Year 2019 news

We commissioned 8 new gas turbine generators and did work in Australia, Belarus, Italy, Poland, Tunisia, UAE and the UK.  We completed more G59 witnessed testing this year, for embedded generation, than ever before.  This is only set to increase with National Grid’s requirement to update all G59 protection to the latest settings via the Accelerated Loss of Mains Change Programme.  We continue to be the lead commissioning engineers on a major 132/11kV substation upgrade in the UK and to consult for other generation projects both large and small.  We enjoyed more work within the Energy from Waste sector operating as a consultant to a major operator across numerous sites.  We continue to tackle any issues that are raised by our clients and relish the opportunity to take on even the most complex problems.  We continue to employ new graduates from top universities and thereby expect to secure our future.   

Energy from waste

We do support the use of energy from waste plant and we are pleased to have an important client who owns several such power stations in the UK.  Here the industry takes in municipal waste - essentially the content of our wheelie bins.  They make a charge for doing this and they burn everything combustible.  This then makes steam in a conventional boiler and steam turbines are used to make electricity which is sold to the Grid.  This saves on landfill costs and gets rid of waste plastics that cannot be used for anything else and so avoids contaminating our seas and our fish.  Every country should do the same.  The typical range of net electrical energy that can be produced is 500 - 600 kWh of electricity per ton of waste incinerated. Thus, 2,200 tons per day of waste produces 1.2 million kWh of electricity from a 50MW generator.  The white smoke from the tall chimney is mostly water vapour from the combustion process.  There is some CO2 also, but it is invisible.  Water vapour probably has a negative effect on warming i.e. it causes cooling.  The two stubby cooling towers in the foreground emit pure water vapour.  They deal with the hot water from the steam turbine cycle, the tell-tale sign of steam powered generation.

Electricity and Hydrogen

Perhaps we should not be surprised that research labs are looking at producing hydrogen by electrolysing sea water and then diluting natural gas with the hydrogen derived.  These days, academics and industrial research labs follow the money. They will do any research and development needed, if government pays.  Hydrogen is a very poor fuel in terms joules per Kg.  It burns at a low temperature at normal atmospheric pressure.  Also, it is slippery and difficult to contain.  The result of burning hydrogen in air is another well known gas, water vapour, H2O.  This is a completely carbon free process and so it inspires the younger generations.  If we look at the proposition unemotionally, the picture is different.  British Gas, we are told, have agreed in principle to accept hydrogen to dilute offshore natural gas by a percent point or two.  This hydrogen is the output from 2,000 MW of offshore wind turbines in the UK North Sea.  The cost of these wind turbines totals about £6 Billion capital cost.  It seems nonsensical to spend so much money producing electricity and  then to waste it by making hydrogen to burn in domestic central heating boilers.  Electrical energy is very valuable.  Having obtained it, we should not waste it.
This diagram is from the US Institute for Energy Research and so uses some strange terminology. Despatchable means Can be adjusted to meet demand.   Solar Thermal is about collecting sunlight using reflectors and making steam to drive turbines to produce electricity – a nice idea but look at the cost.  This technology is now largely replaced by photovoltaic solar, which has come down in price.  What the diagram does show is that offshore wind is very, very expensive to build and to operate.  On-shore wind has come down in price and is now competitive with coal - but only works when it is windy.  What the diagram does not show is the cost of providing full backup for intermittent generation from wind.  This is the main reason why electricity bills for everyone are now twice the level they would otherwise be, which hurts the poorest most.  The best generation is from Combined Cycle gas Power Stations and they produce most of the electricity in the UK.  They are 57% efficient which is actually very good and they produce CO2 as a by-product.

Climate change targets

2019 was the year plans were made to do extraordinary things.  The most extraordinary was a Parliamentary Bill to make it the law for the UK to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050.  This was introduced by prime Minister Theresa May in her attempt to leave a legacy to the country when she retired in July 2019.  Once passed, as is always the case in the UK, the law was adopted with enthusiasm.  We say it was gold plated by engineers throughout the power industry and became part of a massive amount of planning to achieve the specified, though almost impossible, 2050 target.

It is obviously not possible to run a modern economy without burning any fossil fuel.  We are not talking electricity generation alone.  That is but a part of UK energy.  We are talking all transport – cars, road transport vehicles of all kinds, trains, planes, ships, home heating and cooking and many many industrial processes.  We suppose our politicians in Parliament voted through the law because they honestly believed they must to do it to save the planet from warming by a couple of degrees.  They would also know that they were making a law that does not bite until 30 years in the future.  A lot can happen in that time. 

Battery powered cars are possible, we know that, but lorries and planes and ships are another matter.  We simply do not have the technology and we do not even know how to dream of it.

All the main UK political parties subscribe to the Climate Change issue - something they do believe must be solved, somehow.  A UK Conservative party committee spent some time dreaming about battery powered planes and decided to ask British Aerospace whether it could design such a thing. They nominated a young representative to visit the company and ask the question.  The considered reply was simply No.

Most people forget that CO2 in the atmosphere is the basic ingredient of all life on earth.  Carbon atoms are the main component of everything that lives.  CO2 is also the conduit for all the energy needed by all life.  Current concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is a measly 0.04%.  The extinction level for life is 0.015%.

The link between CO2  and dangerous climate change is not proved to the satisfaction of most serious scientists.  

 The directors of the company thank all our staff and our clients and consultants and friends for their loyalty and trust during 2019.

We wish them all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year.


John Sanderson, Director, December 2019