Renewing the future

Those who read this blog regularly may be a little surprised to learn – because it is not the sort of stuff i tend to post here – that i am also getting to be something of an expert on topics related to climate change and more interestingly, governmental response to same.

Which is why a series of stories that have recently appeared in the Mail on this subject have been so utterly depressing.

Let’s start with the qualifications. Yep. Over the last couple of years, i’ve written six major reports – best part of a quarter of a million words – plus a couple of quite respectable academic papers on subjects like renewables, carbon pricing and smart grid.

Add in that i’ve probably read or skimmed most of the major publications, from the various IPCC reports on climate shange thru top the Stern Review – which was actually a 700 page review of the subject by Sir Nicholas Stern, and not just a pretty strict piece of reporting – and i guess i probably qualify as some sort of expert.

So i know what’s going on to a degree that maybe the average Mail reporter does not. I know that irrespective of whether climate change is a real issue and whether what we are doing to the atmosphere now is going to rise global temperatures by 2 degrees Celsius over the next 50 years – or a civilisation erasing 17 degrees, as one model forecasts – we need to do something about energy because…

Power play

Well, because fossil fuels are running out. Peak oil. You may have heard of it: tis the year at which increase in demand for oil outstrips new finds. The year when that fuel begins to run out.

We passed it. Last year if you believe the optimistic forecasts. Six or seven years back if you’re pessimistic. Gas comes next, in the next 30 to 50 years. The coal, some way further out.

The detail does not matter. Whether or not we have fried the planet, our future is going to be very dark indeed, unless we find alternatives to fossil fuel.

Little England shrivels in the cold

And you know what? We are. Lsat year, Austria – little Austria! – generated almost 70% of its electricity from renewables. Norway generated enough electricity from renewables to export some of it. Swede n managed over half. Spain, Portugal and Denmark all turned in around one third of their electricity requirements from renewable sources.

And the UK? Er, under 7%!

Similar dire picture for other (non-electrical) energy generation. The average EU target for 2020 is 20%. Many countries are targeting above that. The UK is hoping to achieve 15% – athough the current gap between what it does now and its target is one of the largest in the EU.

Partly because the way it has opted to provide support (through a quota system) is widely regarded as financially inefficient. Partly, though, because of the Daily Mail and Mail-reading Tory MP’s, over 100 of whom were agitating in the Commons last week not to expand our renewables programme, but to cut it back.

Because this climate change lark, you see: its “not proven”. And besides, these targets come from Europe and…now here’s a fib: the UK is almost alone in the world in setting such crippling renewables targets.

Er, no. Several US states have higher targets than the UK in proportional terms. OPne of the leading exponents of renewables (wind power) in the US is Texas, who you might think would know a bit about energy. Across the globe, country after country after country is setting strenuous targets for renewables.

Its about security, stoopid!

Because whether they believe in global warming or not, they all know that fossil fuels are running out and, when that day comes, those countries that have not prepared will have a stark choice: kowtow to every little tinpot dictatorship that has access to the remaining reserves; or swwitch off the lights.

Which is what makes me so angry, in the end, about the DM’s blinkered take on this subject…and the blind following by Tory MP’s who one might hope would know better.

This is not an issue where petty nationalistic politics makes sense. And you don’t need to be some sort of tree-hugging green to get that.

Its about survival. Of the nation: of the citizens of this nation. And it seems to me that those cheering loudest now for us to stick two fingers up to brussels may one come to rue their ignorance on this subject.

jane xx

16 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Anthropogenic global warming is not a self evident truth and it’s great to see that acknowledged. More lives are lost for each degree that the Earth’s temperature drops than they would be if it was raised. I am all for the conservation of fossil fuels and greater energy efficiency to stop us all freezing to death for as long as possible.

  2. 2

    Right up front I believe in Climate Change and the need for more effective generation of power supplies from renewable energy but people like you are the reason people laugh at us. Your figures are disingenuous at best and a complete lie at their worst

    Austria DID NOT generate 70% of its electricity through renewable energy sources in 2009, 2010 or 2011. Austria is a small country with a small population and does not face the electricity demands of a major industrial nation. Biomass and renewable waste produced about 15.5% of its renewable energy and hydro electric 10.75 of the 27.3 percent total sources of renewable energy in Austria. Your 70 percent is disingenuous.

    Norway produces 43% of its energy from renewable energies of which 37.6% is hydro electric and they do NOT export it because they have a surplus. They export some power because they get paid for it. Your miss statement implies Norway produces more renewable than it can use which is not true. Spain produced 9.3% of its energy from renewable sources, Denmark 16.9 %, and Portugal 19.0% of its electricity from renewable energy sources and not one of these countries is an industry based culture. My stats come from:

    http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php/Renewable_energy_statistics

    which is the EU stats for 2009. I checked newer stats and they have not changed significantly. All of these countries are at their limit for both biomass and hydro electric power and have next to nothing in the way of either solar or wind power generation.

    There is currently no model with any veracity projecting a 17 degrees Celsius change in overall planet temperature change by the year 2100 which is a 30+ degrees F increase in planet temperatures.

    How can Britain increase its renewable energy sources? It is easy to say it is necessary but hard to put into practice. Biomass increase could help but that requires massive expenditures and the need to offset the carbon footprint produced by the vehicles needed to collect biomass and burn the biomass to produce the energy. Biomass does produce greenhouse gases so its production is not harmless but its carbon footprint is better.

    Waste renewable energy is efficient and can produce energy but again collection and distribution is an issue and the bloody plant stinks to high hell because it is essentially an open DUMP producing gas as the mass rots. Good luck getting people in Britain voting for one of them in their back yard. Then what happens to the mass after it has finsihed rotting?

    Good luck with your expensive renewable energy projects in Europe as countries go bankrupt and fiscal frugality becomes a necessity.

    The only truly unlimited and clean power is Nuclear but that has its own issues with fuel rod storage and idiots running the plants.

    • 3

      janefae said,

      Disingenuous! Oh, thank you…although before jumping in with both feet, might it not be worth actually reading what i wrote both in detail and in context.

      First up is context. This is a small personal blog mostly dedicated to keeping people abreast with subjects like legal developments in respect of the law and sexuality, with a fairly strong sideline in personal experience. As the post states at the beginning, this is a detour into a field i know something about…but only a gentle detour, because i don’t especially want to offload a lot of statistical woffle on people who aren’t mostly interested in it.

      And second, if you read the narrative, i’m really not especially concerned with the detail here because i’m not making a detailed point. Rather, using the same set of base figures…eurostat digures for proportion of renewables generated electricity in final consumption…the UK comes way down the league table: yet those opposed to the UK doing anything much more about renewables make the counter claim…that we are already world leaders in this field.

      That is ALL i am saying…and unless you wish to dispute that broad point, most of the rest of your stuff is real “so what?” waffle.

      Apologies for not being on the nail with respect to Austria. The actual figure for 2009 was 66.8%…but i stated near 70% because, as above, i don’t think precision adds enormously to the broad argument here. Ditto the points about Norway and other countries. They all are middling European countris that are doing far better than the UK at using renewables to generate electricity.

      The measure i was using was RES-E (though i thought it better to avoid that much jargon for now, again courtesy of the readers): and i don’t see how your using a different energy measure changes anything. If you want to focus on TPES or whatever, the UK is still way down the league table. So what is your point?

      Nor is this a piece about global warming or climate change. You only have to read it to see that. The argument is quite specifically that irrespective of climate change, peak oil and similar means that energy security requires us to do something.

      I don’t trust climate change forecasts because of the very nature of the models, which are forecasting on an extrapolation of past trends – always dangerous. But puh-lease: the 17 degree rise is there as one of the IPCC’s most extreme forecasts, so don’t embarrass yourself by claiming otherwise. I don’t buy it, because it is pretty much the worst case scenario assuming everything possible that could go wrong does go wrong. But again, how does it change the fundamental argument: that energy security demands that every nation be less dependent on imported fossil fuels. That’s rather linked to the way in which the US of A has passed laws around energy that invoke national security.

      Oh…and last up…pretty much all the evidence i’ve seen is that the UK is suffering due to its adoption of the quota system, whereas FIT (or i think its REP in the USA) appears in practice to give a much better return on investment. I think you rather missed that point.

      Otherwise, not much impressed at all.

      jane

      • 4

        Are you a complete idiot. The correct figure in Austria was not 66.8% for 2009. The facts are indisputable and was well below 30% and those facts are provided in a link that uses the EU’s own statistics.

        Please provide a link to your figures that show Austria was at 66.8%. Because you make the claim does not make it true.

        http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php/Renewable_energy_statistics

        Again these are the latest stats from the EU-27.

        When garbage is used as part of a biomass and waste renewable energy source and is burned it most certainly is an open dump since it must be stored until burned and significant supply is required. The burning in most biomass cases is wood or byproducts of wood which brings into question whether or not biomass is in fact a renewable energy source since it relies on product waste from deforestation. Just how is that renewable and when one considers the non renewable energy consumed to produce such waste it is highly unlikely that biomass is carbon neutral and on that point environmental groups in the US have some issues with its consideration as renewable.

        The figures I supplied are from the EU-27 and are the accurate percentages concerning the amount of electricity generated using renewable energy sources.

        In the beginning of your post you claimed to be somewhat of an expert because you have written the best part of a quarter million words and 6 papers on said subject.

        I would expect you to provide source links for your claims because quite honestly it is the “details” or accuracy of estimates that provide the facts that prove your point. As someone who actually was a Research Engineer, in other fields, I have seen claims like yours before and the junk science that was used to back it up. Provide your source that claims Austria generates “nearly” 70 percent of its electricity from renewable sources.

        http://www.advantageaustria.org/us/oesterreich-in-united-states/news/lokal/Austria-EU-Third-in-Renewable-Energy-Use.en.html

        I provide another link where the percentage is listed as 27%. In the case of Climate Change it is all in the details and accuracy of information. We have had enough damage caused by inaccurate or falsified information. More is not needed even in an insignificant blog like yours.

      • 5

        janefae said,

        Elizabeth,

        While it is sorely tempting to break my golden rule and actually moderate you off this blog on the grounds of both rudeness and offensiveness, i won’t – though i’m not going to engage in debate after this.

        In my original post, i stated that i was looking at RES-E. That’s ELECTRICTY, if you are so aware of the subject as you claim you are. I am perfectly well aware that the proportions for RES-H and RES-T are lower as, therefore is the overall proportion of renewables in the energy supply.

        Doesn’t matter. I repeated in my response to your first post that i was talking about electricity and you’ve come back yet again apparently unable to read that word or distinguich energy from electricity.

        In terms of sources, if you must, look at:

        http://www.futures-e.org/WS-Ljubljana/Status%20of%20RES%20in%20Austria%20%28Resch,%20EEG%20-%20Ljubljana,%2011-04-2008%29.pdf

        http://blog.ewea.org/2011/09/austria-to-source-71-of-its-electricity-from-renewables-by-2020/

        http://www.energy.eu/renewables/factsheets/2008_res_sheet_austria_en.pdf

        Or why not just look at the link i think you provided in the first place:

        http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php/Renewable_energy_statistics

        Just look at Figure 2 – proportion of electricity generated from renewable sources – and you will see that Austria is leading the way within the EU with a figure remarkably close to 65%. And as i said in my last reply, my apologies for misleading and rounding up from 66% to 70%…but that’s all i did.

        As for ignoring any future comments – unless you possibly mend your ways. I put up with rude comments from the cis world on a daily basis as a result of my journalistic work.

        It is perfectly on for you to engage me if you think i have got something wrong. However, you have posted four times on this blog: three of those occasions have been rude, sneering and offensive. The fourth really didn’t make much sense.

        I do my utmost to be polite – but you seem to relish moving to DefCon 1 in your opening post, so please read the above one more time. Get it thru your head that i was referencing electricity, not energy…and check out the links provided, all of which put the proportion for Austria at the top of the EU league and in the region of 70%.

        jane

      • 6

        Jane,

        The figures you supply do NOT support the claim that 66+% of the TOTAL electricity produced in Austria is from renewable sources. The information links I provide are from 2009 with an update in 2011 and Austria currently produces 27.3% of its TOTAL electricity using renewable energy sources and Austria is to be commended for that.

        http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php?title=File:Share_of_renewables_in_gross_inland_energy_consumption,_2009_(%25).png&filetimestamp=20111124103420

        This chart is total percentage of energy produced through renewable sources. I gather you have misinterpreted the charts. The first chart provides what percentages a particular form of renewable energy is of the total production of renewable energy. The second chart which I enlarged above for you is the total percentage of total electricity produced through renewable sources based on the total electricity output for the nation. Austria is 27.3%.

        You are correct that Britain lags behind in total percent of its power generated by renewable sources but Britain did increase percentage wise its output by 140+% while Austria increased by around 25% in the ten year span from 1999 to 2009. Those are facts and not speculation on my behalf.

        http://www.energy.eu/renewables/factsheets/2008_res_sheet_austria_en.pdf

        In your own link it clearly states that in 2006 Austria produced 23% of its power through renewable sources in the Section marked Country Targets.

        As for being rude and offensive that was not my intent but that may have been the result of my aggravation when people mistakenly interpret data which could aid opponents to gain an edge. The facts are indisputable and are a matter of record regarding what percentage of a countries power comes from renewable resources.

      • 7

        janefae said,

        Thanks for the slightly softer tone, however…the first link you give is headed “Share of renewables in gross inland energy consumption, 2009 (%).png”

        And in the second link which i quoted, the key sentence is “With a share of 70% RES-E of gross electricity consumption in 1997, Austria was the leading EU Member State for many years.”

        Both of which leave me utterly confused. I have posted several times now that i am NOT looking at share of energy, but at share of electricity. The first chart does NOT purport to be share of electriccity, but share of energy…and the second link, while giving a figure for energy ALSO contains a figure for electricity which is at the level i suggested.

        So i am flummoxed. What is it about the way eurostat uses the word “electricity” that is making you re-interpret that as energy? Is there – genuine question – some explanatory note somewhere? Otherwise, when i see figures, charts and statements which all state things like Austria takes x% of its ELECTRICTY consumption from renewables (or in other places, generation) how am i supposed to recalibrate that to energy?

        jane xx

      • 8

        Jane

        I would suggest you read this article which explains clearly what RES-E means relative to energy generation. Notice table one.

        http://www.ewi.uni-koeln.de/fileadmin/user_upload/Publikationen/Zeitschriften/2009/09_09_01_Nicolosi.pdf

        Your interpretation of the data in the initial link you provided

        http://www.futures-e.org/WS-Ljubljana/Status%20of%20RES%20in%20Austria%20%28Resch,%20EEG%20-%20Ljubljana,%2011-04-2008%29.pdf

        is an understandable error but it is not related to actual total energy usage but the percentage thereof total energy production which misses the total energy used within Austria. Energy needs and energy production are not the same. In table one of the first link in 2020 Austria is supposed to generate 34% of its actual energy generation from renewable sources which indicates it will require higher energy needs with limited increase in renewable energy sources.

        What those figures describe is not total consumption but total production. Austria and other countries in the region import a large percentage of their energy needs from large producers.

        Data can sometimes be interpreted incorrectly or represented in a way that leads to an incorrect interpretation. A country that generates x tWH/yr through renewable sources but needs 3.5x tWH/yr of electricity to meet its needs is producing 70% of its own generation but using significantly more electricity. It is sort of like comparing apples and oranges but in a way that implies a country is less reliant on non renewable electricity than it actually is. In the case of Austria 72+ percent of its energy needs are produced by either another country or non-renewable sources.

        Norway is the leader in Euro renewable energy generation but its population is just slightly over 4 million which reduces consumption and it has a small piece of energy it exports but it is not significant but it is still important.

        Energy requirements are different from energy production.

        In the future these two tables might help.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_electricity_production_from_renewable_sources

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_electricity_consumption

        Hopefully Britain does produce more from renewable energy. I was surprised the US is second after China in total electricity produced by renewable sources and was surprised to see we produce 10% of our energy production from renewable sources. We need to do better but it is a hard sell because of current economic climate.

      • 9

        janefae said,

        Elizabeth,

        I am going to try and leave this one alone, since you too, it seems to me, are comparing apples and oranges. I haven’t made any claims for the relativities of electricity generation vs. energy and throughout my first post AND follow-up, i have avoided referencing ENERGY and stuck with electricity.

        You keep coming back to energy, which is all very interesting, but irrelevant to the point i was making.

        I wasn’t discussing energy or gaps thereof…but simply the relativities between countries. IN that respect, even the paper you cite gives very different relativities for the RES-E figures for Austria and the UK. That’s it.

        I wasn’t talking about where it came from or the efficiency with which it was generated…because i am well aware that Germany, f’rinstance, has a most peculiar RES-E profile, with nuclear being phased out within border…but increasing amounts of nuclear-derived electricity being imported from without.

        And i remain confused by the two tables you refer me to. On the basis of these, Austria produced some 47TWh of electricity from renewables in 2008 and assuming similar for 2009, consumed 65.7 TWh…which means something like 71% of electricity consumption comes from renewable generation.

        If the point you are making is that a significant part of the generation comes from imports…you would need to locate the net import/export figures….

        Not saying it is not significant, but nothing i have encountered in literature suggests Austria is significantly net…one way or the other, though i am aware of a lot of cross-border transfers in that region.

        jane x

  3. 10

    paula said,

    Not my speciality, that’s textile recycling, but as a MCIWM I can’t help but be horrified by the description of an energy from waste plant as an “open dump”, Energy recovery is properbably the cleanest, most susainable and localised form of disposal for the putrescibe fraction of our domestic waste stream, oh and of course it is totally sustainable, has no additional transport costs since the material has to be collected and processed somehow anyway, it is just this sort of uninformed attitde that stops construction of new, efficent local plants in places like Surrey leading to more road journeys and more landfill, but that’s fine as long as it’s “not in my back yard”

  4. 11

    Jane: your main point that media shapes attitude, especially when it reinforces preferred views, is quite sound. On gender issues this affects minorities in society, so there aren’t many counter-arguments over detail. This is BIG. We consume too much, we use too much energy and basically we haven’t a clue how things will work out in a little as 50 years.

    There are scary possibilities, very real tipping points, and meanwhile we argue percents. If we don’t want offshore wind and wave because they change the outlook, or simply aren’t worth it in lifetime energy footprint, then we have to use less instead. What DM etc. and readers don’t appreciate is that no-one “out there” is going to fix this for us, we are the consumers, and a climate-stable fossil-fuel future simply does not exist. Anything that releases trapped energy back into the biosphere massive faster than it was put there is imbalanced.

    “Green tax” news last week included a highly energy-efficient UK ceramics factory that could be taxed out of business, relocating manufacture to China because shipping is not accounted for in UK carbon emissions. And when petrol prices rise, people picket the depots. We simply DO NOT understand!! And DM for one finds it reasonable to promote business as usual: always someone else’s fault and problem – maybe it’s just always “not us, we’re normal!”?

    *prepares for hornet stings*

  5. 12

    I have to admit to relishing articles like this, such fun. I rejoice at each 0.1 of a degree the global average temperature rises. The property I own gets nearer to the sea each day and we all know how much sea front property is worth! Which reminds me, I must check my shares in Acme Aerosols.

    Seriously, I don’t mean to disparage all this noble waffle but…

    The simple truth is that their are too many people. Idiotic religions which prohibit contraception, chavs filling my planet with their snot fingered spawn. Sometimes I wonder when the people chopping down rain forests to publish their reports, papers and books will acknowledge that resources don’t use themselves, people (speaking in the most loose sense) use resources.

    Can’t sit around chatting, those sea levels won’t raise themselves. I have to go and sort out my gas guzzling blower Bentley🙂

    Toodle pip

  6. 13

    Paula TransPanther said,

    When I was very little.. decades ago. At the rear of my grandmothers house was a Victorian swimming baths. Behind that was a large also Victorian built plant which was the towns “destructor”. The place which incinerated all the “crap” that the very efficient Victorian recycling system really couldn’t recycle any further use from. This was used to heat the baths.

    If you are lucky enough to ever see a Victoruan landfill opened up it’s amazing to see the contents. Cinders, broken bottles and crockery.. and very very occasionally a bone. Everything which could be recycled was, in the 1880’s even dog excrement had a value.. 1 shilling a hundredweight !!!!

    We were expert in recycling and renewables 100 years ago.. it’s only the last 50 years where “profit” has taken over and created vast mountains of “waste”. I’m sure a few of us remember scouring the streets and tips for bottles to take back to the shop for our few pennies on each. In the last 10 years I have had days out with a sack and a magnet on a stick collecting only the aluminium cans thrown all over the streets… for profit..

    Our town has been caught.. threats of £1000 fines for people who refuse to sort and recycle (by washing tins at your own expense then having 5 different trash collections every week) then they send it all to landfill anyway!!

    I’m a Green.. I see the problem all too clearly. Private profits from energy shovelled into overseas business accounts ducking UK taxes and bringing NO BENEFIT for the people or state.. Time energy production and management (so casually given away by the last shower of tory scum in the 80’s) was taken back into public ownership, where the profits can be used to further the renewables agenda rather than feeding fat cats elsewhere (tory doners all)

  7. 14

    kerri said,

    I am sitting here in the dark with a candle, think my power just went out…….:)

  8. 15

    Carka said,

    To quibble, I strongly disagree that an interested journalist counts as an ‘expert’ on any matter. PhD in atmospherics or oceanography, perhaps.

    • 16

      janefae said,

      Perhaps…but then you have to decide the point at which “interested journalist” shades into something else. I tend to self-describe as writer rather than journalist…and in other spheres, my degree of involvement means i go way beyond the sort of surface skim that journalists usually achieve.

      I present papers, am accorded the recognition of being an independent academic…and in one or two areas certainly count as UK experts on same.

      Climate and climate -related issues are not quite at that level. That said, the clue is there in the opening. I’m not just covering these as some jobbing journo – but writing some quite in-depth stuff for business strategists on same. Half a dozen in-depth reports so far on a range of issues, at around 40,000 words per report.

      Plus a couple of papers published at peer-review standard.

      So no: i’m not an “expert” if you reckon i need a degree, PhD or equivalent to gain that title.

      But i certainly am next to most of the public, most journalists and, tbh, most climate change activists.

      jane


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