independence – self-determination – autonomy

On Energy Independence

Chris Cook explores how resilience, security and independence are bottom up not top down. This is how we move from a national grid to a natural grid.

Resource Resilience

Independence is not a policy: it is  an aim of policy, in the same way that Security and Resilience – which may be seen as aspects of Independence – may also be aims. I have been conducting action-based research into financial resilience (a system which does not come to within two hours of ATMs being switched off); resource resilience (keeping the lights on) and human resilience (capacity building).

 If resilient local infrastructure is networked then the result will be regional and national resilience. In other words, resilience, security and independence are bottom up not top down:. Since my experience includes decades in energy markets, much of it at high level, it seemed to me the best place to start is to develop and implement policies aimed at energy independence where I live in Linlithgow. In other words, West Lothian Questions have West Lothian Answers.

A Natural Grid

In 1973 the 400%  oil price increase from $3 to $12 per barrel – the Oil Shock – exposed Denmark’s 90% reliance on fossil fuels. The pragmatic reaction of the Danes was to apply the organising principle of resource resilience – or least resource cost – to fossil fuels. In other words, the Danes mandated that for any given use of heat, transport, power, light and other energy services the purchase of oil & gas as a commodity would be minimised.

This principle was applied across all possible energy services. It led to renewable energy, where the Danes acquired Scottish wind turbine technology and through building out turbines across Denmark  created the biggest global wind turbine manufacturer (Vestas) in a country with a similar population to Scotland. It also led to heat infrastructure throughout Denmark, notably combined heat and power; district heating and heat storage (infinitely cheaper than electricity storage); also to fiscal policies discouraging car use and enabling a switch to public transport and bicycles; and finally to massive investment in energy efficiency in buildings, and in zero waste generally.

The outcome has been that since 1973 while Denmark’s GDP has doubled, their use of energy has declined and their use of carbon fuels (and CO2 production!) has declined significantly. This image strikingly illustrates how Denmark’s fairly centralised National Grid evolved in the direction of what I term a distributed Natural Grid.



Linlithgow Natural Grid

Every village, neighbourhood, town and city in Scotland may develop such a Natural Grid. The aim of the Linlithgow Natural Grid (LNG) initiative was and is energy independence for Linlithgow. Our approach is straightforward: firstly, to benchmark existing energy generation and  use, and secondly then to make whatever interventions are necessary to develop Linlithgow energy sources and to reduce Linlithgow energy use through the use of the resource resilience organising principle.

But how can these interventions be afforded?  Firstly, energy independence with an oil price above $50 per barrel is an economic no-brainer. We currently see over £6.5m a year in the cost of energy services such as heat, transport, power and light bleeding out of Linlithgow to sheikhs, oligarchs, and the shareholders of the Big Six. The bad news is that as the cost of finite fossil fuels rises further, as it inevitably will, this bleeding will get worse. But the good news is that the more expensive fossil fuels become in £  then the more £ profits are to be made in saving them. What has been lacking is the correct energy market model and funding instrument.

Energy as a Commodity

The energy market model or ‘paradigm’ which has evolved since the mid 1990s sees generators buying fuel as a commodity and then selling electricity as a commodity to consumers for profit. One perverse outcome is that renewable electricity generation must be subsidised because it is sold wholesale for (say) 5p per Kilo Watt Hour to the Big Six but is then bought by consumers at a retail price of 15p/ kWh. A second perverse outcome is that  the Big Six resist energy efficiency savings since these act to reduce demand for their product and reduce their profits.

As major carbon-fuelled generation has been closed for environmental/climate change reasons – most recently Scotland’s last coal-fired power station at Longannet – the UK Grid has become increasingly fragile with very little spare generation capacity. In order to fund new infrastructure further complexity has been introduced, such as markets in CO2 Emissions and Capacity,

But as was publicly recognised  for the first time at the recent World Energy Congress in Istanbul the reality is that electricity – like water (which is currently being commoditised/marketised ) – is not a commodity but is a service requiring a different market structure and instruments.

Smart Markets & the Fifth Fuel

Consumers don’t use raw oil, gas, refined fuels or even electricity: they use heat, light, transport/mobility, communications, and power (eg to drive machines).  Financing operating costs may simply be achieved through consumers sharing the cost of a utility via a Platform Co-operative legal platform. But what about the vast cost of funding new infrastructure? This is where we may learn lessons from the past to create the new Smart Markets of the future.

James Watt’s Smart business model for Cornish tin mines water pumping in 1778 shows the way. Instead of selling his more efficient steam powered pumps to drain the mines of water, he supplied the use of his pumps in return for a third of the coal the tin mines saved. The more reliably and efficiently his engines worked, the more coal was saved. In other words, he did not sell his pumps as a commoditised transaction for profit: instead he shared the carbon fuel savings – through a simple production sharing agreement –  achieved from Pumping as a Service.

Hard nosed commercial energy companies such as Exxon are increasingly referring to the intellectual value which creates energy savings through efficiency as the Fifth Fuel which Scotland possesses in abundance. But how may the economic benefit from Scottish Fifth Fuel concepts be retained in Scotland? And how may nuclear and unconventional energy generation with unknown future environmental costs be avoided?

Fracking – a Modest Proposal

On a recent panel in Dalkeith with Tom Pickering of INEOS I engaged not on environmental grounds (which I leave to experts) but on my home turf of energy market economics. Upon hearing that Grangemouth uses as much energy as Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee combined – much of which is often visible in the atmosphere from where I sit – I suggested that it would make more economic sense for INEOS to invest in heat as a service than in fracking.

Waste Grangemouth heat could be piped to Grangemouth & Falkirk homes and businesses while the colossal underground  Central Belt heat resource of former mining areas could also be accessed using local skills and experience. INEOS could simply fund the supply of heat as a service in exchange for natural gas savings to be used as a petrochemical feedstock.  Although the audience seemed to appreciate it, this modest, if unexpected, proposal seemed to pass its recipient by.

Back to the Future

History provides solutions: firstly, we see that instead of selling ownership of intellectual property how it is possible to exchange its use for a flow of value from energy production (solar as a service) or from efficiency (carbon fuel savings).

The second innovation pre-dates modern finance capital of equity shares (via stock exchanges) and debt (from banks). In exchange for value received, an energy producer may simply issue a promise (credit instrument) which is returnable in payment for future energy supply. Note that such a credit is not a debt instrument, since the holder cannot demand money; it is not a derivative (forward) instrument since he cannot demand delivery either; and it is not an equity instrument since it confers no ownership or dividend rights.

Acceptance of energy credits requires trust in the producer to supply energy in the future against which energy credits may be returned in payment instead of £ sterling. As an investor who has provided value to the producer, the acceptor (literally) returns his promise in exchange for the intrinsic value of energy: indeed this accounts for the origin of the expression ‘rate of return’.

The shipping industry gives us a steer as to how a trust framework may be provided. For some 140 years shipowners have clubbed together to mutually assure risks which underwriters at Lloyds of London will not accept. Such mutual Protection and Indemnity (P & I) Club agreements – which are managed by a service provider (Thomas Miller) – could easily be applied to the mutual assurance of the risk of non-performance by energy producers.

A Low Carbon Enlightenment

While the attention of global investors has been on renewable energy, the real low hanging fruit – efficiency savings from heat/cooling and transport – has been largely ignored for want of technology and funding mechanism. But it was clear from discussions in Istanbul that there are two powerful commercial drivers which a Smart Market in energy services can harness. Firstly, the more expensive finite fossil fuels become the more profitable it is to save them, and secondly, companies using the Fifth (intellectual) Fuel as service providers need far less finance capital than the Big Six need to address market and credit risk in a role as intermediary middlemen.

Glasgow was once the Workshop of the World, and regions such as the Central Belt, North East England and South Wales remain repositories of vast reserves of the Fifth Fuel of energy engineering innovation, expertise and experience. The application of the Smart Market combination of energy as a service and energy credit funding  is complementary to energy commodity markets and could lead to what I recently heard described as a Low Carbon Enlightenment.

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  • Dougie Blackwood 3 days ago

    I wrote something along these lines a year or two back. I live in Helensburgh and at the top of the hill we have an unused reservoir, a very short distance away we have a large conifer plantation and lots of empty space that would easily be used for growing biomass.

    An Ideal opportunity to build a combined heat and power plant running on sustainable biomass. Make the electricity, run surplus heat into local houses and create local employment. Add in a few medium sized windmills making electricity; easy stuff. I would like to see also any unnecessary electricity used to make hydrogen and store it on site; when the wind doesn't blow run a generator on the stored hydrogen. All local, no transmission charges, small to medium scale and not difficult to construct.

    Replicate around the country in all the small towns and villages and we no longer have the fear of "Brown Out" coming over the hill when we cannot get the huge generators either through the planning process or built on time.

  • Chris Cook 3 days ago

    Good stuff, Dougie. Not forgetting using wind/solar PV to locally power heat pumps......should never put DC power through the AC grid unless we have to.

  • lordmac 3 days ago

    One giant dynamo at the foot of Ben Nevis and water pumped to the top recicled will keep you in power all day long at very little cost when built

    • Crubag 3 days ago

      Won't it take energy to pump the water to the top?

      • c rober 3 days ago


        Yes but energy that would otherwise be wasted or unused , ie wind still generating but use lower than generation.

  • c rober 3 days ago

    I also did an article a while back , nothing fancy for papers , just for peers. Then again recently on my FB page for others , more updated than the original.

    It was based on shared power , but not heat , but can see the advantages of all of your inputs as well.

    Mine was based on when tide , wind and sun as eco power are not being harnessed , or stored. But since that article has came along Tesla batteries- Which I dont think is a viable answer neither. As short term as 2 years ago I was thinking in terms of eco batteries as being back pumped hydro , then thought out of the box on Hyrdrogen Storage being more ecological instead.

    IT also hinted at the Norway , sovereign wealth fund , Iceland , and Scotland using a shared energy grid - then expanding to southern Europe via ONLY a tax payer owned model and onto Africa. Where this is interesting is that Both Germany and Norway are gearing for a sooner rather than later ban of the I.C.E. so is relative , more so given the state owned nature of generation.

    I reckon that future is modernizing coal powered stations over nuclear , for the short term peak load . Nuclear with long term costs , long term price guarantees , so that rules Nuke option out for me. So coal as a stop gap , with open cast mines in Scotland , in these days of downward dog pound values also works , and then of course using the open pits as sanctuaries and other blue sky uses. Where this old but new coal power works is using a part of the energy generated as plasma for treated exhaust gases , dramatically reducing Co2 and enables the bi product a commodity - carbon for use in dyes , and eco inks.

    However the use of customers as their own storage , Tesla , got me thinking , and of course using what is off the shelf , so there to be used already. More so in the last few days when the Enercos have been coming out looking for subs from any and all govts , and citing price increases as well due to import costs.

    Basically I already acknowledge the DC to AC problem , but as we know to make power travel its AC only in the long distance lines. Its been that way for what 100 years , no deviation , so accepted as the norm.

    We already know housing of old is ac wired , and so dc wiring is a retrofit - more than just led spots for posers , but a greater thinking is needed in tariffs against electronics until a wall socket standard is established - in order to replace the internal ac-dc transformers. A Smart USB X if you will.

    But with ALL future housing we should be demanding that this DC is the norm , other than heavy use items which cannot be , the washing machines , cookers , irons and the like banished to but one room of AC- even to the point of whole roof two part solar , ie hot water and power at least for pre heating of the cold taps pre boilers input. But in new houses that AC means something else also , airconditioning , where it heats the air as well as cools around us , rather than the walls , pound for pound it is the winning heat system vs gas and electric resistance systems.

    But to get back to storage again , and not li-on batteries , which for a small property may work , but not in an old large one , where in Scotland this is the greater number.

    So is there another option , that can use something like old white meter heating via cheaper energy during off peak and be both AC or DC - to both create and store something more viable , well i think so and thats Hydrogen , fuel cells , and pressured tanks.

    But for that we need perhaps to also get the suppliers interested , in moving over from large power stations to mini home based powerstations , a connected grid , not unlike the map in the article of Denmark but to every home meter box.

    Of course there is more than just one benefit of such a localized hydrogen storage and generation system instead of batteries , theres fuel cell cars.

    FC which is a very low carbon power generation , and of course as I mentioned as the EU moves beyond I.C.E , where electric cars become that fuel cell for the home via plugin - and importantly your fuel for the car itself is not from a forecourt - but from a tank in your garden created on the cheap from generated but unused eco energy during the night. Range anxiety banished , Hydrogen on the fourcourts , hyrdrogen at home - win -win.

    Where this also benefits is the removal of oil price increases and of course decreases , which affects employment in Scotland , oil which was and always has been a long term chink in the indy armour.

    Those of us that are rural also see the benefit of this HSAG. We are sitting with two tanks already in the garden , one for fuel oil , the other for LPG , but I also have Airco heating in a modern home. And as everyone knows LPG is far more dangerous when stored than hydrogen , and those homes like mine , either new or old homes , well we may well be the early adopters - more so with any kind of incentives.

    Considering the drive to these communities for empowerment in housing , then they may well also be the future for the DC home too.

    • c rober 3 days ago

      I had failed to mention two other key points on Hydrogen as the new fuel.


      With using Fuel cells , creating hydrogen locally stored for local use , perhaps through the car itself as the actual fuel cell - its only key exhaust as such is water - a resource recovered at least in part. With the i.c.e as we all know that exhaust is toxic to life , not just as a greenhouse gas costing the planet and its inhabitants in the future - but also every day in our local environment.

      Considering the use of bottled water , especially in some places like California , a major drought and smog area , and of course the eco damage that results from its creation with energy use to purify and bottling , culminating in plastic waste in our seas and landfills , then water being purified as a positive argument is also a major selling point in certain markets.No more plastic bottles, or at least a cliff like dropoff in use , just using a tap , hell even in the car itself right in the dash board next to that carry mug for your morning commute coffee.

      No2 , and coincidentally also the gas itself , a result of eco thinking that was bastardized by the petrochemicals , and the green groups kinda swallowed the whole diesel is good hook line and sinker.

      Yet we are still using diesel , still using heavy oil for rural heating , creating greenhouse gases and no2 even with plant based diesel taking up land for food .

      Our largest single polluters previously to our personal adoption of diesel cars were - Public Transport and Freight. We as drivers are being removed from the road , through uber and the like supplying personal car hire by the minute , and other growths in cars as a service e-startups - to coming from the very car manufacturers themselves , whom have started gearing for service supply and not ownership.

      To give you a further example of reducing city No2 and Co2.

      Take the I-road , from Toyota , electric personal transport , now being touted to councils and governments on leases - and not direct sale to the public .This along with modern apps means the removal of many of our city centres polluters - buses/taxis , and importantly with the advent of removing the driver with vehicle automation means door to destination is faster , and importantly cheaper. This vehicle though runs on battery , so still electricity from the grid , whereas Hydrogen and FC would be far better , and importantly change a short distance vehicle into a longer distance one.

      This is where eco change usually fails , cost.

      So if say the I-road is cheaper than the status qou , vs buying a normal car for work commuting combined with its fuel cost , parking fees and congestion charges , or of waiting on cabs or in cabs sitting in traffic with a driver cost overhead , or even the same price as public transport - then it will win , at least in that city environment. But sometimes that also means taxes and tarrifs as well as subsidies , but legislation imo is far better , and much lower cost - putting the onus on those that profit from it to make it cheaper - thus mass adoption.

      Here is where Hydrogen becomes economical to use in that scenario.

      The use of fuel cell in buses and lorries , if you tax harder the polluters then it affects the pockets of their customers with higher prices , which the electorate is never keen on . So what you do instead is mandate and legislate longer term. Then it becomes darwinian theory for the suppliers to adapt in order to survive. This is capitalism one on one , but be warned though this can also spectacularly fail when you try to modify the market , to control the beast wrongly backfires , capitalism page 2.

      So basically you are making ALL transport companies use Hyrdogen , as well as vehicle manufacturers , and where they can use the wasted eco generated power from the grid as a commodity to generate their own hydrogen off peak- much cheaper than the current option of fossil fuels , without even increasing taxation or giving subs.

      As I said earlier cheaper than the other option means adoption.

      Think of it as how Airlines work , hedging fuel costs , but where your bus/cabs/freight depot take that energy to create their own fuel.... or the elecos become the fuel cos.

      But for that we also have to address the elephant in the room , one that matters at least to UK govts - the Westminster tax receipts of fuel duty and the vat on top , circa 65 percent of the cost at the pump today.... so hardly a real incentive for any Westminster change in mindset.

      This is where our petrochemical pushers would need to gear towards , forced through legislation , so perhaps the rason for change in ICE thinking of many governments , and the forced changeover from ICE engine use in car manufacturers - The car makers starting pistol if you will has already been fired.

      But where we then need to watch is that through them , and the petrochems , it doesn't become ALL about greenwashing - about increasing share holder profits and through taxpayer funded subsidies. In other words they have to want to do it , in order to survive , long term , no carrot and all stick.

      This part of our diesel based economy is highly important , I must stress that from the off , in that our food , and the bussing of people around to and from work at least greases the wheels of trade , so affects us all in our pockets from both minor and major changes.

      From your supermarket basket , to the very poor paid commuter workers that put that stock on the shelves , these are the over-weighted section of GDP ... thus the best way to force adoption of Hydrogen and fuel cell technology.

      • Chris Cook 3 days ago

        Indeed, the future lies in use (quasi leases) rather than ownership.

        Also I think hydrogen is a useful local energy vector but beyond local I'm not convinced.

        I quite like Riversimple's new Rasa is up to with in wheel motors, and a mobility-as-a-service model.

        • c rober 2 days ago

          Chris Cook ,

          I understood the in wheel motor as a child , reducing a motor being that of a bulky drive train and I.C.E weight , with braking systems adding further weight , so reducing to four smaller motors which also act as brakes was then a no brainer. But it has taken a long time to get there , and importantly the computerized control tech just wasnt there back then , nor the desire for change.

          This is where the stick rather than the carrot works , so why subsidise , when legislate the manufacturers becomes in their own interest in order to survive. Which is where we should be thanking Germany and Norway , one a major car producer the other an oil producer - where both have seen either the light or future profits in doing so.

          But for quasi leases this is just another profit increasing measure first , where the credit of the banks is reduced and passed on to them as a result.

          So if they see that as change , for increasing profit , then surely they will see the light in adapting it and removing the fuel companies next and generating their own fuel? Perhaps to the point of defeating not just petrochems , but also the electricity generators themselves , through these localised hydrogen creation and storage ideas I have mentioned , and where the car becomes the home generator instead of a tesla battery ... Three markets for them from one.... four if your include credit from the banks.


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