BP : Breaking Paradigms

As you walk into BP World, be prepared to have an ideological transplant. Be prepared to have hopes dashed and disappointments bittered. Be prepared, above all, to have unrecognisable narratives thrust upon you, with all the reinforcements that money can lobby for.

This is my initial reaction upon reading the words of Bob Dudley, outgoing Chief Executive Officer of BP, reported yesterday by Bloomberg, and carried on the wires elsewhere, for example :-

In the article, headlined, “Outgoing BP CEO Warns of Moving Too Fast on Climate Change”, Bob Dudley “warned Big Oil of moving too fast on investing in new technologies to counter climate change, because their failure could lead to financial ruin. ‘If you go too fast and you don’t get it right you can drive yourself out of business,’ Dudley said in a Columbia Energy Exchange podcast with Professor Jason Bordoff.”

I suppose that sentiment would be valid if the “new” technologies he is probably referring to were genuinely radical. The thing is, wind power and solar power, the two key technologies that have been causing an explosion in renewable energy, are tried and tested, so they are definitely not “new”; and also, there’s no significant failure that could reasonably be anticipated now.

What is it with BP and Renewable Energy ? Why the long faces ? It probably has to do with the BP Solar venture, that was properly amazing at the time, although it transpired that BP was making it all work with subsidies, which obviously is not sustainable, and there was strong competition from Chinese manufacture, so it was all closed down.

The real issue here could be said to have been market manipulation; but when the markets started functioning properly, over-subsidised, cost-inefficient technologies could no longer compete.

Market rigging doesn’t really work, except to kickstart technology adoption, and so it’s a bit of a mystery why BP still clings to carbon pricing as their preferred ask, “‘I cannot imagine how we’re going to get there without a price on carbon.'”

Now that wind power and solar power are within reach at increasingly reasonable capital expenditure levels, and many power companies increasingly depend on the cheap wind and solar electrons, why does Bob Dudley still maintain renewable energy technologies cannot be assets instead of liabilities, where for example, he said, “It does have a lower return profile, there’s no question about it.” ?

And further, he says he has been taunting shareholders with what he believes – that there is a lack of financial returns from renewables, “[…] they say ‘we would like you to move really quickly into renewables.’ I say, ‘we can do that, would you like us to cut the dividend?’ They go, ‘no, no, don’t do that.’

Bob Dudley seems to be making reference to an alternative reality, because this is not how things work in this current universe. Wind power and solar power are making real money, these days.

Also, Mr Dudley still seems unconvinced that renewable electricity technology is already viable, “‘Technology has not yet been cracked that will make the big movement on climate change. Renewables are fantastic. They’re one way to do it, but we’re going to come through with some solution.'”; and “‘Oil companies must […] invest when game-changing technologies are developed.'”

There’s no need to look to the future, though. All the technologies we need, we already have.

Bob Dudley seems to suffer from a lack of insight into what could be possible within BP’s current core business. “‘Oil companies must retain a strong financial footing to be able to invest when game-changing technologies are developed’, he said.” He is implying that BP must keep their social licence to pump crude petroleum oil and Natural Gas, in order to keep their balance sheet healthy enough to invest; yet the technologies he is thinking of have nothing to do with BP’s mining and refining activities. He mentions “some sort of nuclear capability that’s much safer”, by way of an example.

He’s also leaving this shift to the future – to things not yet known or done – leaving BP drilling fossil carbon for decades.

He neglects to address what could be possible in BP’s own house, with green chemistry, to bring about a massive reduction in net carbon dioxide emissions to air.

And about this social licence to drill : “‘If we understand where the technologies are going and we invest, the best thing we can do strategically is have a strong balance sheet. When it becomes really clear certain technologies are going to move very quickly and be profitable, then we’ll be able to make that shift.'” But, but, we can’t wait for BP to jump, when they think the market’s right to act on climate change. They do need to be acting right now.

So, not really inspiring, and rather disparaging.

But here’s where I agree with Bob, “‘We should not shut down what we’re doing or sell our assets to somebody else and go all into renewables'”, he is quoted as saying, and I totally agree. Why should BP try to do anything apart from what they’re really good at – chemical engineering ?

“‘We want to be leaders in this and we do enormous amount as companies’, such as in developing technology and reducing emissions from their own operations. But ‘we’re not the epicenter of these issues.'” Again, too right. BP is not the epicentre of solar power and wind power development, it’s not really their thing. Even so, they should be very central in the global response to climate change. Nobody should shrug.

And again, I agree with Bob when he says, “‘I don’t know how the world can get to the goals of [the] Paris [Treaty, agreed by UNFCCC] without a very major role for natural gas.'” No, indeed. Methane, the main constituent of Natural Gas, is a fine energy vector, and high flexible. It’s just that I think BP should be focussing on Renewable Methane, instead of Natural Gas, in future, and need a strategy to make that transition out of Natural Gas happen.

Bob Dudley thinks we should be resigned about the reign of King Oil, “‘If we were all driven out of business that oil would still be produced’ by national oil companies and other countries.”, which is a major abdication of responsiblity. Where is the compact between companies and countries to take up green chemistry, and elect to cease and desist from digging up fossil fuels ?

I think there is room for a breaking of paradigms. It might be too much to hope for a non-white person, or a woman, or even a person not wearing a suit and tie to be the new head of BP, but I have a vague idea there’s some traction in arguing for BP to return to their 1970s glory days of fuel synthesis.


The Renewable Gas Ask : Part Q

In the continuing inquiry into which bodies and actors are likely to call for Renewable Gas, and why, I am going back to add extra comments to sectors I already discussed.

14.   Power Grid Operators (Continued)

An Embarrassment of Electrons

Stories regularly bubble away, and rise to the surface from time to time, about how renewable power is being wasted, as grids don’t need it or can’t handle it.

There appears to be a whole phalanx of media commentators, who might identify as right-wing, and therefore be fans of shareholding and markets, who complain about wind turbines being “shut down” (or more accurately “shut out”) because it’s too windy. Funny, though, increasingly more wind turbines are being planted, almost as if there’s a strong return on capital investment in these zero carbon assets. Plus, these opinion-formers don’t seem to change their story from year to year, which is a tad strange :-

2018 : Wind farms paid £100m to switch power off
2020 : “Wind farms paid up to £3 million per day to switch off turbines”

It’s a losing argument, lads. Actually, no, it’s lost. The National Grid knew what it was doing when it agreed to adopt renewable electricity sources. There’s the whole Balancing Mechanism, and soon, there will be heaps of extra electricity storage, and the storage of the power of electrons in other forms of energy.

As time goes by, and reams of solar panels and crowds of wind turbines are added to the standing army of power grids in the developed and developing countries, because neighbouring countries will all be producing too much electricity at the same time – for example in a strong storm system or a very sunny day – it will not be possible to export electrons along interconnectors.

Oops, an embarrassment of electrons. The infrastructure and grid distribution people will be looking for anything that can act as a load sink. Sure, for an anticipated storage time of a few hours, using grid-integrated solid state batteries are going to be a boon. Except the scale of the energy storage required might far outweigh original scoping.

Will the power companies turn to flow batteries and other kinds of chemical looping systems for energy storage on windy Wednesdays and sunny Sundays ? It all depends on how stable these turn out to be – how many cycles of a unit can be done before maintenance or chemical refilling is required. Also, the containment of chemical batteries is a fairly major construction cost, and for safety reasons, it might be better if they were built into the ground – also saving on build materials. If the power companies need to go to the extent of digging for battery provision, why not produce synthetic gas from excess renewable power, and store that underground instead ? It would require much less in terms of containment and build. Nature has provided a fine example of how gases can be stored safely for millions of years underground – why, we could even use the now-emptied Natural Gas caverns to store synthesised methane.

It is at this point in the logic that a wise reviewer of energy will reflect on how there is now a bit of a competition for the provision of sub-surface storage of gases. Large, traditionally leading oil and gas companies are selling the idea of CCS – Carbon Capture and Storage, where all vagrant carbon dioxide should be plucked from whichever process, or even from the air itself, to be compressed and pumped underground for eternity – but actually a good deal shorter, because of tectonics and the natural long period natural Carbon Cycle. Modern, more conscious energy companies want to use the sub-surface to store carbon-free hydrogen, despite the fact that hydrogen molecules are incredibly small and incorrigibly mobile, seeping through even metals.

Whilst it is true that the world needs Renewable Hydrogen – hydrogen liberated from water and biomass by the action of renewable power – the best gas for energy storage is definitely Renewable Methane – made from Renewable Hydrogen. There is a strong parallel with natural processes : Natural Gas, which has been resident in the sub-surface for millions of years, is primarily methane in content.

Fine. Capture and lock away a bit of carbon dioxide underground. Bury CO2. But there is no gain in locking away a source of carbon that has no intrinsic fuel value. What’s more important is energy storage – so temporarily burying hydrogen and methane – which are ideal fuels. Although, as previously noted, methane is more stable and containable, theoretically. Methane gas emissions from oil and gas industry operations have been bad in some places and at some times : due to liberating methane from its millions-years sub-surface storage : this failing will need to be deal with when applications of Renewable Methane expand.

10.   Industrial High Energy Consumers (Continued)

Developed and developing economies will continue to have industries with high levels of energy demand, causing high levels of carbon dioxide emissions : for products such as steel, glass, fuels, petrochemicals and cement. Processes in this sector are highly concentrated in terms of location, owing to the energy efficiency of highly centralised operation, and this would facilitate high volume carbon dioxide capture, and therefore lower-cost CCS – the underground, permanent sequestration of carbon dioxide.

However, in terms of capital expenditure barriers to new technologies, it would be less of a hurdle to implement low carbon synthetic gas production to meet energy demand; and in addition, provide energy-dense synthesised gases for storage which would have a future earnings potential. If syngas in high energy demand industries were to be made from renewable resources, so Renewable Gas, so Renewable Hydrogen, Renewable Methane and Renewable Carbon Monoxide, this would advance low carbon industry significantly.

Another question is that of speed-to-implementation : Renewable Gas for low carbon energy in energy-intensive industries is likely to be much faster to get going than industry-wide Carbon Capture and Storage.

In order for Renewable Gas to be called for in this sector, however, there would need to be a strong confidence that renewable electricity supplies were growing virtually exponentially, as cheap power will be essential. Renewable Gas will not only be a serious soak of excess renewable power load, it will also provide a way to capture and recycle process heat in energy-intensive industries – a matter of energy efficiency, which is highly important to make advances in.

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Wind Power ? Go Ogle !

“Google funds 6,000MW mid-Atlantic wind farms, transmission grid : 12 October 2010…

“Google goes deep with offshore wind project”

“Wind could supply fifth of world energy”

The future is breezy.

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Rattle, Rattle, Little Turbine

So, what happens when you put a number of small wind turbines on houses and tower blocks and start measuring the power output and other statistics ?

People complain about noise and get the things turned off :-

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Wind Power : Material Fatigues

Image Credit : Cape Cod Living

James Delingpole follows in a long line of commentators with zero engineering experience in pouring scorn on a technology that could quite possibly save our skins :-

I don’t know what he harbours in his heart against wonderful wind turbines, but he seems to be part of a movement who delight in their failure. Just ask the Internet to show you “exploding wind turbines”.

For example :-

Clearly, you need to be in full protective fatigues when battling this kind of bad press…in fact “fatigue” is exactly the right word to come back at Mr Delingpole’s cracked warning (of cracks in wind turbine bases).

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Tu Me Manques, David Miliband

I don’t know about you, but I’m missing David Miliband from the political fish-eat-fish top table already.

If he were to ask me, which he won’t, but anyway, if he did, I would recommend that he starts reading up about Energy production and supply, over the next 18 months or so before he gets invited, acceptingly, back into the Shadow Cabinet of the UK Government.

If he were to spend his time on the train between South Shields and Westminster looking into energy security matters, into crustal petrogeology, the Middle East oil fields, Wind Power, solar and marine options, he could make a strong comeback into the limelight – as opposed to the “lemon” light he’s been cast into, thrust into, so far.

If he becomes acquainted with the ways and wiles of engineering and fossil fuels over the next few years, the viability of Renewable Energy solutions, the transport explosion phenomenon and how to control it, then he will be able to offer solid assistance to his younger brother Teddy – who appears to be mistakenly sold on the idea of new nuclear power.

And if Ed Miliband were to ask, (again, which he won’t), I’d say – atomic energy cannot save us; carbon capture technology cannot save us; algae biodiesel can only trickle, even Frankenstein GM algae biodiesel; Peak Oil is almost definitely here; efficiency of use alone cannot save us. We have to go right out for a non-combustion, Renewable Energy future.

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FIT for Purpose

Image Credit : Marrickville Greens

Everywhere in the world that Renewable Energy subsidies, grants or guaranteed unit price contracts have been set, there has been a gradual, or sometimes even rapid, development of new Renewable Energy assets. Which seems like quite a good reason for the State to partly finance the development of Renewable Energy systems, if you take the long view. (Note : I’m using the word “asset” in its proper, original sense here – something that has value long after it has been created, and long after it has been paid for.)

By the end of the lifetime of German roof-top solar panels, or British wind turbines, the economic signal to assist the deployment of these technologies will have long since vapourised, leaving behind a functioning electricity supply that runs without the use of expensive fuel and doesn’t run the risk of major failures and huge drops in power output – unlike large centralised power stations.

The need to invest in long-term non-fuel widely-distrubuted generation assets plugged into the electricity network is essential for its future stability – the more reliable Renewable resources of all scales the National Grid can call on, the cheaper it will be to guarantee a solid supply for all.

The large energy companies most likely consider investment in small- and medium-scale Renewable Energy by individuals and communities as a threat to their monopoly on electrical generation. And so they should. It is time for big changes in the way energy is supplied and managed in this country.

New, large, centralised power plants that the large energy companies want to build will cost their customers dearly in the form of higher energy prices – and there have been continual battles over the planning for and the financing of large new energy plants.

This is why the Feed-in Tariff (FIT) scheme in the UK is so important to keep – a stimulus to create small-scale Low Carbon power resources that will still have value in 20 or even 30 years time with very low maintenance schedules.

The threshold level of the economic stimulus for small-scale Renewables is comparatively low when compared to other forms of investment. The incentive scheme to install principally solar resources can work with funds much lower than those required to underwrite a new fleet of Nuclear Power stations, for example, and yet create a resource that could rival the new reactors without all that cost of nasty radioactive clean-up at the end of a nuke plant’s life.

But, being Great Britain, the Government have had their heads turned by the large energy companies yet again, it seems, as there are rumours that the FIT will be scrapped :-

“Solar power subsidy under review : By Fiona Harvey, Environment Correspondents : Published: September 23 2010 : The recent mini-boom in solar power could be in jeopardy, as the government has privately indicated that new feed-in tariffs that have fuelled the industry could be slashed. If such cuts are adopted, renewable energy experts fear that it will scare off investors – with repercussions throughout the industry. “To change the subsidy system just when you can see the success it has had beggars belief,” said one. “Renewable energy investors . . . will lose faith in this government.” Industry insiders also accused the government of hypocrisy. They say that while Chris Huhne, the energy and climate change secretary, was promising the Liberal Democrat conference 250,000 green jobs as part of a “revolutionary” deal to cut emissions, government advisers were holding meetings in back rooms at which they flagged up potential cuts to the feed-in tariffs (FITs)…”

Don’t blame me or anybody in the Green Party or Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth or a number of other Non-Governmental Organisations or independents if in 15 years time there is still not a significant Renewable Energy resource in the United Kingdom. We have expended a lot of personal energy calling for sensible levels of sustainable funding for the renewables revolution. We can do without the limitations of a stop-start regime.

If you want new energy systems, you need to pay for them. It’s called investment, and we need to do it because our current energy systems are decrepit and high carbon. The large energy companies are not prepared to put their own capital into small-scale Renewables, so it falls to the taxpayer to fill the gap. Why not pay the least for the most by directly incentivising small-scale Renewable Energy with a long-term Feed In Tariff scheme ?

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What Germany Says, Germany Means

Unlike the United Kingdom, where political sensibility can quash the most logical enactment of energy policy, plans for progress voiced so tentatively you can bearly feel a ripple, or hear it over the whispering swoosh of a new wind turbine blade, over in Deutschland, what they say, they intend to happen, and they’re making serious proposals about how that’s going to be done :-,1518,716221,00.html

“09/07/2010 : Green Visions : Merkel’s Masterplan for a German Energy Revolution : By Stefan Schultz : Giant windparks, insulated buildings, electric cars and a European supergrid: the German government on Monday unveiled an ambitious but vague blueprint to launch a new era of green energy for Europe’s largest economy. SPIEGEL ONLINE has analyzed the plans…”

It appears to be time to wave bye-bye to German coal, incidentally, even as a strong commitment to renewable, sustainable energy is put on the table.

I wish the British Government could take a long hard look at themselves in the mirror of the future and realise what a bunch of dithering duffers they appear to be.

What we need is a proper Energy Policy, chaps, and since you’re in the hot seat you better come up with it. Elected or not, our ministers and officials need to get up out of their deep leather chairs, extinguish their pipes, don their working breeches and get digging for Britain, and I don’t mean Shale Gas or Old Coal.

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James Delingpole : Yours, Unfactually

Seemingly without knowing anything significant about energy, or the systems used to produce it, James Delingpole makes several key blunders, in my view, in his latest rant :-

“We need to talk about wind farms…” : By James Delingpole : July 28th, 2010

I know the cure for his error-riddled beliefs ! Send some real live energy engineers to his office to talk to him about their industry.

I’m sure the thought of several serious and strangely bearded, slightly obsessive individuals coming to actually talk to him about wind power might be a cue for him to actually start doing some research.

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Christopher Booker : Sniping Smearduggery

The Liberal Democrat and Conservative Members of Parliament in the United Kingdom spent almost an entire week crafting a political framework for power-sharing after the “hung” General Election.

Those considered the most appropriate people were appointed to positions in the central Cabinet, people from both political parties, with the aim and ambition of working together closely and fraternally.

Back room agreements were painstakingly forged, deals were clearly made, and explained publicly in a transparent fashion. In the day-to-day operation of Government, it is made clear who is speaking on behalf of themselves, their party or the Coalition.

This is probably the best example of cooperative, progressive politics since…I don’t know when. But all Christopher Booker seems to want to do is snipe, moan and smear, and appears to throw in as many factually incorrect allegations and fake statistics about wind power as he possibly can.

I certainly wouldn’t pay him to write such divisive, unreferenced, unverified stuff. What’s he trying to do ? Split public opinion ? :-

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Climate Union : Sharing Principles

Image Credit : Gilbert & George, “Nettle Dance”, White Cube

I’m in the Climate Union. Are You ?

Soon we could all be, if the expansionist plans of a group of social campaigners come to fruition.

Taking in the unions, faith communities and the usual rag-tag bunch of issues activists, the Climate Union aims to establish itself as a political force for Low Carbon.

First of all, however, it has to tackle the uneasy and prickly problem of the exact name of the movement, and the principles under which it will operate.

The flag has been flown : a set of principles has been circulated for discussion amongst the “Climate Forum”. I cannot show you the finalised document yet, but I can offer you my comments (see below).

If you want to comment on the development of this emerging entity, please contact : Peter Robinson, Campaign against Climate Change, mobile/cell telephone in the UK : 07876595993.

Comments on the Climate Forum Principles
Jo Abbess
28 June 2010

I am aware that my comments are going to be a little challenging. I made similar comments during the review of the ClimateSafety briefing, which were highly criticised.

I expect you to be negative in response to what I say, but I think it is necessary to make sure the Climate Forum does not become watered-down, sectorally imprisoned and politically neutered, like so many other campaigns.

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Methods of electricity storage are considered essential in grids that have large proportions of wind capacity. This is because, surprisingly, winds have been known to quieten down a bit from time to time.

Some people take this fact too far. For example, there is the “Northern European Winter High Pressure” lobby, who continue to insist, in a number of forums, that low aerial flow entirely compromises wind energy expansion, just because there are several days in December or January that might be a little flat.

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James Delingpole : Recycling Silliness

I think somebody should take James Delingpole quietly to one side and have a little word in his ear about the ineptitude of recycling silly stories :-

“What Dave and his chum Barack don’t want you to know about green jobs and green energy : By James Delingpole Politics : March 6th, 2010 : Green jobs are a waste of space, a waste of money, a lie, a chimera. You know that. I know that. We’re familiar with the report by Dr Gabriel Calzada Alvarez of the Rey Juan Carlos University in Spain which shows that for every “green job” that is created another 2.2 jobs are LOST in the real economy…”

Here Mr Delingpole, you are on the shakiest of grounds from my point of view. Your writing suggests that in the field of Energy Engineering you have even less knowledge about the technological and economic data than you do about Climate Change Science, and what you have acquired is apparently deeply misinformed. With only the briefest of Google searches, you could have discovered what the Huffington Post uncovered on 2nd May 2009 :-

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Speak Freely, Children

Lots of shouting young people clamouring for Green Energy “in the USA” in Copenhagen. How sweet and cheerful ! Let the Free Speech continue, children, even if someone steals your banner :-

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OPEC Compensation

You can bet your bottom petrodollar that there will be some bailouts at Copenhagen.

There will be the obvious benefactors, in the form of the Mitigation and Adaptation Fund, which will be set up to get money flowing from the industrialised countries to the developing countries, to enable the developing countries to buy technologies from the industrialised countries, to save the developing countries from Global Warming.

But behind the headlines, there will be some other deals being cut, in fact, one in particular may already have been sliced, judging by this article (OPEC = Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) :-

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Wind Turbines Give You Spots (3)

I haven’t noticed any of the major medical agencies coming out with statements of their own regarding Nina Pierpoint’s theories about the health disbenefits of wind turbines. That rather leads me to suspect there’s not much to this supposed problem that she documents :-

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Some People Never Change

So I’m talking to some people and someone says that people don’t care about the fact they’re wasting Energy, that people just don’t think.

Even though they know about Global Warming and the risks of dangerous Climate Change, and they know about the connection between burning Fossil Fuels and Global Warming, they just don’t care about how much Energy they’re using.

And I know this is heresy to say so, but I said that people shouldn’t have to think about Energy, that they shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about using Energy. I said that the Energy that is provided to them should be Carbon-free and responsibility-free. People shouldn’t be forced to act against their nature. Energy is effectively free at the moment. It’s way cheap, even cheaper than food for a lot of people. So people use it. People love using Energy.

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Save Vestas

Received by e-mail

Dear Friend,

Again, could you circulate this as widely as possible, especially to people in London and on the South Coast. Apologies for cross posting.

If you possibly can, please join a rally to save the Vestas wind turbine plant, this Saturday 11 July 2009, 12 noon, St James Square, Newport, Isle of Wight (outside Millets)


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An Essential Holiday Read

Ah yes, time to pack up your trusty, dusty suitcase and head for the beach.

I hope you’re not thinking of flying.

And I trust you’ll take with you the Synthesis Report from the Copenhagen Climate Change science conference that took place between 10th to 12th March 2009 :-

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DO-Tech, NOW-Tech

To answer Climate Change we must have strategies for new Low Carbon Energy investment.

The technologies we need to deploy are those that are already proven, and can be installed in the fastest possible time. What we can DO, and DO NOW.

This is DO-Tech, NOW-Tech : and it effectively rules out new rounds of Nuclear Energy, which is slow-to-grid. It also rules out the almost entirely hypothetical Carbon Capture and Storage.

Climate Change Cost Effective

Never Mind the Wind Rush

Jonathan Leake, writing in the Sunday Times on 29th March 2009 betrays a certain ignorance, and casual disregard for sound European Renewables policy :-
“Consumers beware the costly spin of wind turbines”