Tag: decarbonisation

Need for carbon pricing clarity at the first ‘Net Zero Budget’

Fishing village of Staithes near Scarborough on the north Yorkshire coast

Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP

Chancellor of the Exchequer
HM Treasury
1 Horse Guards Road London SW1A 2HQ

29 October 2019

Dear Chancellor,

Need for carbon pricing clarity at the first ‘Net Zero Budget’

We are writing to you to urge you to maintain the UK’s robust approach on carbon pricing. The prolonged uncertainty regarding the UK’s carbon pricing future as it exits the EU reiterates the need for the upcoming Budget – at whatever final date is chosen – to provide some much-needed certainty in a potentially turbulent period for businesses across the UK.

With its approach to carbon pricing, the Powering Past Coal Alliance and its Net Zero commitment, the UK has been a leader in global efforts to meet the ambition of the Paris Agreement by phasing out coal, as well as incentivising low carbon energy development and helping drive cost reductions. This leadership should continue at the first ‘Net Zero Budget’.

As outlined by the Committee on Climate Change in its recent advice to the UK Government on its carbon pricing future1, reaching net zero “will require a strong and rising carbon price, in order to induce changes to both short-term behaviour and longer-term investment decisions”. Importantly, in the run up to COP26 in Glasgow in November 2020, it is important that the UK continues its global leadership and is not perceived to waver on its commitment to tackling climate change.

Given the uncertainty over the UK’s exit from the EU there is little clarity on what the carbon pricing mechanism will be in the near term and this is already impacting on the forward pricing of carbon in electricity markets. Therefore, providing certainty and stability is crucial when the Government sets the Carbon Price Support (CPS) rate for April 2021 and beyond. Any reduction in CPS rates made in isolation of wider clarity on the UK’s carbon pricing arrangements post EU exit risks sending a negative signal to low carbon investors and undermining the continuing need for a strong and rising carbon price.

In addition to the considerations on the CPS, the Carbon Emissions Tax (CET) – that will replace the EU ETS in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a deal – will need to be set out for 2020 as soon as possible. To minimise the potential divergence between the CET and the EU ETS over 2020 it is vital that the CET is set a level for 2020 that is comparable with recent EU ETS pricing.

We look forward to measures to help the UK meet its leading ambitions at the first ‘Net Zero Budget’, including certainty and stability on the CPS. Further clarity on the UK’s carbon pricing future following a successful linking agreement between a UK ETS and the EU ETS to be in place for 2021 should be provided as soon as is practicable.

Signed,

Drax   |   Ørsted   |   SSE   |   Sandbag

 

CC

Simon Clarke MP, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury

Rt Hon Andrea Leadsom MP, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Rt Hon Kwasi Kwarteng MP, Minister of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Lord Ian Duncan, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Rt Hon Claire Perry O’Neill MP, UNFCCC COP26 President

View the letter in PDF format

Smart ways to charge EVs

Electric car

The future of electric cars and electric vans holds great potential – not just for the transport industry’s overall carbon footprint, but for the populations of heavily congested, polluted cities and even individual drivers looking for more efficient fuel costs.

That future is approaching fast. By 2040 or even as soon as 2035 no new cars or vans sold in the UK can be solely powered by diesel or petrol. While this is a positive step, it brings with it a shift in the way drivers will need to manage the way they plan journeys and, more importantly, refuel.

Dark Blue Electric Sports Car Driving

For years drivers have relied on a quick and plentiful supply of fuel at petrol stations. But an EV doesn’t charge as quickly as a conventional car, nor are fast charging points widespread – at least not right now.

The change will be considerable, but it won’t necessarily take shape in a single form. Here we look at four things that will become increasingly influential in how drivers recharge their EVs over the coming years.

  1. Smart charging and time-of-use tariffs

Electricity costs more to produce and supply at certain times of the day. This wholesale price depends on the demand for power, weather conditions and the costs of different generation technologies and fuels.

For example, electricity is often more expensive in the evenings when people are coming home from work and turning on lights, TVs, ovens and plugging in devices. Just a few hours later it rapidly drops in price as homes and offices turn off lights and appliances. But the power system is changing.

The price of electricity is increasingly driven by less predictable factors such as the weather. On windy and sunny days, wind and solar generation can drive down the cost of producing power. On calm and cloudy days, the costs of electricity can increase.

While this, in theory, makes it sensible to wait for a cheap period of time to plug in and charge an electric vehicle (EV), in practice people are unlikely to spend the time sit refreshing websites which display the price of electricity in real time to get the best value. Instead, the use of ‘smart charging technology’ can play a big role to capitalise on fluctuations in prices. Electric charge in a village house. Outside the city the countryside.

Smart charging technology will be able to monitor things like electricity prices and even electricity usage across an entire site (for example across a business where many devices are using electricity) and automate the charging process to make use of the best prices and limit overall electricity use.

Rather than needing someone to recharge EVs at one o’clock in the morning, this means people or businesses can plug in at times convenient to them and set their vehicles to charge at the cheapest times and have an appropriate amount of charge to carry out tasks when they need to.

“By shifting power usage into cheaper periods you’re saving money and you can be more sympathetic to supply and demand limits on a company,” explains Adam Hall, who leads Drax’s EV proposition. “If I know my battery will be fully charged by nine in the morning, do I care if it charges immediately or delays it and saves me a few pounds?” For business fleet owners who manage large numbers of electric vehicles the difference this can make is even larger, he adds.

  1. Vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technology

Each EV has a battery in it that powers the vehicle’s motor. But what if the electricity stored in that battery could also be harnessed to deliver electricity back to grid? And what if that concept could be used to collect a small portion of power from every idle EV in the country and use it to plug gaps in the electricity system?

“There are over 30 million cars on UK roads. National Grid predicts by 2050, 99% of those vehicles will be powered by electricity,” explains Hall. “The majority of cars remain idle for 95% of any day. That’s a huge amount of storage potential that could be used to balance the grid at key times. It’s a battery network that assets around the country will be able to use.”

This concept is what’s called vehicle to grid technology  (V2G), and while it holds great potential, it’s still some way from becoming a mainstream source of reserve power. Right now the technology is costly and limited – only ‘CHAdeMO’ charging systems, as found on Japanese models, actually support bi-directional charging. Nevertheless, Hall remains optimistic of its future role in the energy system, particularly as this technology will be hugely important in managing future grid constraints

“The cost of bi-directional hardware is coming down all the time,” he says. “At the moment there aren’t enough vehicles, we don’t have the scale to do it, but I fully believe it will change quite dramatically.”

For domestic users the benefit will be less immediate than it will be for entire countries. For business fleet managers, allowing the grid to take some power from their idle vehicles could lead to financial compensation or other advantages for offering grid support.

  1. The out of sight, out of mind approach: third party management schemes

More suited for businesses managing whole fleets of vehicles, employing a third party to manage the charging of vehicles allows for the delegation of a potentially costly and time-consuming task.

Adam Hall, Drax EV proposition lead, with Drax’s electric vehicle fleet service.

“Effectively the customer knows they’ll get the vehicles with the amount of charge they want when they need it,” says Hall. “That might be for the cheapest price or as fast as possible. It means the customer doesn’t have to think, they just get their charged vehicle in the optimum way for their needs.”

Third party providers could also open up new charging businesses models, such as flat monthly rates for unlimited vehicle charging or all-renewable services. By taking the technical aspects of running a fleet out of businesses hands, third parties could even serve to lower the barrier to EV adoption.

  1. Mandatory managed charging

It’s difficult to accurately know how much demand electric vehicles will place on the electricity system– some estimates see demand growing in Great Britain as much as 22% by 2050 as a result of EVs.

While the constant development of battery and charging technology will likely mean this prediction will come down, there are some theories as to how the country will need to deal with this rapid growth. One of these is to actually turn down the electricity surging through charging points at certain points to prevent widespread blackouts.

“The idea is there to protect the grid,” explains Hall. “When local distribution networks have a lot of demand they may need to turn charge points down.” He adds there will likely be exemptions for emergency services, however.

Hall is sceptical mandatory managed charging would ever really come into play, for the damage it would do to consumer attitudes to EVs. The idea also taps into wider scaremongering around EVs and quite how much they will push up electricity demand.

Instead what will really need to shift for a future of efficiently charged vehicles is a mindset shift. “There’s a psychological element to it,” he suggests. “Everyone goes through some range anxiety at first but soon realises the technology is sound.”

As battery technology continues to improve, vehicles evolve to go further on a single charge, and networks of super-fast charge points expand, transitioning to electric vehicles will become easier and more economical for businesses than continuing to depend on fossil fuel.

“I personally believe once electric vehicles are doing 300 miles on a single charge, the requirement for on-route charging will be pretty low,” says Hall. “Not many people drive 300 miles, need to recharge at a service station and then drive anther 300 in one fell swoop. It’s much more important to have good charging installations at work and at home.”

There are many ways in which EVs will change the way the world drives, from how we charge them to how and where we travel. We can be certain this will mean a shift in mindsets and our approach to transport. What remains uncertain is just how quickly and widespread that shift will be.

How will 5G revolutionise the world of energy and communications?

Smart cellular network antenna base station on the telecommunication mast on the roof of a building.

What should be made of the 5G gap? It’s the difference between what some commentators are expecting to happen thanks to this new technology and what others perhaps more realistically believe is possible in the near future.

What we call 5G is the fifth generation of mobile communications, (following 4G, 3G, etc.). It promises vastly increased data download and upload speeds, much improved coverage, along with better connectivity. This will bring with it lower latency – potentially as low as one millisecond, a 90 per cent reduction on the equivalent time for 4G – and great news for traders and gamers, along with lower unit costs.

Trading desk at Haven Power, Ipswich

The latest estimates predict that 5G will have an economic impact of $12 trillion by 2035 as mobile technology changes away from connecting people to other people and information, and towards connecting us to everything.

Some experts believe the effects of 5G will be enormous and almost instantaneous, transforming the way we live. It will have a huge effect on the internet of things, for instance, making it possible for us to live in a more instant, much more connected world with more interactions with ‘smart objects’ every day. Driverless cars that ‘talk’ to the road and virtual and augmented reality to help us as we go could become part of our everyday lives.

Others see 5G as a revolution that will begin almost immediately, but which could take many years to materialise. The principal reason for this is the sheer level of investment required.

The frequencies being used to carry the signal from the proposed 5G devices can provide an enormous amount of bandwidth, and carry unimaginable amounts of data at incredible speeds. But they cannot carry it very far. And the volume of devices connected to this network will be enormous. The BBC estimates that between 50 and 100 billion devices will be connected to the internet by 2020 – more than 12 for every single person on Earth.

So in order to support the huge increase in connectivity that is anticipated a reality, there will be a need for a comparably large increase in the number of base stations – with as many as 500,000 more estimated to be needed in the UK alone. That’s around three times as many base stations as required for 4G.

To carry the amount of data anticipated without catastrophic losses in signal quality will require the stations to be no more than 500m apart. While that may be technically possible in cities, it will only happen as a result of huge amounts of investment. And what will happen in the countryside, with its lower population density? It seems doubtful in the extreme that any corporation will regard it as a potentially profitable business decision to build a network of base stations half a kilometre apart in areas where few of their customers live. And that’s without taking into account the town and country planning system or the views of residents, who may not welcome new base stations near their homes.

Until this year, the only two workable examples of functional 5G networks are one built by Samsung in Seoul, South Korea, and another by Huawei in Moscow in advance of the 2020 Football World Cup. Although the first UK mobile networks have now begun to offer the new communications standard, 5G is still clearly a long way from being able to deliver on its potential.

What will 5G mean for the world of energy?

A report from Accenture contains a number of predictions about how 5G may change the energy world by helping to increase energy efficiency overall and accelerating the development of the Smart Grid.

  1. 5G uses less power than previous generations of wireless technology

This means that less energy will be used for each individual connection, which will take less time to complete than with 4G devices, thereby saving energy and ultimately money too. It is important to remember that even though such savings will be significant, they will need to be offset against the huge global increase in communications through 5G-connected devices.

  1. Accelerating the Smart Grid to improve forecasting

5G has the potential to help us manage energy generation and transmission more efficiently, and therefore more cost-effectively.

The report’s authors anticipate that “By allowing many unconnected energy-consuming devices to be integrated into the grid through low-cost 5G connections, 5G enables these devices to be more accurately monitored to support better forecasting of energy needs.

  1. Improve demand side management and reduce costs

 “By connecting these energy-consuming devices using a smart grid, demand-side management will be further enhanced to support load balancing, helping reduce electricity peaks and ultimately energy costs.”

  1. Manage energy infrastructure more efficiently and reduce downtime

By sharing data about energy use through 5G connections, the new technology can help ensure that spending on energy infrastructure is managed more efficiently, based on data, in order to reduce the amount of downtime.

And in the event of any failure, smart grid technology connected by 5G will be able to provide an instant diagnosis – right to the level of which pylon or transmitter is the cause of an outage – making it easier to remedy the situation and get the grid up and running again.

5G could even help turn street lighting off at times when there are no pedestrians or vehicles in the area, again reducing energy use, carbon emissions, and costs. Accenture estimate that in the US alone, this technology has the potential to save as much as $1 billion every year.

More data, more power

Although 5G devices themselves may demand less power than the telecoms technology it they will eventually replace, that doesn’t tell the whole story.

More connected devices with more data flowing between them relies on more data centres. This has led some data centres to sign Power Purchase Agreements to both reduce the cost of their insatiable desire for electricity and also ensure its provenance.

Data centre

As well as data centres, the more numerous base stations needed for 5G will consume a lot of power. One global mobile network provider says just to operate its existing base stations leads to a £650m electricity bill annually, accounting for 65% of its overall power consumption.

Base station tower

Contrary to the findings of the Accenture report, a recent estimate has put the power requirement of an individual 5G base station at three times that of a 4G. Keeping in mind that three of these are needed for every existing base station, the analysis by Zhengmao Li of China Mobile, suggests a nine-fold increase in electricity consumption just for that key part of a 5G network.

With the Great Britain power system decarbonising at a rapid pace, the additional power required to electrify the economy with new technologies shouldn’t have a negative environmental impact – at least when it comes to energy generation.

However, as we use ever-more powerful and numerous devices, we need to ensure our power system has the flexibility to deliver electricity whatever the weather conditions. This means a smarter grid with more backup power in the form of spinning turbines and storage.

How clean is my electric car?

Birmingham UK Spaghetti Junction aerial with city centre background

Electric vehicles are fast becoming mainstream. There are now well over 200,000 on Britain’s roads, and this number is growing by 30% per year. 1 in 40 cars sold in Britain is now electric, around one third of which are pure battery models, and two thirds are plug-in hybrid.[1]

This radical shift is just beginning though. Britain’s electric vehicle fleet is expected to expand ten-fold over the next five to ten years. In more optimistic scenarios, half of all vehicles on the road could be electric just fifteen years from now.[2]

While many see EVs as the cleanest way to drive, they are still the subject of much speculation. Recent criticisms range from a UK government report saying they won’t end air pollution[3] to a string of studies (often debunked) claiming they emit more CO2 than diesel equivalents.[4]

The arguments are simple: how can it be cleaner to swap a petrol car for electric if it is recharged using electricity from dirty coal or gas? Secondly, how can electric vehicles ‘repay’ the energy needed for mining lithium and to assemble the huge batteries that power them?

We review academic studies of battery manufacture and use data from Electric Insights to answer these questions.  On average Britain’s EVs emit just one quarter the CO2 of conventional petrol and diesel vehicles. If the carbon emitted in making their battery is included, this rises to only half the CO2 of a conventional vehicle. Electric vehicles bought today could be emitting just a tenth that of a petrol car in five years’ time, as the electricity system is widely expected to continue moving towards low-carbon sources.

Manufacturing each kWh of battery emits a similar amount of carbon as burning through one full tank of petrol.[5] Electric vehicles typically have a battery capacity ranging from 30 kWh for small city hatchbacks up to 100 kWh for top-end models – manufacturing the latter emits as much carbon as three round-the-world flights. More CO2 is emitted in building the battery for premium EV model than from the recharging it over a 15-year lifetime.[6]

However, the most efficient EV models could need just two to three years of driving to save the amount of carbon emitted in producing their batteries. Smaller EVs with modest battery sizes are better for the environment; whereas the largest luxury EV models could need three times longer to pay back their carbon cost.

Hatchbacks

Small hatchbacks are the best-selling type of electric vehicles, led by the Nissan Leaf. They are also the cleanest to drive as they are small and light. Electric models currently emit around 33 grams of CO2 per km driven, which is one quarter that of the most popular conventional vehicle, a 2019 Ford Fiesta.

Volkwagen e-up! electric car showcased at the Frankfurt IAA Motor Show 2017.

These electric models typically come with a 30-45 kWh battery, which pushes their lifetime emissions up around 60 g/km. This is still less than half the emissions of a petrol or diesel car. With the projected changes to the grid mix, this will fall to less than one third of a standard car in just five years’ time.

EV models: Nissan Leaf, Renault Zoe, Volkswagen e-Golf and e-Up, Hyundai Kona and BMW i3

Battery size: 39 kWh on average (31–46 kWh central range)

Lifetime carbon content of the battery: 26 g/km driven on average (18–34 g/km central range)

Emissions with 2018/19 grid mix: 28–38 g/km from recharging, 45–72 g/km including battery

Emissions with 2025 grid mix: 12–20 g/km from recharging, 28–52 g/km including battery

Luxury

Luxury saloons and SUV models include the iconic Tesla Models S and X, and the new Jaguar i-Pace. These are much larger and need more energy to move, meaning they have higher emissions than hatchbacks, at 44-54 g/km. This is still just a quarter of the emissions from a comparable conventional car (a top of the range Mercedes S-Class).

Jaguar I Pace EV

The lifetime emissions of these luxury EVs are notably higher though, pushed up by the enormous 90-100 kWh batteries they use to provide a driving range of over 250 miles. These batteries are responsible for more CO2 emissions than driving the car over its entire lifetime.

Models considered: Jaguar i-Pace, Tesla Model S and Model X

Battery size: 97 kWh on average (90–100 kWh central range)

Lifetime carbon content of the battery: 63 g/km driven on average (47–80 g/km central range)

Emissions with 2018/19 grid mix: 44–54 g/km from recharging, 92–133 g/km including battery

Emissions with 2025 grid mix: 19–29 g/km from recharging, 63–103 g/km including battery

Vans

Electric vans are quickly taking off, with over 8,000 sold in Britain to date. Their performance is comparable to small hatchbacks, and they also currently emit around a quarter of the CO2 of the most popular conventional van, with around 40 g/km.

A white Nissan e-NV200 electric van makes deliveries in London.

With their 30–40 kWh battery pack included, this rises to just below half the CO2 of a small Ford Transit.

Models considered: Nissan e-NV200 and Renault Kangoo

Battery size: 37 kWh on average (33–40 kWh central range)

Lifetime carbon content of the battery: 24 g/km driven on average (18–31 g/km central range)

Emissions with 2018/19 grid mix: 37–43 g/km from recharging, 54–74 g/km including battery

Emissions with 2025 grid mix: 15–23 g/km from recharging32–52 g/km including battery

Payback time

A typical driver filling their car up once a month and driving around 7,500 miles per year will produce one and a half tonnes of CO2 per year in a modern petrol or diesel hatchback. An electric vehicle doing the same mileage would take 4 years to produce this amount.

With a conventional vehicle, there is no scope for reducing emissions over its lifetime, as petrol and diesel fuels cannot become carbon-free.  On the contrary, National Grid expect the carbon content of Britain’s electricity to continue falling, so that an electric vehicle bought now will be emitting half as much CO2 in 2025 as it does today.

It is inconceivable that an electric vehicle in the UK could be more polluting than its conventional equivalent.  This would require electricity to have a carbon intensity of around 850–950 g/kWh, values not seen since the 1960s.[7]

Electric vehicles can be thought of as having an upfront ‘carbon cost’ for manufacturing the battery, which can then be ‘repaid’ through lower emissions as they are driven.  With Britain’s current grid electricity (producing 205 g/kWh), smaller electric cars and vans will take between 2 and 4 years to have saved the amount of CO2 than was emitted in making their batteries.  For the larger luxury models, it will take more like 5–6 years of driving to pay back that carbon.

With each passing year as the electricity mix gets cleaner, this payback time will continue to fall, and the environmental credentials of electric vehicles will keep growing stronger.

About this study

The fuel economy and climate impact of vehicles are measured by the government through the amount of CO2 they release for every kilometre driven. The UK’s most popular car, the Ford Fiesta, emits around 120 g/km in its cleanest models and 160 g/km in the sportier versions.[9]  Electric vehicles don’t emit any CO2 while driving, but the power system does when producing the electricity needed to recharge them.

Britain’s power system has changed dramatically over the last five years, with carbon emissions halving and the share of coal generation falling from 36% to just 3%. One kWh of electricity in Britain is now contains 204 grams[10] of CO2, less than the carbon released from burning one kWh of petrol. An electric vehicle can drive up to four times further on 1 kWh than a petrol or diesel car could, because electric motors are so much more efficient.

The charts above look at three categories of vehicle – small hatchbacks, luxury saloons and SUVs, and small commercial vans. Each chart shows how the carbon emissions from an electric vehicle have fallen over the past decade, and how they are expected to continue falling in the years to come. The charts consider changes to the electricity generation mix used for recharging,[11] and a gradual reduction in emissions from battery manufacture as the electricity mix changes in other countries.[12]

The range in direct emissions from recharging (the dark blue bands) covers the main EV models currently on sale in each segment, and variants on each model available.  The top of each band (highest emissions) shows the least efficient EV model, the bottom of each band (lowest emissions) shows the most efficient. In the forecast, these bands also include the range of emissions factors for electricity production coming from National Grid’s scenarios.

There is a larger range in the estimated whole-lifecycle emissions (the lighter blue bands) due to the additional uncertainty in the emissions caused by manufacturing 1 kWh of battery capacity, and the range of battery sizes seen across EV models.

Studies have estimated a wide range of emissions, depending on the type of battery type, its design, where it is manufactured and how old the study is.  Current estimates range from 40 up to 200 kg of CO2 emitted per kWh of battery capacity.[13] We take the average across eight studies and assume 75–125 kgCO2 per kWh. The true value may be less than this, as end-of-life batteries could be recycled,[14] or could be repurposed as a second-life home or grid storage batteries. It will also reduce in future as the electricity used to make batteries is decarbonised, or as more factories switch to 100% renewable energy (as has the US Tesla Gigafactory).


Read full Report (PDF)   |  Read full Report   |   Read press release


How electric planes could help clean up the skies

Turbine blades of turbo jet engine for passenger plane, aircraft concept, aviation and aerospace industry

You probably haven’t heard the phrase “flygskam” before. But you might have felt it. The recently coined Swedish term refers to the a shame or embarrassment caused by flying and its effect of the environment.

It’s not an uncommon feeling either, with 23% of people in the country now claiming to have abstained from air travel in the past year to lessen their climate impact. From electric cars to cleaner shipping, transport is undergoing dramatic change. However, aviation is proving more difficult to decarbonise than most forms of transportation.

As airports, cargo and the number of passengers flying every day continues to expand, the need to decarbonise air travel is more pressing than ever if aviation is to avoid becoming a barrier to climate action.

For other transport sectors facing a similar dilemma, electrification has proved a key route forward. Could the electrification of aeroplanes be next?

The problem with planes

Aeroplanes still rely on fossil fuels to provide the huge amount of power needed for take-off. Globally flights produced 859 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) in 2017. The aviation industry as a whole accounts for 2% of all emissions derived from human activity and 12% of all transport emissions. Despite growing awareness of the contribution CO2 emissions make to causing the climate change emergency, estimates show global air traffic could quadruple by 2050.

Electrification of air travel presents the potential to drastically cut plane emissions, while also offering other benefits. Electric planes could be 50% quieter, with reduced aircraft noise pollution potentially enabling airports to operate around the clock and closer to cities.

Electric planes could also be as much as 10% cheaper for airlines to operate, by eliminating the massive expense of jet fuel, and fewer moving parts making electric motors easier to maintain compared to traditional jets. These cost savings for airlines could be passed on to passengers and businesses needing to move goods in the form of cheaper flights.

But while the benefits are obvious, the pressing question is, how feasible is it?

The race to electric planes

Start ups are now racing to develop electric planes that will reduce emissions – such Ampaire and Wright Electric. The latter has even partnered with EasyJet to develop electric planes for short-haul routes of around 335-mile distances, which make up a fifth of the budget carrier’s routes.

EasyJet going electric? (Source: easyjet.com)

EasyJet has highlighted London to Amsterdam as a key route they hope Wright Electric’s planes will operate, with potential for other zero-emission flights between London and Belfast, Dublin, Paris and Brussels. The partners aim to have an electric passenger jets on the tarmac by 2027.

Ahead on the runway, however, is Israeli firm Eviation, which recently debuted a prototype for the world’s first commercial all-electric passenger aircraft. Named ‘Alice’ the craft is expected to carry nine passengers for 650 miles and could be up and running as early as 2022.

The challenge these companies face, however, is developing the batteries needed to power electric motors capable of delivering the propulsion needed for a plane full of passengers and luggage to take off. Currently, batteries don’t have anywhere near the energy density of traditional kerosene jet fuel – 60% less.

Alice’s battery is colossal, weighing 3.8 metric tons and accounting for 60% of the plane’s overall weight. By contrast, traditional planes allocate around 30% of total weight to fuel. As conventional jets burn fuel, they get lighter, whereas electric planes would have to carry the same battery weight for the full duration of a flight.

Closer to home, on Scotland’s Orkney Islands, electric planes could be perfectly suited to replace expensive jet fuel on the region’s super-short island hopping service. There’s little need for range-anxiety, with the longest flight, from Kirkwall to North Ronaldsay, lasting just 20 minutes and the shortest taking less than two minutes, between the tiny islands of Papa Westray and neighbouring Westray.

Orkney is already known for its renewable credentials, exporting more wind-generated power to the grid than it is able to consume. The local council plans to investigate retrofitting its eight-seater aircraft, which carried more than 21,000 passengers last year, with electric motors as early as 2022.

Taking electric long haul

The planes currently under development by Ampaire, Wright Electric and Eviation are small aircraft, only capable of short distance flights. This is a long way behind the lengths capable of traditional fossil fuel-powered jets built by airline industry stalwarts, Airbus and Boeing, which are making their own move into electrification.

Ampaire: electric but only for short distances (Source: Ampaire.com)

Even with drastic developments in battery technology, however, Airbus estimates its long-haul A320 airliner, which seats between 100 and 240 passengers, would only be able to fly for a fifth of its range as an electric plane and only manage to carry half its regular cargo load. Elsewhere, French jet engine-maker Safran predicts that full-size, battery-powered commercial aircraft won’t become a reality until 2050 at the earliest.

However, if going fully electric may not yet be possible for large, long-haul planes, hybrid aircraft, which use both conventional and electric power, offer a potential middle ground.

A team comprising Rolls-Royce, Airbus and Siemens are working on a project set to launch in 2021 called E-Fan X, which would combine an electric motor with a BAE 146 aircraft’s jet engine.

Airbus say they may have to reduce their cargo to go electric (Source: www.airbus.com)

Hybrid models aim to use electric engines as the power source for the energy-intensive take-off and landing processes, saving jet fuel and reducing noise around airports. Then, while the plane is in the air, it would switch to conventional kerosene engines, which are most efficient when the plane reaches cruising altitude. Airbus aims to introduce a hybrid version of their best-selling single-aisle A320 passenger jet by 2035.

While start ups and established jet makers jostle to get electric and hybrid planes off the ground, there are other ideas around reducing aviation emissions.

Technology of the future for decarbonising planes

The University of Illinois is working with NASA to develop hydrogen fuel cells capable of powering all-electric air travel. Hydrogen fuel cells work by combining hydrogen and oxygen to cause a chemical reaction that generates an electric current. While the ingredients are very light, the problem is they are bulky to store, and on planes making effective use of space is key.

Researchers are combatting this by experimenting with cryogenically freezing the gases into liquids which makes them more space-efficient to store, but makes refuelling trickier as airports would need the infrastructure to work with the freezing liquids.

There have also been experiments into solar-powered planes. In 2016, a team of Swiss adventurers succeeded in flying around the world in an aircraft that uses solar panels on its wings to power its propellers. With a wingspan wider than a Boeing 747, but weighing just a fraction of a traditional jet, the Solar Impulse 2 is capable of staying airborne for as long as six days, though only able to carry a lone pilot.

Solar Impulse 2 has great staying power

While the feat is impressive the Solar Impulse team says the aim was to showcase the advancement of solar technology, rather than develop solar planes for mainstream usage.

Elsewhere, MIT engineers have been working on the first ever plane with no moving parts in its propulsion system. Instead, the model uses ionic wind – a silent but hugely powerful flow of ions produced aboard the plane. Ionic wind is created when a current is passed between a thick and thin electrode. With enough voltage applied, the air between the electrodes produces thrust capable of propelling a small aircraft steadily during flight. MIT hope that ionic wind systems could be paired with conventional jets to make hybrid planes for a range of uses.

A general blueprint for an MIT plane propelled by ionic wind (Source: MIT Electric Aircraft Initiative, news.mit.edu)

Like any emerging technology, it will take time to develop these alternative power sources to reach the point where they can safely and securely serve the global aviation industry.

However, it’s clear that the transition away from fossil fuels is underway.

Flying as we know it has been slow to adapt, but with a growing awareness and levels of “flygskam” among consumers, there is greater pressure on the industry to decarbonise and lay out positive solutions to cleaner air travel.

Climate change is the biggest challenge of our time

Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner

Climate change is the biggest challenge of our time and Drax has a crucial role in tackling it.

All countries around the world need to reduce carbon emissions while at the same time growing their economies. Creating enough clean, secure energy for industry, transport and people’s daily lives has never been more important.

Drax is at the heart of the UK energy system. Recently the UK government committed to delivering a net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and Drax is equally committed to helping make that possible.

We’ve recently had some questions about what we’re doing and I’d like to set the record straight.

How is Drax helping the UK reach its climate goals?

At Drax we’re committed to a zero-carbon, lower-cost energy future.

And we’ve accelerated our efforts to help the UK get off coal by converting our power station to using sustainable biomass. And now we’re the largest decarbonisation project in Europe.

We’re exploring how Drax Power Station can become the anchor to enable revolutionary technologies to capture carbon in the North of England.

And we’re creating more energy stability, so that more wind and solar power can come onto the grid.

And finally, we’re helping our customers take control of their energy – so they can use it more efficiently and spend less.

Is Drax the largest carbon polluter in the UK?

No. Since 2012 we’ve reduced our CO2 emissions by 84%. In that time, we moved from being western Europe’s largest polluter to being the home of the largest decarbonisation project in Europe.

And we want to do more.

We’ve expanded our operations to include hydro power, storage and natural gas and we’ve continued to bring coal off the system.

By the mid 2020s, our ambition is to create a power station that both generates electricity and removes carbon from the atmosphere at the same time.

Does building gas power stations mean the UK will be tied into fossil fuels for decades to come?

Our energy system is changing rapidly as we move to use more wind and solar power.

At the same time, we need new technologies that can operate when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining.

A new, more efficient gas plant can fill that gap and help make it possible for the UK to come off coal before the government’s deadline of 2025.

Importantly, if we put new gas in place we need to make sure that there’s a route through for making that zero-carbon over time by being able to capture the CO2 or by converting those power plants into hydrogen.

Are forests destroyed when Drax uses biomass and is biomass power a major source of carbon emissions?

No.

Sustainable biomass from healthy managed forests is helping decarbonise the UK’s energy system as well as helping to promote healthy forest growth.

Biomass has been a critical element in the UK’s decarbonisation journey. Helping us get off coal much faster than anyone thought possible.

The biomass that we use comes from sustainably managed forests that supply industries like construction. We use residues, like sawdust and waste wood, that other parts of industry don’t use.

We support healthy forests and biodiversity. The biomass that we use is renewable because the forests are growing and continue to capture more carbon than we emit from the power station.

What’s exciting is that this technology enables us to do more. We are piloting carbon capture with bioenergy at the power station. Which could enable us to become the first carbon-negative power station in the world and also the anchor for new zero-carbon cluster across the Humber and the North.

How do you justify working at Drax?

I took this job because Drax has already done a tremendous amount to help fight climate change in the UK. But I also believe passionately that there is more that we can do.

I want to use all of our capabilities to continue fighting climate change.

I also want to make sure that we listen to what everyone else has to say to ensure that we continue to do the right thing.

Acquisition Bridge Facility refinancing completed

Private placement

The £375 million private placement with infrastructure lenders comprises facilities with maturities between 2024 and 2029(2).

ESG Facility

The £125 million ESG facility matures in 2022. The facility includes a mechanism that adjusts the margin based on Drax’s carbon emissions against an annual benchmark, recognising Drax’s continued commitment to reducing its carbon emissions as part of its overall purpose of enabling a zero-carbon, lower cost energy future.

Together these facilities extend the Group’s debt maturity profile beyond 2027 and reduce the Group’s overall cost of debt to below 4 percent. 

Enquiries:

Drax Investor Relations:
Mark Strafford
+44 (0) 1757 612 491

Media:

Drax External Communications:
Matt Willey
+44 (0) 7711 376 087 

Website: www.drax.com

Note

(1)  Drax Corporate Limited drew £550 million under an acquisition bridge facility on 2 January 2019 used to partially fund the acquisition of ScottishPower Generation Limited for initial net consideration of £687 million. £150 million of the acquisition bridge facility was repaid on 16 May 2019.

(2)  £122.5 million in 2024, £122.5 million in 2025, £80 million in 2026 and £50 million in 2029.