Sunday, September 07, 2008

green party hydrogen response 1: caroline lucas

Given that my analysis of hydrogen buses concerned London and EU policy, I sent copies to the UK's Green MEPs (Jean Lambert and Caroline Lucas), and to the Green members of the London Assembly (Darren Johnson and Jenny Jones).

The thing about dealing with politicians is that you rarely get to have a proper debate. On TV or radio news - as the politician well knows - there's only a short time given and no matter what's said, once time's up they'll not be questioned any further. So, if they repeat themselves or say something that doesn't answer the question, there's often no opportunity to point that out and elicit a real answer, let alone move the debate beyond that one point.

By the same token, you know when you are writing to a politician that after a couple of exchanges they'll stop writing. So, again, all they have to do is ignore a part of what's put to them and they're never held to account, let alone forced to face the consequences of holding an opinion that can be proven wrong.

You'd hope with the Greens that they are motivated from genuine concern and so would respond differently. Let's see.

If I were a Green politician and someone came to me claiming that a technology I supported actually led to a vast increase in carbon emissions at excessive financial cost, my first thought would be to check their sources. In green politics people make all kind of wild claims and counterclaims about saviour technologies. But were the claims found to have basis, I'd speak out.

Carline Lucas' office replied to me:

Thank you for your email, which Caroline has asked me to respond to on her behalf. I am sure that Jean Lambert's team and the London Assembly Members will look closely at your findings and those of CUTE.

Caroline supports Green Party policy, which is cautious about hydrogen fuel and notes that CO2 emissions from production need to be considered. See http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/downloads/mfsstr.pdf

At European level, the Greens have also adopted an approach that stresses the need to take production into account – see http://www.greens-efa.org/cms/default/dok/105/105787.hydrogen@en.htm.

A Green sponsored written declaration is now Parliamentary policy and this advocates the use of hydrogen to store renewable energy – see http://www.greens-efa.org/cms/default/dok/184/184145.green_hydrogen_economy@en.htm - as part of a coherent programme that prioritises demand reduction and energy efficiency.

Once these objectives have genuinely been given centre stage, there is still a need to replace fossil fuels in our transport system with sustainable alternatives. Caroline agrees that this will require full life cycle analysis of hydrogen, in all its manifestations, alongside biodiesel, agrofuels, electricity and other options, to ensure that we do favour those fuels that can best deliver low carbon emissions and other benefits. The European Commission’s policy on agrofuel targets, for example, as well as on hydrogen fails to take proper account of this need, so Caroline and her Green colleagues are working hard to amend the relevant legislative proposals.

Thank you for taking the time to write to Caroline and you will appreciate, I am sure, that she is not in a position to influence whether or not the next phase of the hydrogen bus trials in London go ahead.


To which I said

I'm grateful for the links to Greens position on hydrogen, but worried by elements of that position.

Caroline supports Green Party policy, which is cautious about hydrogen fuel and notes that CO2 emissions from production need to be considered. See http://policy.greenparty.org.uk/downloads/mfsstr.pdf

That document says using hydrogen 'is sustainable as long as the electricity generation itself is sustainable'.

This, as the document I originally sent says, isn't strictly true. We power our vehicles from oil. If we start powering them from electricity, we add to the overall electricity demand. If our renewables are used to make hydrogen, then the shortfall will be made up elsewhere by the burning of fossils.

Hydrogen only becomes genuinely renewable once the whole grid is renewable.

Worse, hydrogen from electricity is tremendously inefficient; why not use a straightforward battery? The answer is that hydrogen is being hyped by people who are pushing for its primary power source to be coal or gas.

At European level, the Greens have also adopted an approach that stresses the need to take production into account - see http://www.greens-efa.org/cms/default/dok/105/105787.hydrogen@en.htm

It's perceptive of the Greens to realise that hydrogen is being pushed by the coal and nuclear lobby. However, that document says;

"Research and development in the hydrogen sector is important but should be concentrated on comparative system analysis, renewable energy based technology development and a clear prioritising of steam reforming systems that promise the highest overall efficiency."

'Steam reforming' means making it from natural gas which, as the figures I sent you show, has around *four times* the emissions of a diesel bus. Why are the Greens favouring such a massive emissions increase?

And, as I said earlier, the demand for using renewable electricity is merely displacing emissions and effectively leads to the same emissions as if it were taken from grid electricity.

Green sponsored written declaration is now Parliamentary policy and this advocates the use of hydrogen to store renewable energy - see http://www.greens-efa.org/cms/default/dok/184184145.green_hydrogen_economy@en.htm

What that proposes is using electricity to make hydrogen which is later used to generate electricity in a fuel-cell. The hydrogen is therefore just a battery.

For the stationary uses such as powering a building, there may well be some benefit as the heat generated in a fuel cell can be used. But for transport, this heat is wasted and as such means it is enormously inefficient. There are far more efficient batteries available.

Presuming that the grid will not be powered from 100% renewable sources, advocating inefficient devices is advocating the unnecessary burning of fossil fuels. As hydrogen is grossly inefficient, it can only be seen as an increaser of emissions.

I'd be interested to hear any defence of the Green statements I've discussed, or else what new statement might be made to retract them.
To which Caroline Lucas' office said:

Thank you for your further comments. Green Party policy is determined by members at conference and European policy in a similar way by the European Green Party and MEPs. Caroline is far from an expert on energy issues - she tends to work on trade, environment, climate, animal rights and peace as her main priorities - so is not best placed to respond to your questions/points in detail.

If you would like to bring your comments to the attention of Policy Committee, who coordinate the policy making process nationally, you can contact Brian Heatley.

At European level, the lead MEP on the Industry, Research and Energy Committee is from Luxembourg and his name is Claude Turmes.

I trust that one or both of these contacts will be able to answer your enquiry in greater detail.

There we have it; no response to the points in my replies which were, in themselves, restatements of points made in my original analysis.

If I'm not fobbed off with 'yes we're concerned' then they tell me it's all too technical for a mere amateur like Caroline to understand. As if I'm some global expert, as if the nice little coloured graphs in CUTE's own brochures are too difficult to understand.

It's an energy issue and so not really to do with Caroline, nothing that is of concern to an MEP who claims to have, 'challenged policymakers to put environmental sustainability at the heart of legislation' and that her work as an MP includes, 'tackling climate change', and also transport.

I wrote back
thanks for your further advice, I'll certainly write to the people you suggest.

One thing, though; you say Caroline's main work includes climate. As you surely appreciate, climate and energy are very much overlapping issues. My interest in the hydrogen thing comes from a climate change perspective.

The CUTE trial's own report spells out in simple graphics that they have a far worse climate impact than diesel buses. This really isn't an expert thing, and anyone interested in the European Union's response to climate change should have a strong feeling against hydrogen as a vehicle fuel.

I'm no expert either, so I'm sure my analysis is easily comprehensible to Caroline or anyone else.


There has been no reply and I presume that's it.

I'll publish the exchanges with the other Greens here. I want to give these people the opportunity to consider everything in their own time, so (as I've done with Caroline Lucas) I'll only publish exchanges of correspondence once they're finished.

5 comments:

G said...

To be honest, I think you got a good reply, clearly not a pro forma, and they are passing your input to the party's policy committee and gave you a specific contact name there. That is actually quite something - would you get that from any other party? I think it is perfectly fair for them to say that CL is not an expert on the technical aspects of hydrogen transport - not many people are, and you shouldn't expect her to be. I think you need to be a bit more glass-half-full about the response you got.

merrick said...

G, I completely agree that it's a far better response than I'd expect from any other party, and that the reply isn't a cut-n-paste.

however, it does defend hydrogen using arguments I'd rubbished in what I'd sent to them.

Also, it's not that I'm disagreeing with the statement that Lucas is an expert on hydrogen, nor am I expecting her to be. My point is that she doesn't need to be an expert to oppose hydrogen as a vehicle fuel.

I am no expert either yet it's pretty clear to me. More, the report on the hydrogen bus trial that the Greens supported is very clear that hydrogen's worse than diesel.

It's a really clear case, except for the 'but it could be from electrolysis from renewable electricity' argument. That, though, it clearly taken apart in less than a minute, and I did so, twice.

Thus, there's no reason for them to still support it. Now, I hope it's that there not going to just take the word of one unsolicited amateur about it and they're looking into and may change policy.

However, the lack of any reply from the two people i was passed on to (and the distinct between the lines impression that Lucas never saw any of this) makes me doubtful.

Or am I still being too half empty?

punkscience said...

You're bang on with the analysis but I think you expect too much from an MP. The modern world is incredibly complex and no-one can begin to comprehend every aspect of our civilisation. This isn't the fault of the MPs- its one of the many problems of our democracy. With respect to nation- and global-level policies your only accountable point of contact is still your local MP. This is why electoral reform is the most important policy the Green Party push (because they are a small party and would benefit). At least they did refer you to the relevant point of contact- my Labour MP- Alison Seabeck- is simply pathetic (she's a whip now) and still tries to defend the Iraqi genocide and Labour's apocalyptic energy policy in our exchanges. Please do pass your comments on to Brian Heatley and the policy committee. Every voice helps.

Word.

merrick said...

Punkscience, you're right that having such a tiny number of people responsible for such a wide range of policies can only lead to ill-informed judgement.

However, I don't think I'm guilty of expecting too much of Lucas. If someone's there advocating a policy, they should be keeping their ears open in case their supporting information is wrong.

If someone comes up with credible reasons why a policy won't achieve its stated goal and in fact will do the opposite, they are duty-bound to stop and take a look. If the new information is true, they should act on it.

As opposed to hiding behind 'I'm not an expert, so I'll just advocate what someone told me to even if it's wrong'.

To do anything else is to abdicate responsibility and thereby undermine the whole point of being in that political position in the first place.

merrick said...

Punkscience,

At least they did refer you to the relevant point of contact

But there's no point in doing that if it's a dead-end fob-off.

It's now many months later and both Brian Heatley and Claude Turmes have ignored repeated polite emails.