Strictly In Lockstep
The Tightly-Coupled Carbon Tango
by Jo Abbess
24th December 2008
If anyone needed proof that Energy and Economy are tightly coupled, one would need look no further than the December 2008 Energy Trends from the BERR :-
The charts show that in the latter part of the year, as the Economy goes into freefall, Energy consumption dips away as well. What a complete non-surprise !
And yet, very few people are discussing the full implications of this “lockstep”, this dance of Global Warming death, resulting from over 90% of our Energy coming from High Carbon resources : Coal, Natural Gas and Petroleum Oil.
To re-build Value into the Economy, more Energy will be needed to power productivity. Many of the current Energy plants and grids are falling into disrepair, and so many policy thinkers are concentrating on Economic re-generation through fiscal stimuli in the Energy sectors.
If we want to pull the United Kingdom out of Recession, we will be spending not only more money, but more Carbon on new Energy infrastructure, even if that Energy is Renewable and clean.
Does this mean then, that ironically, we may can kiss our Kyoto and Climate Change Bill targets goodbye ?
And does this therefore mean that pragmatism will kick in, that compromises will be made, that short-term decisions for Economic protection will rely on new Energy resources from the same old High-Carbon Fossil Fuels ?
There are two trends to watch. The first is how swiftly the Economy “bottoms out” Carbon emissions. Some analysts have estimated that up to 20% of the Economy has been voided virtually overnight – that a fifth of all wealth has literally vanished due to the cessation of credit and loans.
The number to watch is national Carbon emissions : since over 90% of all Energy used in the Economy is High Carbon, a 20% collapse in the Economy could equate to somewhere in the region of 15% Carbon emissions reductions. The likely time in which to achieve this could be within months of the Economy reaching its own low point.
If new Value is not created in the Economy in the medium- to long-term, this contraction of wealth could be permanent, and this could mean therefore that the reduction in Carbon emissions is also permanent.
This is therefore the number to watch. If Carbon emissions start to rise again, it could be a sign that the Economy is building up again. There will probably never again be large numbers for “economic growth”, but a few percentage points would be welcomed.
If the Carbon emissions reductions brought on by the Recession are permanent, we could meet our Kyoto and European Union targets very easily for five years or so, although this would be at a cost of high unemployment and low economic activity.
The second trend to watch is which Energy resources are chosen for the new infrastructure required. In the United States, in 13 years the utilities have installed electricity generation plant equivalent in output to 25% of the nation’s total use – and none of it was Coal-fired or Nuclear :-
In the United Kingdom, the private Energy companies are showing continued reluctance to build new Coal and Nuclear power stations, despite continued Government sweet nothings and positive murmurings.
The recent takeover of British (Nuclear) Energy could hold a real promise of a real plan for new Nuclear Power Stations, but only the one, or at best two, in all likelihood. However building them would be contingent on getting real taxpayer support, and this would be strongly resisted, given the current economic climate.
There is enormous democratic resistance to a resurgence in Coal, and some very public protests and direct action. It seems that signing off new Coal-fired generation plant could be very problematic, politically and practically.
Some key decisions about Nuclear Power and Coal are coming up in the next six months, and those decisions will have an enormous impact on public support for the Government’s Energy plans.
If the numbers go the way of Coal and/or Nuclear, we could see the Government being hounded out of office for lack of accountability and lack of responsibility.
Ed Miliband, the Secretary of State, Minister for the Department of Energy and Climate Change has made noises to the effect that privatised Energy industries are not appropriate bodies to manage new Energy investment, and has made the case for re-nationalisation of Energy :-
But even if that were to happen, he could not issue a diktat for more Coal-fired generation and more Nuclear Power without severe and entrenched resistance. The new relaxed Planning Laws would allow for rapid Coal and Nuclear development in theory, but in practice, people would actively resist.
The dialogue about Energy keeps throwing up anxious voices who claim that Great Britain will suffer blackouts if we don’t have new Energy investment, and have it as soon as possible :-
The need for new Energy investment, coupled with the ongoing need to cut Carbon emissions points to an obvious solution : cutting out the waste.
Fifty years of Energy infrastructure development has seen centralised thermal power plants that are highly inefficient. Fifty years of Economic development following the lines of Consumer Capitalism has seen rapid uptake of Energy resources, which are now embedded in social, corporate and public infrastructure, for example : office lights on, around the clock.
The Recession could give us a head start on reducing our Carbon emissions, but after that has troughed we will need new strategies, both to carry on cutting the Carbon, and also making sure that Energy supplies are secure.
Energy efficiencies are the obvious means to permanently reducing our Energy and Carbon profiles, and enabling new Energy infrastructure to satisfy Low Carbon needs.
Every company and public body should make full Carbon Disclosure, and have targets set in cooperation with the Carbon Trust or the Energy Savings Trust.
The Government should be “picking winners” from new and sustainable Energy technologies, and utilities should implement them, whether remaining in private ownership, or re-nationalised.
No New Coal. No New Nuclear. Renewables from now on.