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Scientific Alliance Newsletter

Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) sounds simple, but is very complex to put into effect. But it remains a potentially attractive policy option for one key reason: its successful introduction would allow us to burn more gas – and even coal – while reducing carbon dioxide emissions. It is certainly an attractive concept, but it comes at a cost, and no-one has yet turned it into a successful process that can be built into power stations on a routine basis. The capturing part is quite straightforward. Flue gases from burning fossil fuels are passed through a solution of amines that...
At the recent G20 meeting in Hangzhou, Presidents Obama and Xi announced that they would be ratifying the climate deal reached in Paris last December. Superficially, this is a big deal – if the two largest global emitters of carbon dioxide are prepared to sign up to this agreement, others will surely follow – but is it really going to make a difference? The main reason this is significant is that, for the first time, it potentially brings all countries into a global agreement to reduce emissions. The Kyoto Protocol, the only previous binding commitment, included only...
For most of us, it’s back to work, with summer receding fast. With autumn and winter just round the corner, our thoughts will turn from keeping cool to keeping warm. Energy prices and security will be priorities once again. The UK is one of a number of countries apparently set firmly on a path to rely increasingly on renewable energy sources. In practice, this means the focus is firmly on the electricity generating sector, where such a transition can in principle be made with least difficulty. Transport is rather more problematic, although the powers that be retain a touching faith...
Although so much effort is focussed on renewable energy these days, continued expansion of wind and solar energy cannot for the foreseeable future provide the basis for a secure and affordable energy supply for a modern economy. This is clear to anyone taking an objective view of the overall energy system, but apparently not to politicians. There is a school of thought that believes politicians signing up to the EU’s original 20:20:20 targets – 20% emissions reduction, 20% energy efficiency improvement and 20% share of renewable energy by 2020 – thought the renewables...
A reliable energy supply has always been a prerequisite for a modern industrial society. Lenin – certainly interested in power in all its forms – once said “Communism is Soviet power plus electrification of the whole country”. In today’s world, there seems to be a move towards the second aim, although hopefully not the first. Electrification is a large part of the proposed plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and mitigate future climate changes in many countries. Enthusiasts see a future where cars are battery powered and domestic gas heating systems have...
Electric cars are touted as the vehicles of the future, but there are major infrastructure issues to be addressed before they could become the norm. The other option put forward by those who would like to see a replacement for the internal combustion engine is the hydrogen-powered car, using fuel cells to produce its own electricity, rather than storing it in batteries. A decade ago, hydrogen seemed to have an equal chance of becoming the fuel of the future as did stored electricity. Not so now; despite occasional pilot projects – usually involving buses – and handful of...
The UK, always an awkward member of the European Union, is set to be the first state to leave the bloc (or not; anything seems possible at the moment). However, on the assumption that out means out, we have to consider a future in which British policy in several key areas is not part of an umbrella EU policy. Action on climate change is one important issue in this category. Already, the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee has launched an inquiry into the implications of Brexit (Leaving the EU: implications for UK climate policy). To quote from the introduction to this...
In the last few days, we have seen reports such as this: Electric cars will be most popular with drivers ‘in a decade’. The source of this bullish pronouncement is Go Ultra Low, which presents itself ‘the new national campaign for electric vehicles’, funded by the government (via the Office for Low Emission Vehicles, OLEV) and eight motor manufacturers (Audi, BMW, Kia, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Renault, Toyota and Volkswagen). So, this is effectively a marketing organisation, and we as taxpayers are footing part of the bill. OLEV itself has a wider role. According to its...
For European readers, the fact that the Brexit referendum is finally over will be very welcome. Weeks of highly polarised campaigning have seen the rhetoric become increasingly strident and the personal attacks increasingly unpleasant. That, to the great surprise of many of us, the Leave campaign emerged the winner will not be the end of the matter. Across the UK political scene, there are personal scores to be settled and, hopefully, bridges rebuilt. The issues raised will not disappear overnight and now it is down to the winning side to show their vision of a bright future is a...
In a world where people want certainty, the provisional nature of scientific knowledge can be worrying. Non-scientists want to be reassured that something is safe, rather than have nuanced advice about relative risk. On the other hand, perhaps people find this lack of dogmatism welcome; scientists regularly come high on lists of trusted professions unless, that is they are employed by government or industry. Despite this intrinsic uncertainty, we talk rather loosely about the ‘proof’ of a particular hypothesis. We have seen recently that gravity waves, predicted by Einstein as...

Current Issues


Complacency about UK energy security

The Scientific Alliance has published an important and authoritative examination of National Grid's Future Energy Scenarios. The authors - Dr Capell Aris and Colin Gibson - conclude that at least 6 more conventional power stations are needed to ensure a secure electricity supply when wind farms cannot deliver.

What's New

29 June 2016: See letter about electric cars in The Times