Interview: David Elliott on renewable energy

09 Apr 2014 iopp"> iopp

Following our very first IOP ebooksTM “Meet the author” webinar with David Elliott, we speak to him about his recently published book and the renewable energy industry.

How did you find writing your book?

It went very well and all came together very quickly – as if it wanted to be written! I suppose this is because the book reflects the work that I have done over the years at The Open University as well as more recent activities, such as writing my bi-monthly newsletter and blog, as well as blogging on environmentalresearchweb . I wanted to pass on my enthusiasm for the subject. And I hope this book did that.

Why did you decide to split your book into three sections – power, heat and light?

Maybe it was my physics background – I remember my degree lecture series was divided up as heat, light and sound! 

In your book, you talk about policy. What do you think is the biggest policy issue in renewable energy right now?  

The biggest issue is the constraint on support for renewables given the parallel commitment to nuclear power in some countries. Renewable policy differs around the world. For example, China has a relatively large nuclear programme, with 2% of their electricity coming from this energy but their renewables programme is much bigger – that’s because they have a particular vision. Other countries have very different views and I talk about this in more detail in the webinar.

What is currently the most exciting development in the renewable energy industry?

The “wind to gas” idea is very interesting – it uses surplus wind-derived electricity to make hydrogen and perhaps methane from it (using CO2 from the air or from fossil power stations), to use for generation when renewable sources are low. Germany is pioneering it but the UK has developed some of the technology.

What do you think about the Swansea Bay lagoon – potentially the world's first tidal lagoon energy, here in the UK?

It is a much better idea than an invasive cross-estuary tidal barrage, although I suspect free-standing tidal turbines will prove to be cheaper. But the lagoon development company claims that this project will cost about the same as on-land wind so it really could be a viable option.

Please comment on the transatlantic trade in wood pellets for generating electricity, given the recent paper published in ERL on their greenhouse gas emissions.

I’m not keen on using imported wood chips in old inefficient converted fossil plants. There are better ways to use biomass and better sources – local AD of biomass wastes and residues with CHP. Large-scale biomass conversion and co-firing with coal is sometimes portrayed as an interim option, but I’m not convinced that this helps build up support for local sourcing of biomass. It’s just a way to keep old plants going.

There is also the wider debate about the extent to which large-scale biomass combustion of grown biomass, especially in forests, is net low carbon, given that it takes time for new growths to absorb emitted CO2. It’s a complex debate and it may be that you can get a reasonable level of CO2 reduction from some sustainably managed forestry sources, but on balance, I’d prefer to use fast-growing plants to limit that problem – SRC – and local wastes/residues, with AD biogas production offering a storable medium.

What has been your experience of publishing with us?

It went very well – quick and friendly. My book was initially made free-to-read, which I know students have found to be useful, especially since IOP Publishing have enabled functionality enabling readers to download full books or chapters at a time.

And finally, how did the webinar go? Did you enjoy it?

It was my first time and I really enjoyed it. There is something about doing things in real time that increases the sense of communication – it feels more personal than a blog, for example. And it seemed to work as I’ve had good feedback from colleagues.

Listen to the recording of the webinar, where David gives a review of sustainable energy supply options and answers viewers’ questions.

Read David’s answers to the questions that we did not have time for in the webinar.