Cheesy Energy Stories of the Week

I’m old enough to remember when surplus government cheese was given away to poor people. But now the geniuses of greenery over in the UK have come up with a new use:

Gas made from cheese to heat hundreds of homes

Hundreds of homes in Cumbria will be heated using cheese from next month, as a new government-backed green energy plant starts producing gas from cheddar manufacturing waste.

The anaerobic digestion plant at the Lake District Creamery in Aspatria will receive millions of pounds in subsidies for turning whey and other residues from the cheese production process into “biogas”.

Some of the gas will be used to generate electricity on-site, while the remainder will be processed and fed into the local gas grid where it will be used by homes and business for their heating and cooking.

Clearfleau, the company that built the new plant, said the total amount of gas being fed into the gas grid each year would be equivalent to the annual gas needs of 4,000 homes.

About 60 per cent of that gas is expected to be taken back out of the grid for the creamery’s own use in steam-making, leaving the equivalent of 1,600 homes’ annual gas usage circulating to homes and businesses in rural Cumbria.

So essentially this is a fancy co-generation plant, though note the telltale “will receive millions of pounds in subsidies” for an energy source that will supply, net, natural gas for just 1,600 homes. No wonder the article commits the usual journalistic malpractice of not saying how much this genius scheme costs, how large the subsidy is, how the per-unit cost compares with other sources of energy, and whether there’s enough “cheese residues” around to scale it up beyond this engineer’s plaything. In other words, this story is even cheesier than the usual energy flim-flam.

It could be worse. The great Vaclav Smil relates in his terrific book Energy Myths and Realities about the preposterous proposal to “link a biodiesel plant with cosmetic surgeons.” Yes—you understand that correctly: make fuel out of liposuction residues—330 lbs of human fat a week would produce 40 gallons of fuel. I know what you’re thinking: “Finally—a productive use for the Khardashians!” But no.

Meanwhile, you may have heard that Peabody Coal is filing for bankruptcy, ahead of Hillary’s schedule to put coal companies out of business. (“We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business,” Hillary said last month.) Much less attention, meanwhile, is being paid to the latest bankruptcies of solar power firms:

Anatomy of a Solar Meltdown

Less than a year ago, SunEdison was a solar industry titan, billing itself as the world’s largest renewable development company.

Today, it has lost $9.2 billion in equity and seen its stock price plummet from $33.40 last July to 39 cents a share Monday.

Two weeks ago, SunEdison revealed it is facing scrutiny from the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission on questions surrounding its financing practices and how much cash it had on hand when its stock meltdown occurred.

A public filing on March 29 reported SunEdison is facing “substantial risk” of bankruptcy, prompting Greg Jones of the financial research firm CreditSights to tell the Economist magazine, “It’s like a giant layer cake of debt.”

Or this, from The Guardian:

UK Solar Power Installations Plummet After Government Cuts

The amount of household solar power capacity installed in the past two months has plummeted by three quarters following the government’s cuts to subsidies, according to new figures.

A fall in solar power was expected following a 65% reduction in government incentives paid to householders, but the size of the drop-off will dismay green campaigners who want take up on clean energy sources to accelerate.

Data published by the energy regulator this week shows there was 21 megawatts (MW) of small solar installed in February and March this year, after a new, lower incentive rate came into effect. By contrast, energy department figures show that for the same period in 2015, 81MW was installed.

The cuts were announced just days after energy secretary Amber Rudd helped agree the historic Paris climate deal, and have bankrupted several solar companies. The government says the changes were necessary to protect bill payers, as the solar incentives are levied on household energy bills.

Funny how a source of something everyone needs to consume in large, predictable quantities can’t compete in the marketplace without heavy government subsidies. Makes you think it might be a lousy source of the product.


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