throw any light on where the figures come from?"

Seriously – NO. I think such folks make stuff up.
Or they ask this dispenser of wisdom:

Sep 18, 2015 at 8:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn F. Hultquist

IMO why not sell off the Met Office?

Sep 20, 2015 at 3:45 AM | Unregistered Commentertom0mason

Drax had a 6 x 660MW (say4000MW) nominal max output when burning coal. It was one of the largest and high efficiency and cleanest coal fired station in the world. However to escape crucifying carbon taxation it is gradually converting to burning wood chip mainly from the US. The calorific value of wood chips is significantly lower than coal and this will be reflected in generation output. It will have a lower capacity factor. As a baseload station the shortfall from its former output has to be replaced by mainly fossil fuel. These hidden carbon emissions are not included in its overall footprint.

However, a question that is bugging me is whether this loss of capacity has been taken into account by National Grid
in its calculations of total available capacity. Drax was capable of supplying about 7% of UK demand. Now the proportion may have fallen to 5%, a reduction that would swing the national capacity to zero margin.

Watch out if we have cold winter in 2016 especially with El Nino forecast.

Sep 20, 2015 at 5:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterSpen

Sep 20, 2015 at 5:09 PM Spen

Here are two sets information which may relieve your itch - it all depends upon whether you believe them, particularly when they seem to agree.

National Grid publish a register of generation connected to the grid.

Transmission Entry Capacity (TEC) Register & Interconnector Register

The TEC register provides a publicly available record of the existing allocation of Transmission Entry Capacity (TEC), the business it is allocated to and the site details.

Only generators that are directly connected to the National Electricity Transmission System (NETS) or have rights to export to it will be listed in the TEC Register.

I made a copy of the Report at 13 February 2015 - shows there is one entry for Drax at 3,906MW - 3906/6 = 651MW

You can download the Report at 11 September 2015 where there are now 2 entries for Drax:

2,001MW and 1,905MW (total 3,906MW).

2001/3 = 667MW coal?

1905/3 = 635MW biomass? (but the third unit comes on 2016 – maybe looking ahead!)

So, when completed after 2016, there will be a loss of capacity for the 6 units of about 100MW

Probably nothing to worry about, unless of course, the Americans decide to ban the export of wood pellets, then there will be a problem.

Drax Group Annual Report for 2014:

Page 04:

3,960MW connected capacity at Drax Power Station.

This is 54MW more than is shown on the TEC report – maybe a typo – numbers transposed?

Page 35

When initially converted in April 2013, our first biomass unit was materially
constrained by the use of temporary fuel storage, handling and distribution systems.
The commissioning of our bespoke systems late last year has largely overcome these
start-up issues.

With two converted units at the end of the year, both running fully on our bespoke
receipt, storage and handling infrastructure, biomass now represents 29% of our
electrical output, having increased from 2.9TWh in 2013 to 7.9TWh in 2014. Both units
are performing well and to plan, delivering 630MW of capacity on a consistent basis.

This is 5MW less than TEC Report, near enough eh?

Both sources of information seem to agree.

Does this help?

Sep 20, 2015 at 10:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrownedoff

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