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Charles Clover's strange gas number

Charles Clover, writing in the Sunday Times (paywalled) seems to have a different understanding of the UK's shale resource to me:

Despite Tory hopes, the most optimistic estimates suggest there will be only enough shale gas — home-fracked or imported — to satisfy 15% of demand in a decade’s time, and we are likely to  need that for industry and to heat our homes, not to generate electricity. The Tory frackers should reflect that it is their own rural Nimbys who are likely to ensure fracking moves more slowly on this crowded island than in the US.

This report from a year or two ago seems to suggest something very different.

He's right about the nimbies though.

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Reader Comments (35)

Tim Worstall tells it his own way. Warning, not for the easily offended.

Sep 30, 2012 at 10:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterGrumpy Old Man

Whatever the numbers, the true lunacy is burning gas to generate electricity and suffer the around 45% loss in efficiency while doing so. Gas travels down pipes with very little resistance to arrive perfectly ready to give up 100% of its calorific value. If you want an energy policy with low emissions then its nukes for electricity and gas for heat with all the hydro you can arrange. The 45% loss of gas to electricity goes straight to atmospheric CO2 without doing any work and even if that is of no concern to you, throwing away 45% of what you have bought/own should be.

Sep 30, 2012 at 10:58 AM | Unregistered Commenterssat

Tim Worstall tells it like it is. Warning, not for the faint-hearted.

Sep 30, 2012 at 11:01 AM | Unregistered CommenterGrumpy Old Man

I suppose that ssat is supplied with gas. Lucky man.
No gas in our village only good old electricity and oil if you have a tank and can afford it.

Sep 30, 2012 at 11:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Marshall

I can't speak on behalf of NIMBYs, but when I oppose planning developments, I do so on planning grounds. If the benefits do not outweigh the harm, then I object. Thus I object to all wind turbine and solar farm applications because there is no demonstrable benefit (apart from to the pockets of developers and landowners - which is not a planning matter) to outweigh the harm to the landscape and peoples' amenity. For shale gas exploitation, there could be huge benefits to the country and to all people. Thus with careful siting, most applications should be acceptable. Given that planning officers and district councillors approve most wind turbine and solar farm applications when there is no demonstrable benefit and enormous harm, then these same people should have no problem approving all shale gas proposals. In theory.

Sep 30, 2012 at 11:41 AM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Sep 30, 2012 at 10:58 AM | ssat

Unfortunately it is the same for nuclear power stations. Their efficiency is about 30% to 33%.

Same with windmills. Their theoretical maximum efficiency is just short of 60% but in practice this drops to around 45% to 50%.

Its a hard world.

Sep 30, 2012 at 11:47 AM | Unregistered CommenterBrownedoff


Shouldn't that be the other way round ?

Sep 30, 2012 at 11:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Barrett

"Given that planning officers and district councillors approve most wind turbine and solar farm applications when there is no demonstrable benefit and enormous harm, then these same people should have no problem approving all shale gas proposals"

Yay! That makes utter sense. Give this man a job in the Government, FFS!

"In theory."

Oh, bugger.... why does a shadow pass over my soul at those words? Hands up all those who think that fracking is going to get as easy a ride as wind farms? Methinks the Green lobby will fight this tooth and nail at the planning stages. Oh battle at a time, I suppose.

Terrific words of simple wisdom which I am ashamed to admit had not occurred to me. You can only use a resource once. I have always thought something somewhat similar about the petrochemical industry. Future generations will not begrudge us having used it all up......just the wasteful way in which we did!

Sep 30, 2012 at 11:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterJack Savage


"Unfortunately it is the same for nuclear power stations. Their efficiency is about 30% to 33%."

Can you define what efficiency figure this is please?

The direct comparison with windmills is that they only generate 30% of the power they are capable of generating, but this isn't efficiency.

Sep 30, 2012 at 12:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterNial


The efficiency of a PWR is about 35%. When I have calculated the actual efficiencies of wind turbines (and it depends on the wind resource), they usually are around 25%.

Sep 30, 2012 at 12:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Philip, you aren't comparing two like quantities.

I presume the PWR figure is the amount of released energy that's converted to electricity.

Surely the equivalent figure for wind turbines is the amount of electricy they generate from a volume of wind at a specific velocity.

Averaging wind output to get a figure against nameplate capacity isn't efficiency, it's a crapness measure.

Sep 30, 2012 at 12:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterNial

Nial, inefficiency is crap.

Sep 30, 2012 at 12:42 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Averaging wind output to get a figure against nameplate capacity isn't efficiency, it's a crapness measure.

Exactly. Betz' law describes how no more than two-thirds of the kinetic energy in the wind can be extracted by a wind-powered turbine. See e.g.:

The efficiency of a turbine is meaningfully described by the percentage of that theoretical maximum that can be converted into electrical energy, the rest being dissipated as heat and, of course, noise. It turns out that the efficiency is high - I've seen figures quoted of over 95 per cent.

Load Factor is a different matter. LFs for nuclear and fossil-fuelled plant are determined by demand (though, obviously, plant availability also matters). LFs for renewables are not a function of demand but of fuel availability. The key difference between hydro-power and other "renewables" is that hydro's intermittency can be controlled by storing the fuel behind a dam until it is required.

Wind power output OTOH varies randomly and is not synchronised with demand. It is imposssible to cope with the random fluctuations without impinging on the efficiency of the plant whose output it purports to be displacing. Not for nothing has it been described as parasitic generation.

The interesting question then becomes how to describe those who advocate it in spite of its obvious flaws.

Sep 30, 2012 at 1:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterDaveB

Dear all,

I was just pointing out to ssat, in the simplest possible terms, that even his preferred option of electricity from nuclear power stations suffers from the same losses that he identified for gas-fired power stations.

Sorry about being a couple of points low for nuclear.

Thank you all for bringing me up-to-date on windmills - its worse than I thought.

Sep 30, 2012 at 1:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrownedoff


Its not an efficiency thing entirely - who wants to heat their home directly from a nuclear reactor. Nuclear is non-portable unless converted to electricity. The question is what is the most efficient use of gas and the answer satisfies both efficiency and emissions arguments.

Sep 30, 2012 at 1:57 PM | Unregistered Commenterssat

Regardless of whether we use gas to generate electricity, to heat our homes or to cook the Sunday roast; the estimates in the Telegraph article so short of reality as to be laughable.

Sep 30, 2012 at 2:06 PM | Registered CommenterDung

In reply to DaveB...

So in theory the efficiency of a wind turbine is ~ 95% of 66% so roughly 60%?

Having said that, this is nothing more than an interesting theoretical figure, when the wind drops 60% of 0 is still 0.

During the Spectator Edinburgh debate Niall Stuart said that the 'efficiency' of wind is ~30% whereas the efficiency of Nuclear is 'only' about 35%, this makes wind sound like a reasonable alternative.

This is a completely nonsensical statement and should be exposed as such.

Sep 30, 2012 at 2:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterNial


I calculated the efficiency for both cases as the electrical energy output divide by the energy input. In the nuclear case the energy input is the thermal energy from the fission and decay heat processes. In the wind case the energy input is the kinetic anergy of wind, integrated over time.

Sep 30, 2012 at 2:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhillip Bratby

In another example of spectacular journalistic incompetence the Sunday Times recently reported that there were only 100 adult cod in the North Sea. The Telegraph 'improved' this story to 100 in total:

The stupidity of both newspapers is beyond comprehension yet the story still did the rounds even getting as far as the Socialist Worker.

Sep 30, 2012 at 2:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobWansbeck

Sep 30, 2012 at 10:58 AM | ssat
Sep 30, 2012 at 1:57 PM | ssat

Can we go through your comments to check that I am understanding your point of view:

(1) We should not generate electricity by burning gas because 45% of the gas is wasted.

(2) We should have an energy policy with low emissions.

(3) Electricity is to be generated only by nuclear and hydro.

(4) Gas is to be reserved for domestic heating because it is efficient and produces low emissions.

Have I got that right?

Sep 30, 2012 at 3:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrownedoff

I haven't seen Clover's paywalled article, but his understanding of the UK's shale resources seems reasonably in line with that of the Institute of Directors' "Britain's shale gas potential" shale-boosting report linked here recently: see pages 8 to 9.

Sep 30, 2012 at 4:23 PM | Unregistered Commenteranonym

"Socialist Worker"- now there's an oxymoron for you!

Sep 30, 2012 at 4:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

Don Keiller
that's another keyboard been introduced to English Breakfast Tea:)

Sep 30, 2012 at 4:51 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

Brownedoff 3:48 PM

To answer your questions;

1. Why transform transmitable energy to another form incurring heavy losses in the process. Makes no sense when there are alternatives.

2. Not necessary in my opinion but I can't change it.

3. Makes sense in light of 2.

4. Gas should be used as efficiently as possible as should all fuels and with recognition of their physical properties and energy densities for any particular application. For example, coal is good for power stations and oil for transport. It was a political decision in the seventies that connected gas to power stations, not an engineering one. And it is politics again getting in the way of sense.

Sep 30, 2012 at 6:09 PM | Unregistered Commenterssat

Brownedoff (3:48PM) - I think ssat's point is that the conversion of the energy in gas, first into heating water to produce steam, then using the steam to drive generators, is inherently much less efficient than utilising 100% of it in directly heating our homes. The "waste" heat from any such process usually ends up warming water in cooling towers and producing clouds, which activists then photograph and call "pollution".

If we were to use the waste heat either directly - e.g. in district heating schemes - or indirectly - e.g. in lower temperature thermoelectric generators - then the overall efficiency of utilisation of the energy originally contained in the gas would improve. This applies, of course, to all means of steam generation - gas, coal, nuclear or whatever. I'd be more inclined towards developing better thermoelectric generators, as district heating isn't required all year round and the nimbies wouldn't want the larger numbers of smaller stations which would be required to maximise its efficiency.

Sep 30, 2012 at 6:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve C

When discussing efficiencies, do not overlook the energy it takes to build the thing. For instance, natural gas cannot by 100% for heating when you figure the energy to drill the well and to manufacture the steel to case the well and manufacture pipeline to bring the gas to the customer. I suspect it is good, but nowhere near 100% efficiency.

Thanks to shale gas, the price of natural gas in the USA is at a 10 year low.

I would like to know the time for payback in energy terms for a 1.5 MW (nameplate) wind turbine. Each windturbine should be thought of as a 'stripper well' , a term used in the USA for a well long past its prime and producing less than 10 bbls per day.

Another way to think about energy is that an acre-ft of coal can generate about 4000 MWhr of electricity. A 1.5 MW (nameplate) wind turbine generates (30% utilization rate) about 11 MWhr/day. About 13 months of wind generation = the electrical energy from one acre-ft of coal. In the USA, an acre-ft of coal costs $18,000 (Black Thunder, Wyoming) to $100,000 (Appalachian). That is, of course, after you paid the energy price to mine and refine the rare-earth magnets and manufacture and construct the turbine ---- never mind the OCGT you need for backup.

Sep 30, 2012 at 6:13 PM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Rasey

ssat (6:10PM) - Looks like we're pretty much in agreement ...

Sep 30, 2012 at 6:15 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve C

Sep 30, 2012 at 6:09 PM | ssat

Re 1: around the world every working day millions of professional engineers do just that to improve the lot of the rest of us.

Re 2: we are in agreement that it is not necessary.

Re 3: in the light of 2, then your proposal of only nuclear and hydro makes no sense at all.

Re 4: from 1957 to 1990 in the UK the provision of new power stations was organised by the Central Electricity Generating Board which was stuffed to the gunwales with graduate engineers of all the disciplines required.

Because of this, all manner of fuels (except gas) were exploited and there was a rolling programme of constructing new power stations, with steadily increasing efficiencies, and it was unusual if a power station lived beyond 30 years or so.

Then nuclear power stations were called "atomic" power stations and with connotations to Hiroshima etc. there was pressure to stop the programme. Then the coal mining was destroyed by some of the the people who were employed in the industry. This meant that nuclear and coal were politicized and fell out of favour.

Up until about 1990 (IIRC) it was illegal to burn gas for electricity generation because gas was thought to be more useful as a feedstock. I think your reference to the 1970s for gas-fired generation is incorrect.

Around this time engineers informed the government that, as coal and nuclear were "unpopular", they could only build gas-turbine driven generators, distillate was too expensive, thus the only feasible fuel was gas. Therefore, unless this ban on gas was repealed, the lights would go out. Fortunately, there was just enough knowledge in the government at that time to recognise what the engineers were saying was correct and so the first dash for gas commenced.

There is still a very large cohort of engineers in the power station game but they are stymied by the government at every turn; endless lines of hoops to jump through plus the uncertainty of what stupid move the political clowns will produce next.

Would you want to build new nuclear power stations (@£2 billion/GW) knowing that they could be shut down with no notice at all upon the whim of a Chancellor or Prime Minister.

Would you want to build a fleet of CCGTs (@£1 billion/2GW), which incidentally have to be Carbon Capture Ready as constructed, and face the uncertainty that at some time in the future some gormless Minister says that he is satisfied that CCS is commercially feasible and therefore just get on with it or lose your operating licence.

Politics is always getting in the way.

Sep 30, 2012 at 8:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterBrownedoff

@ssat et al re efficiency

Efficiency is only one of many considerations. Gas piped to the home for heating is efficient, but not fungible. It may only be exchanged for heat. Electricity is fungible and considerably more portable than gas. Riding your bike to the market is certainly efficient, about 40Cal per mile, but the efficiency might be traded for something more comfortable, or faster, or able to carry the week's groceries; your car.

As for electrical generation, your suggestion that hydro and nuclear are the best choices may be right in some cases. Hydro severely limited by terrain and ecological concerns. Nuclear faces ever changing regulatory barriers. That pretty much leaves coal and gas as generator fuels.

Coal is being regulated out of existence by idiots, but does have other disadvantages. Compared to gas, coal requires a huge infrastructure in marshaling yards and stockpiles unless built at the mine. Gas is much more an on-demand deliverable. Gas is also cleaner burning than coal, though modern furnaces and filtration systems can make up for most, if not all, of the difference.

The waste heat is not best dealt with by piping it to apartment high-rises in some scheme or other. Distribution is wasteful and demand is seasonal at best. Co-location with some industrial plant that can use the low energy steam is a much better bet.

Sep 30, 2012 at 8:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterGary Turner

Yes, gas powered local heat and power would be even better. The electricity is generated 'locally' so transmission cost are reduced and the 'waste heat' would be available for domestic heating.

There are models available that work in the home, but I was speaking to a gas engineer and he said that there would need to be extra training needed as most domestic-gas engineers are not qualified in power generation. It may even require three phase power technology.

We used to have a gas tumble drier, and it worked well but, eventually we change to an electric one as we couldn't find an engineer to service the gas version!

Sep 30, 2012 at 8:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobert Christopher


The IOD obviously knows diddly squat about the UK's shale gas resources hehe

Oct 1, 2012 at 12:23 AM | Registered CommenterDung

Charles Clover published a Shale Gas friendly article in the Times a while ago where he also challenges the motives of the usual suspects, it was repeated at the GWPF site but the link no longer works while they are being restored. Found copies at other places and include part of it here. Quite strong considering his general stance on these matters. His current stance maybe a result of re-education after this article. :)

"So what accounts for the irrational rage against shale gas we heard again from Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF last week? The most shockingly naive was WWF, which headlined its press release: "Shale gas incompatible with addressing climate change". That is not true if you are talking about China, India, America or, much closer to home, Poland or Germany, which depend on coal. China will frack and it will be a good thing.

In Britain, where the coal industry has been in decline since the 1980s, we may arguably generate too much gas in the 2030s to meet our carbon reduction targets if we let shale gas rip. However, the danger that we will have too much gas-burning capacity is manageable and a mere sideshow compared with two much larger problems. The first is simply keeping the lights on after 2016 (at least six of our coal plants are to close by the end of 2015 and all but one of our nuclear power stations will cease production by 2023). The second is keeping energy prices at an affordable level so consumers will swallow the cost of subsidising renewables and nuclear for the future.

True, there is a concern that shale gas extraction could leak methane into the atmosphere, thereby releasing the same amount of carbon as coal. But most experts think that methane leakage from fracking will turn out to be far less than from coal mines. So why isn't the green lobby at least considering saying: "Let's beat climate change, let's frack"? When it comes to the global picture, the greens' dependence on the mantra of renewables now looks part of the problem.

I detect something else behind the "shale rage" of the European greens. They got too close to the present renewables industries and let governments hand out subsidies without enough competition over price. They thought gas would get so expensive that renewables would look cheap by comparison.

They were wrong. Instead of getting angry with the frackers, they should adapt their thinking to a world in which gas prices could fall, and persuade governments to spend some of the money we will save on a generation of renewables that might actually solve our problems."

Oct 1, 2012 at 12:57 AM | Unregistered CommenterMick J

Some discussion here about "waste" heat, energy efficiency and so on.

I'm all for waste minimisation and efficient use of everything as long as it actually makes sense.

Unfortunately, the "waste" meme has become one of the favourite senseless Greenie red herrings.

(Green Herrings?)

I think we can all recall debates on whether the heat output of incandescent light bulbs is actually always "wasted".

And about the "wasteage" of water whilst we clean our teeth. And so on, endlessly.

If I enjoy my breakfast kipper, am I "wasting" the skin and bones? How about the hot water I throw away? (Not so keen on microwaved kippers, and even there I am "wastefully" heating up the microwave.)

No form of energy generation has zero waste heat. Certainly, coal powered power stations (designed and built more than 50 years ago) "waste" more heat than a hydroelectic dam (which "wastes" water, presumably). The 1950s power station designs were specifically designed to produce electricity at minimum cost, rather than to provide maximum energy efficiency. We could have done better then and certainly could do better now (if it wasn't for cretinous politicians insisting on the - unbelievably wasteful - and just unbelievable, period - CCS).

But many people here will be aware of the awful drawbacks of the old Soviet district heating systems which utilised the "waste" heat from thermal plants.

It only makes sense to eliminate "waste" if there is a need for the "waste" product or if it saves other resources, not least time and money. (Recycling propagandists, please note!)

"Waste" (like "sustainabilty)" is fast becoming one of the great shibboleths of the Greenies.

But the biggest "waste" is the Greenies themselves.

An absolute waste of space.

Oct 1, 2012 at 8:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Brumby

Gary Turner said:

Efficiency is only one of many considerations. Gas piped to the home for heating is efficient, but not fungible. It may only be exchanged for heat.

Or you can convert it to hydrogen and use that in a fuel cell. And one day maybe use it directly in a fuel cell: Platinum-free, methane-fueled fuel cells developed

Oct 1, 2012 at 12:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterGareth

Philip Bratby wrote:

I calculated the efficiency for both cases as the electrical energy output divide by the energy input. In the nuclear case the energy input is the thermal energy from the fission and decay heat processes. In the wind case the energy input is the kinetic anergy of wind, integrated over time."

Sorry Philip, I missed your reply, so wind isn't that efficient at energy conversion.

Never the less we have to counter the argument that "nuclear/ coal/ gas is X efficient and wind is Y efficient". It's a comparison that puts wind in an overly favourable light, X * 0 is still 0.

In all forms of generation except from wind we can work out what to put in to get a required output.

With wind you have to pray.

Oct 1, 2012 at 1:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterNial

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