What annoys me most about the Solar Power Feed-in Tariff saga is not that the UK Government suddenly pulled the plug on the full rate for household-sized systems, or that they set the cut-off date before they finished their consultation, or even that that the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) dragged out a legal appeal process.
Despite the truly pitiful sight of a Minister of State being sent out to bat with a miniaturised teaspoon to defend the indefensible decision, and despite the energy industry stooges that have placements inside DECC and are clearly affecting policy, no, the thing that really gets me is the focus on budgets instead of targets.
Here’s a summary from the Government’s own “long term trend” figures for energy consumption in Great Britain :-
Nobody can swear to me that the last few years are not just a glitch caused by economic instabilities, and that the re-localisation of manufacture in future in a recovering economy will not push this demand continually higher according to the trendline.
What are we using to supply this energy ? Here’s a summary :-
Despite the near exponential rise in renewable energy, it’s starting from a small base. The increase in energy consumption is being satisfied by a sharp rise in the supply of Natural Gas – something which the UK is producing increasingly less of these days. And for those who think that shale gas production would help, no, only a few percent of demand could be satisfied. This is an import-led energy supply, and the trend should ring alarm bells, but clearly doesn’t even tickle the ears of the average person in the street.
Electricity demand growth remains healthy, despite problems with unreliable supply from nuclear electricity (refered to as “outages” in the DECC Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES) reports) :-
Now, in the future, with an envisioned massive rise in renewable energy, higher electricity use would be reasonable, as long as other energy consumption reduced. But the growth in electricity consumption charted here is not people driving more electric cars or using electric heating instead of Natural Gas-fired comfort. This is higher consumption, pure and simple, not “energy switching” over to electricity.
As an aside – the sum total of these figures indicates that the nation as a whole is not engaged in significant energy conservation, despite decades of campaigning.
All these trends add up to a very slight loss in dependency on fossil fuels for the UK’s energy :-
This is the critical trend. North Sea oil and Natural Gas production is falling like a large rock, and no amount of technological advancement and re-stimulating the drilling sector is turning this around. This means that without a rapid decrease in fossil fuel dependency, the United Kingdom is going to start haemorrhaging wealth.
Goodbye, First World.
This is why is it essential to ramp up renewable energy deployment by whatever means at our disposal.
Greg Barker MP bleating about keeping to budgets is not helping.
[ An extract from the online Christian Ecology Link discussion forum : 11th January 2012 ]
The Civitas report on wind farms.
A couple of days ago, Civitas published a report entitled, “Electricity costs: the folly of wind-power” : http://www.civitas.org.uk/press/prleaelectricityprices.htm [ Download report PDF ]
This report was produced by the Civitas economist, Ruth Lea. The report attracted a fair bit of publicity and even more antagonism from those within the renewables industry. Sadly, as usual the media have done rather less research than they should have; in particular they failed to check the background of the authorities quoted, though the Guardian did point to Lea’s views on climate change.
The following YouTube link leads to Ruth Lea denying the significance of anthropogenic climate change and the ‘flaws’ in Britain’s expensive climate change legislation. She uses all the same sad old errors and, in so doing, limits her credibility as an effective researcher : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvmgUYGgqwU http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcFfxUIRbyo
Her comments seem to be straight out of the Chicago School mythology that economics overrides nature – the view of many scientifically illiterates.
But it gets better, she quotes, as an authority, Dr Kees le Pair, but fails to mention that he is a member of the ‘Committee of Recommendation’ of the Fusion Energy Foundation. The development of nuclear fusion, if it happens, will require very significant investment, investment that could, perhaps, otherwise be made in wind farms and other renewables so there is an important conflict of interest that has been wholly ignored : http://www.fusionenergyfoundation.org/about-us
This matters to all of us because it shows the dangerous level of uncritical evaluation that is made of so called scientific reports and information sources. I still remember the days past when research involved trips to libraries and hours of reading and, unless, the library had an academic connection, new information would not have been easily available.
Perhaps it was the more difficult nature of research that made the media, and much of its audience, that much more careful. The advent of the Internet has provided for rapid transmission of information, straight to your computer or even your smartphone, but apparently at the cost of critical evaluation. So much information is available that even report writers seem to fail to check the background of their sources or the veracity of the information given by that source. Yet, that same Internet provides the means of checking and it’s far less tedious than back in the days of library visits.
Careful use of a search engine can throw up evidence of partiality and YouTube can often confirm background beliefs that have overridden scientific evidence if not common sense. It’s not just
in reports such as this one from Civitas but also within so many anti this, that and the other environmental groups that plague the Internet.
Look carefully at Occupy, for example, and dig deeply enough, you will find some truly amazing YouTube material on the way in which the City of London is a part of worldwide Zionism that is somehow linked with the Vatican and Knights Templar ! Did you know that the Bank of England is owned by the Rothschilds ? The Internet, as well as giving freer voice to information also gives voice to conspiracy theorists and to the murk of prejudice. Just as it is both wrong and dangerous to spread unfounded rumours so it is to spread disinformation, so please use your search engine, take a little time and then critically assess whether this information that you have been given is likely to be both accurate and honest.
To all Renewable Energy Deniers,
Things are getting so much better with renewable energy engineering and deployment – why do you continue to think it’s useless ?
We admit that, at the start, energy conversion efficiencies were low, wind turbine noise was significant, kit was expensive. Not now. Wind and solar farms have been built, data collected and research published. Design modifications have improved performance.
Modelling has helped integrate renewable energy into the grids. As renewable energy technologies have been deployed at scale, and improvements and adjustments have been made, and electricity grid networks have adapted to respond to the variable nature of the wind and the sunshine, we know, and we can show you, that renewable energy is working.
It’s not really clear what motivates you to dismiss renewable energy. Maybe it’s because you’re instinctively opposed to anything that looks like it comes from an “envionmentalist” perspective.
Maybe because renewable energy is mandated to mitigate against climate change, and you have a persistent view that climate change is a hoax. Why you mistrust the science on global warming when you accept the science on everything else is a continuing mystery to me.
But if that’s where you’re coming from when you scorn developments in renewable energy, you’re making a vital mistake. You see, renewable energy is sustainable energy. Despite any collapse in the globalised economy, or disruption to fossil fuel production, wind turbines will keep spinning, and solar panels will keep glowing.
Climate change has been hard to communicate effectively – it’s a huge volume of research, it frequently appears esoteric, or vague, or written by boffins with their heads in the clouds. Some very intelligent people are still not sure about the finer points of the effects of global warming, and so you’re keeping good company if you reserve judgement on some of the more fringe research.
But attacking renewable energy is your final stand. With evidence from the engineering, it is rapidly becoming clear that renewable energy works. The facts are proving you wrong.
And when people realise you’re wrong about renewable energy, they’ll never believe you again. They won’t listen to you when you express doubts about climate change, because you deny the facts of renewable energy.
Those poor fools who have been duped into thinking they are acting on behalf of the environment to campaign against wind farms ! Wind energy will be part of the backbone of the energy grids of the future.
We don’t want and we can’t afford the concrete bunkers of deadly radioactive kettles and their nasty waste. We don’t want and we can’t afford the slag heaps, dirty air and melting Arctic that comes from burning coal for power. We don’t want and we can’t afford to keep oil and Natural Gas producing countries sweet – or wage war against them to keep the taps open.
Instead we want tall and graceful spinners, their gentle arms waving electricity from the breeze. We want silent and dark photovoltaic cladding on every roof.
Burning things should only be done to cover for intermittency in wind and sunshine. Combustion is very inefficient, yet you support combustion when you oppose renewable energy.
We must fight waste in energy, and the rising cost of energy, and yet you don’t support the energy resources where there is no charge for fuel. Some would say that’s curmudgeonly.
When you oppose renewable energy, what is it you’re fighting for ? The old, inefficient and poisonous behemoths of coal hell ? We who support renewable, sustainable energy, we exchange clunky for sleek, toxic for clean. We provide light and comfort to all, rich and poor.
When you oppose renewable energy, you are being unbelievably gullible – you have swallowed an argument that can ruin our economy, by locking us into dependency on energy imports. You are passing up the chance to break our political obedience to other countries, all because wind turbines clutter up your panoramic view when you’re on holiday.
You can question the net energy gain from wind power, but the evidence shows you to be incorrect.
If you criticise the amount of investment and subsidy going into renewable energy, you clearly haven’t understood the net effect of incentivisation in new technology deployment.
Renewable energy has a positive Net Present Value. Wind turbines and solar panels are genuine assets, unlike the liabilities that are coal-fired power stations and nuclear reactors.
Renewable energy deployment will create meaningful, sustainable employment and is already creating wealth, not only in financial terms, but in social welfare terms too.
Renewable energy will save this country, so why do you knock it ?
|Every once in a while, it’s good to remind myself of the data – to help me focus once again on why I do what I do.
Yesterday evening, I decided to catch up on exactly how out of control atmospheric methane concentrations are in the region around the Arctic :-
When reviewing the charts, the secondmost important thing to see is the high point measurements, the peaks, rising over time.
|The most vital thing to observe, however, is the inexorable rise of the minimum measurements since around 2007 – which implies a higher overall background atmospheric methane concentration.
Much of this methane explosion can probably be blamed on global warming from excessive carbon dioxide emissions – which showed signs of coming under control between 1990 and 2000, but after that lifted off once more.
People dispute why carbon dioxide emissions have risen consistently and sharply since the turn of the millenium – but one of the answers is to be found in the rapid deployment of coal-burning for power generation. Stronger environmental controls on air quality have reduced the health impacts of coal-burning, but mean that the net effect is stronger global warming.
So much could be done to alleviate the strong warming of the Arctic, and prevent dangerous instabilities. It is time to say it – and keep on saying it – and not relent – every measure to keep the Arctic cool is urgent.
Public infrastructure and utilities are the skeleton of the national economy; the spokes of the wheel; the walls of the house.
Private corporations can in many cases put muscle on the body, a tyre on the bike, and furnish the rooms, but without the basic public provision, private enterprise cannot thrive.
Without taxes being raised – asking everybody for their appropriate contribution – there would be no guaranteed health service, education system, roads, water supplies, power networks.
Federal or central government spending is essential, and often goes without question or inspection – including subsidies, cheap government loans, tax breaks and even rule-bending and regulatory exemption for specific sectors of the economy. This policy lenience also applies to private companies that take on the provision of public utilities.
This explicit, but often glossed-over, support for public services means that private business can rely on this national infrastructure. Small businesses can rely on a power supply and waste disposal services, for example. Large businesses can rely on a functioning postal service and road network.
It is questionable whether for-profit enterprise would be able to survive without the basic taxation-funded provision of public services and utilities.
I can understand why governments feel the need to get public spending off the balance sheet, and outsource public utilities to the private sector.
There is a lingering belief that private enterprise makes public services more efficient; makes manufacturing more reliable; makes construction better quality.
In some cases, this belief in privatisation is justified. Where companies can genuinely compete with each other, there can be efficiencies at scale. However, the success of privatisation is not universal.
Many parts of a developed economy are monolithic – there is no real competition possible. You get electricity through your power socket from a variety of production companies – you cannot choose. The road between your house and your office is always the same road – you don’t choose between different tarmac suppliers. Your local hospital is your local hospital, regardless of who owns and runs it – you have no choice about who that is – and the government contract tendering process is not something open to a public vote.
Added to this lack of competition, in some cases, it is impossible to make a profit by operating a public service by a private concern.
There should be no rock under which private business can hide when it claims to be operating profitable train and bus services – without public subsidies, public transport cannot be run at a profit.
Liability for daily operations may have been outsourced to the British private train companies, but not the full cost of the services. Costs for locally-sourced services cannot be driven down because they cannot be made fully open to global competition.
By contrast, the globalisation of labour has been making manufacturing industry significantly cheaper for decades.
In order for globalised trade to work, finance has to be liberated from its nation-bound shackles, and so along with the globalisation of labour to nations where it’s cheapest, there has been the globalisation of finance, to the tax regimes less punitive.
The globalisation of trade is a two-way bargain between those that want to see the development of primitive economies and those who want to create wealth for their companies and their shareholders.
Globalisation has created a booming China, for example, and filled the pockets of any Western company that imports from China.
However, the tide of globalisation has reached the shore, and the power of the waves is being stilled by solid earth realities. Labour costs in previously under-developed economies are starting to rise significantly, as those economies start to operate internal markets as well as maintain export-led growth.
It could soon be cheaper to have manufacturing labour in the United States of America than China. But when that happens a curious problem will arise. Manufacturing industry has been closed down in the so-called industrialised countries – as companies have taken their factories to the places with the cheapest labour and the most lax tax.
Wealth creation potential in developed countries has been destroyed. And it is for this reason that Western governments feel the urgent need to privatise everything, because their economies are collapsing internally, and public budgets may no longer be able to sustain current government spending.
However, privatisation doesn’t work for everything. It doesn’t work for health, education, water, public transport. The European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is a vehicle to compensate for agricultural sectors than cannot make a profit. I would contend privatisation doesn’t work for the energy supply and distribution sector either – but for a special reason.
Normally, it is possible to run energy stations at a profit. The privatised sector inherited power stations and grid networks that were fully functioning, and the sales of power and Natural Gas were almost pure profit.
However, much energy plant needs to be lifecycled after decades of use – replacements are in order, and this demands heavy public investment, in the form of subsidies, or pricing controls, or tax breaks or some such financial aid, in order to avoid crippling the private companies.
Like the rail network, there is direct public investment in the power grids. This is to support new access for new energy plant. However, I think this doesn’t go far enough. I would argue that much more public tax-and-spend is required in the energy sector.
In future, most electricity generation needs to become low carbon and indigenous. The primary reason for this is the volatility of the globalised economy – it will no longer be possible to assume that imports of coal, Natural Gas and oil for power station combustion can be afforded – especially in economies like the United Kingdom, where much wealth creation has been destroyed by de-industrialisation.
It used to be easy to ignore this – as the North Sea was so productive in oil and Natural Gas that the UK was a net energy exporter. This is no longer the case.
To avoid the risk of national impoverishment, energy independence is dictated, spelled out by a deflating British economy and by the depleting North Sea reserves.
The easiest and fastest way to a power supply that is low carbon is by healthy investment in wind power and solar power. Yet with the turbulence in the global economy, spending on renewable energy has also been rocky.
Now is the time for the UK Government to stop tickling corporate underbellies to get them to invest in British energy, and to start collected tax revenues to spend explicitly on the energy revival.
It can be “matched” funding – the Renewables Obligation, for example, has drawn in massive levels of private investment into wind power. And the feed-in tariff scheme for solar photovoltaics had, until recently, been pulling in high levels of personal individual and private company investment.
This is the kind of public-private financing that works – create a slightly tilted playing field to tip the flow of money towards new energy investment, and watch the river flow.
Without public money ploughed into public infrastructure in non-profitable areas such as public transport and energy, private enterprise will not be able to make a contribution – they would quickly bankrupt themselves.
The result of capping public subsidies for renewable energy is a halt to renewable energy deployment. Those who resist wind farms are in effect destroying the country. Those who cap public subsidies for solar power want to break the nation.
We need socalist financing of new energy technology deployment, for the future wealth of our country.
|On my Christmas journey, on the train from Brussels, Belgium, to the Dutch border, besides the wind turbines, I counted the number of solar electric rooftop installations I could see. My estimate was that roughly 300 kilowatts of solar could be seen from the track.
There has been an explosion of deployment. The renewable energy policies that are behind this tide of photovoltaics in Flanders seem to be working, or have been until recently.
|On my journey back from Holland to England, I pondered about the polders and the low-lying landscape around me. I don’t know what river it was we crossed, but the river was only held in place by narrow banks or dikes, as it was higher than the farmland around it – waterlogged fields in some places – where parcels of land were divided by stillwater ditches instead of hedges or fences.
“Oh no, we don’t have “Mary Poppins” on Dutch TV any more at Christmas every year like we used to. We’re going to see the film “The Storm”…” said my host. Curiouser and curiouser. “De Storm” is a film that harks back to an actual historical event, the major North Sea flooding in 1953. “I remember what it was like afterwards,” says an older English relative, “I visited Belgium and Holland with my aunt and uncle just after the flooding – he wanted to visit the family war graves. We stayed in Middelburg. You could see how high the water reached. There were tide marks this high on the side of the houses, and whelks left stuck on the walls.”
The film attempts to nail down the coffin casket lid of bad weather history. By telling the narrative of major, fearful floods of the past, people are distracted from the possibility that it may happen again. History is history, and the story tells the ending, and that’s a finish to it.
However, for some people, those people who know something of the progress of the science of global warming, this film is like a beacon – a flare on a rocky landing strip – lighting the way to the future crash of the climate and the rising of sea levels, which will bring havoc to The Netherlands, Dutch engineers or no Dutch engineers.
We have to be prepared for change, major change. If you or anyone you know has Dutch relatives and friends, think about whether you can invite them to live with you in future if things get really bad. One or two really bad storms combined with excessive tides and a few centimetres of sea level rise could be all it takes to wreck the country’s ability to organise water and destroy a significant amount of agricultural land.
“I’ve been studying Climate Change science”, I told another host. “You believe in Climate Change ?”, he asked, somewhat incredulously. “It’s 200 years of science”, I replied, smiling, “but we probably shouldn’t discuss it. I don’t think it would be very productive.”
Date: 9 November 2011
From: tim b
To: jo abbess
Just picked up on your blog following leads on Tom Heap – I’m writing a piece for my website (www.biggreenbang.co.uk) on the panorama / KPMG saga – just wanted to say what a great blog it is~!! Don’t find so many to-the-point sites in the UK – have picked up on guys like Joe Romm in the States but you seem to have your finger right on the pulse in the UK!
…Should explain that my site has been initiated by a load of IT techie nerds who are already working in telecoms and are about to launch a zero carbon mobile phone company (by a combination of using low carbon technology, buying into renewable power and carbon offsetting) They are committed to putting part of their profits into green projects and are setting up BGB in the hopes that it will be a vehicle for making sustainability issues available to a wider public – they have ambitions to develop it as a community resource too – They obviously hope to get spin-off business for their mobile phone network but I believe their motives are genuinely good and they seem to be giving me a fairly free rein!
look forward to hearing from you
Date: 10 November 2011
From: jo abbess
To: tim b
Good luck with the Panorama research.
…Keep the green flag flying !
|Germany can do it, but not the British. The Collected Republic of the People can install solar power with great will and nerve, but not Johnny English.
Let’s be clear here – the people in Scotland have a vision for future Renewable Energy, and so do many people in Wales and Ireland, but it appears English governance listens to fuddy duddy landowners too readily, and remains wedded to the fossil fuel industry and major construction projects like nuclear power, and carbon capture and storage.
|What precisely is wrong with the heads of policy travel in Westminster ? Do they not understand the inevitable future of “conventional” energy – of decline, decimation and fall ?
It really is of no use putting off investment in truly sustainable and renewable power and gas. There are only two paths we can take in the next few decades, and their destination is the same.
Here’s how it goes. Path A will take the United Kingdom into continued dodgy skirmishes in the Middle East and North Africa. Oil production will dance like a man with a stubbed toe, but then show its true gradient of decline. Once everybody gets over the panic of the impending lack of vehicle fuel, and the failure of alternatives like algal biodiesel, and the impacts of a vastly contracted liquid fuel supply on globalised trade, then we shall move on to the second phase – the exploitation of gas. At first, it will be Natural Gas. But that too will decline. And then it will be truly natural gases. As gas is exploited for vehicles, electricity will have to come from coal. But coal, too, is suffering a precipitous decline. So renewable energy will be our salvation. By the year 2100, the world will run on renewable electricity and renewable gas, or not at all.
I was speaking to a nuclear power “waverer” the other day. They said that George Monbiot or Mark Lynas was saying that since Germany has cancelled its nuclear power programme, Germany’s Carbon Dioxide emissions will increase, because they will be using coal and Natural Gas power stations :-
I explained that this was a common misconception, and that Germany is still planning to meet their carbon targets, and that it can be done even with coal and gas power plants because in a few decades’ time the coal and Natural Gas power plants will only be used a couple of weeks a year in total to back up all the renewables, such as wind power and solar power, that Germany is building.
This is not the end of the story, however.
Although variability in Renewable Electricity generation is a real issue, it’s not a huge one, according to recent reports, that from the International Energy Agency (IEA) “Harnessing Variable Renewables” among them :-
Even so, there is a need to improve cheap methods of energy storage – and one of the simplest ways to increase capacity in this area is to produce Renewable Gas – which can be stored as easily as Natural Gas.
This chart shows why George Monbiot, Mark Lynas and Stephen Tinsdale have all plumped for the wrong choice – new Nuclear Power cannot deliver more electricity or reduce carbon dioxide emissions for us at the time when we need it most – the next few years :-
0. Massive energy conservation drives – for demand management – are clearly essential, given the reduction in UK generation.
1. It is impossible to increase new Nuclear Power capacity in less than ten years, but total UK generation is falling now, so now and in the next few years is the timeframe in which to add capacity. We cannot go on relying on Nuclear Power imports from France – especially given the rate of power outages there.
2. The fastest growing generation sources over the next few years will be Wind Power, Solar Power and Renewable Gas – if we set the right policies at the government and regulator levels.
Curiouser and curiouser…