Thursday, 21 August 2014

Offshore wind energy: will innovation be driven from constraints?

Eric Steltzer - Senior Consultant

In today’s modern world, we are constantly striving for progress. It is expected that lights will turn on when they are needed, trains will get people to their destinations quickly and mobile phones can access the latest facebook posts from even the most remote Munro peak. Progress is built on the bedrock of stable and secure infrastructure, which requires constant enhancement and renewal to meet our increasing demand. With a growing and shifting population and the need to site new infrastructure within a densely populated area like the UK, we are presented with a significant challenge.

The siting challenges in the energy sector are greater still. The Government is looking to reduce the cost of electricity in particular and last year passed the Electricity Market Reform measures which strives to provide the financial security required to raise capital to fund projects ‘off the books’. At the European level we are also seeing leaders working to develop a framework to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. Our energy market will need to site new types of infrastructure which have greater security, lower carbon intensities and minimise costs.

My interest in environmental planning of infrastructure projects originated in 2001 when an offshore wind project was proposed in the waters near Cape Cod, Massachusetts U.S.A. This area had been my playing ground growing up and I have a special attachment to it from my days of catching striped bass from its waters. The project interested me because it was the first time I experienced like-minded environmental groups pitted against each other with claims of how the project would mar the ocean views, or that it would solve all of our climate change concerns. These comments revealed less about the actual benefits or impacts of the project, and more about the deep values people held for the natural resources of the sound.

While the project in Massachusetts is an ocean away, the public sentiment towards renewable energy projects and the requirements for rigorous environmental assessments are common place here in the UK. The public consent process grapples with questions about noise impacts, disruption to protected wildlife species, or the effects on housing prices. These factors can constrain the siting of these needed services and drive up costs for the whole industry. Public consultation features strongly in the consent process and Temple are running a training course on it in early December.

The offshore renewable energy market will face considerable constraints on growth from finding suitable locations. At the same time the Crown Estate has an ambitious goal to have 10GW of electricity capacity by the year 2020, a tripling of the current capacity. The cumulative impact assessments have been a focus in the industry as a greater number of sites are approved. This combination of market need with significant constraints present fertile ground for innovation and UK ingenuity.

Innovation in setting the boundaries of the development of the technology can help protect the environment whilst ensuring that we can deliver the infrastructure that we all need. At the RenewableUK annual conference in Manchester on 11-13 November, I will be presenting on environmental economic methods that can gauge people’s value for the marine environment, such as ocean views. It will hopefully produce a lively discussion on the merits to these techniques and whether it can add value to current methodologies.

This innovation challenge presents big questions. How will the market respond to the Contracts for Difference (CfD) mechanism in the EMR? Is £100/MWh by 2020 achievable for offshore wind? Can wave and tidal energy technologies become financially viable for wider commercial use? Is a European super grid possible? 

These questions intrigue me. Similar to the environmentalists who are pitted against each other in Massachusetts, it is the underlying values I find so important: creating jobs for people in the UK; protecting our environment; and supporting affordable energy for vulnerable populations. These are common core goals behind the questions, and they are goals that few people oppose. It is through these common values that we can find mutual partnerships to overcome hurdles, and drive new insights to accomplish our joint aspirations.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Sailing towards a circular economy

Martin Gibson - Head of Operations

The around the world clipper ship race recently finished, with the boats mooring in the St Katharine Docks, just outside our offices. The boats themselves don’t look very comfortable for such a long voyage but they certainly bring out a camaraderie and sense of purpose in their crews. The crews, in case you don’t know, are made up of people with a range of backgrounds. They come together for different reasons but with a common purpose.

The Clipper ships stop at a number of ports in their circumnavigation of the world. This allows them to restock with provisions. When Ellen MacArthur circumnavigated the world without stopping, she had to load up with all of the things that she needed for the entire voyage. This approach focussed Ellen’s thinking about what she actually needed; seeing the analogy with mankind’s use of resources on Earth. After her triumphant, record-breaking solo trip of the globe, Ellen put her understanding of the importance of resources to wider use, setting up the
Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Natural systems are dominated by cycles which we have come to understand over thousands of years. Some of these are driven by short term temporal fluctuations: the cycle of the seasons driven by Earth’s rotation around the sun. Other cycles have more complex drivers; the water cycle, for example, is influenced by seasons but also works over longer timescales as it describes the movement of water between the oceans, atmosphere, rivers, the ground and living systems. The carbon cycle describes the flow of carbon and includes its various forms, such as the gas CO
2 and solids in oil and calcium carbonate.

Since the industrial revolution, human activities haven’t usually followed cycles. Instead, they have been based on extraction, followed by manufacturing, use and disposal: the ‘take – make – use – discard’ linear process. Natural systems can cope with this up to a point without being unduly perturbed. Unfortunately, with so many people driving the use of so many resources and the production of so much waste, we have now affected many natural cycles and the consequences are far reaching.  It is true that over the last 25 years or so, there has been a trend towards recycling and reuse, although this was often driven initially by the need to reduce waste going to landfill. The circular economy approach takes this a lot further.

By ignoring natural cycles rather than working with them, we are warming the planet, reducing biodiversity and could threaten the ability of humans to have a high quality of life. In case you think this is just the view of someone with a professional environmental interest, you might want to take a look at what the MoD has to say about the environment in its
strategic outlook up to 2045.

The recognition of the sense and benefits of working in a circular economy is growing. Business (as is often the case on critical environmental matters) is leading the way. I’d recommend you read
Andrew Kinsey’s article on how it relates to the construction industry. Government also recognises the importance of the approach, helped NGO’s such as the Green Alliance. The ‘Turquoise Cities’ approach that we have developed at Temple also factors in the circular economy and we have used it to help assess the London Infrastructure Plan 2050.

Of course, going from recognition to changing things is unlikely to be an easy process. In our linear economy, we make purchasing decisions based on what we need in our part of the chain. Somehow we need to influence what the supply chain should be and then purchase and use things accordingly. It is hard, however, to buy things that aren’t yet available and to pass on a used resource if there is no-one who wants it.
Like those clipper ship crews, we can do a lot more than we might think if we have a common purpose. The first step is often to think differently about something. So, next time you see a sailing ship, think what decisions you can make to align the world economy with natural resource cycles, then do it!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

London 2050 sets big ambitions but will it achieve a resilient capital?

Chris Fry - Director
The Infrastructure Plan 2050 for London was released for consultation this month. The draft plan is to be welcomed as it goes a long way to articulating the macro trends that will drive very significant changes in London’s infrastructure needs through the second half of this century and well beyond. There is no reason to doubt that London will remain an extremely attractive place to live and work and so, population growth by 37% to around 11 million, is a fundamental point. In addition, economic growth, London’s visitor population and a changing climate are also not to be underestimated as drivers of change.

Growth on this scale, of course, presents many challenges for planning, delivering and funding the new and upgraded infrastructure for London. Equally, there are clear opportunities both commercially to build and run new kinds of infrastructure assets and also for communities themselves to harness infrastructure to help to shape places that really work for communities.

The draft plan is out to consultation until 31 October. The coming weeks should see an important, healthy and, at times, probably pretty lively debate about some of the questions and potential answers that it poses. To contribute to this debate we are using the four elements of our turquoise cities and infrastructure concept
to reflect on the mosaic of changes that the draft plan might lead to. You can learn more about the turquoise cities concept here. We have looked at what we think will be two equally important dimensions: strategic intent and deliverability on the ground. Our overall reflections are set out below and will be followed up in September and October with a deeper look at different elements. 

The overall strength of the draft plan against the four elements (Liveable & Usable, Water & Climate Resilient, Harnessing Environmental Systems and Innovation Enabled) is illustrated on the grid below. By way of orientation, the top right corner of the grid is the utopian place where the strategic intent and deliverability are performing at the highest level. The grid shows an aggregated view and, most importantly, is intended to help to focus productive dialogue on how the plan could achieve even more.

The draft plan is grounded by the idea that London should become “a better city in which to live, not just a bigger one”. It also recognises some of London’s greatest existing weaknesses in relation to providing liveable places and usable infrastructure such as the shortage of affordable housing that provides access to places of work and over-crowding on our trains and tubes. The links between economic prosperity, competitiveness and quality of life are recognised by the draft plan which signals the role of a collaborative approach to infrastructure provision and the contribution of green infrastructure in achieving them.  It is though hard to argue that the draft plan yet acknowledges or offers a framework to deal with all of the quality of life issues from the city scale to communities and individual infrastructure projects such as topical, cumulative issues including local air pollution and background noise.

In relation to water and climate resilience, the draft plan recognises the need for a joined up approach to water resources and flood risk management. It also considers the potential role for green infrastructure in relation to the urban heat island effect. However, planning for infrastructure needs in 2050 essentially means considering resilience for conditions well into the 22nd Century and beyond. And here, the draft plan does not yet appear to have the strategic ambition, nor the range of mechanisms, that will enable London to grapple with the complex challenges of safeguarding London’s resilience. In many ways this should not be a surprise as a truly cross-industry discussion on this topic is only just coming together as illustrated in this year’s BASE London
hosted by the City of London.

In stating that “green infrastructure should be considered vital to the capital’s economy” green infrastructure gets a major speaking part in the draft plan, if not the role of lead actor/actress. London is well placed to harness environmental systems through its green lungs (public parks) and blue arteries (the Thames and its tributaries) and the draft plan identifies other cities from Copenhagen to Chicago that should inspire our future green infrastructure plans. Some new delivery mechanisms for this agenda are also identified such as a city network and the establishment of a Green Infrastructure Task Force.

In relation to the final turquoise cities element, the draft plan sets out a clear intention that London and its infrastructure should be innovation enabled. Using data better and more openly, mobile connectivity, integrating systems and providing leadership via a smart London board are all outlined. New ways of working are also introduced, for example, by introducing new practices and technologies that will significantly increase the reuse of materials moving towards a circular economy.

The first consultation question asks “Do you agree with the need for an infrastructure plan for the capital?” to which I would expect the response to be a resounding “Yes” given London’s importance in the UK and as a leading globally competitive city. That I believe is the easy question. In terms of what, where, how and who pays we look forward to the debate during the plan’s consultation period and beyond. Comments and views on the ideas presented here are warmly welcomed.