A response to the 2007 Energy White Paper
Dr Gerry Wolff
October 2007, updated April 2008
+44 (0)1248 712962, www.mng.org.uk/gh/
It is now widely accepted that human-induced climate change is real, that global temperatures may spiral out of control, and that deep cuts are needed urgently in emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.
Many people now see climate change as at least as big a threat as war but, so far, the Government’s response has not matched the challenge. There is a need for a much greater sense of urgency and for more joined-up thinking, to establish coherent and effective policies that will halt the rise in UK emissions of greenhouse gases and start to bring them down.
It is true that UK emissions are dwarfed by emissions from other countries but unless the UK can put its own house in order, it will have little credibility in international negotiations.
This report about how the UK may contribute to solving the problem of climate change is, in effect, a commentary on the Government’s current proposals for future energy supplies and reductions in CO2 emissions as described in the Government’s Energy Review (2006) and Energy White Paper (2007). Although there is a need to reduce emissions of all greenhouse gases, the report concentrates mainly on the problem of reducing emissions of CO2.
To a large extent, the problem of cutting CO2 emissions is a problem of providing the right framework of incentives for people and organisations, especially financial incentives, so that everyone has a substantial reason for “doing the right thing”.
Some progress can be made via exhortation, carbon taxes, and systems of tax breaks and grants, but incentives to cut CO2 emissions will not be put on a sound footing without a system of carbon rationing, including Tradable Personal Carbon Allowances. Although carbon rationing should provide the main framework of incentives, there may be a need for other schemes, such as feed-in tariffs, in particular cases.
The Climate Change Bill
The Climate Change Bill is intended to put a legal obligation on the Government to bring down UK emissions of CO2 by at least 3% each year. But in its current form, it is too weak:
- At least 90% cuts in carbon dioxide emissions are needed by 2050, not the 60% cut currently envisaged.
- There should be an annual budget for CO2, not a five-year budget as suggested by the Government.
- Aviation and shipping must be included within the scope of the Bill.
- The carbon footprint of all goods and services imported from abroad should count as part of the UK’s emissions.
- The UK should not be allowed to meet its targets by buying ‘carbon offsets’ from abroad. There is far too much scope for schemes that are either futile (yielding no net cuts in CO2 emissions) or simply fraudulent.
- The system should be administered by an independent body composed of people appointed for their technical competence, not representatives of ‘stakeholder’ groups.
It is inconceivable that we would tear down the entire UK stock of buildings and replace them with zero-carbon buildings. And relying on the normal replacement rate would be far too slow. So there is a need for a vigorous programme to upgrade existing buildings, aiming to reduce their emissions to zero or nearly so. There is a need for Zero-Carbon Eco-Renovation Demonstrators, showing how this can be done with different types of building.
Generation and conservation of electricity
In the Energy White Paper, disproportionate attention has been given to Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and to nuclear power and too little attention has been given to realising the huge potential of renewable sources of electricity and conservation of electricity.
Together, renewable sources with conservation of electricity can easily meet all current and anticipated future UK demands for electricity. With few exceptions, they are at or very close to the stage of development where they can be applied in practice.
With the provision of facilities to match variable supplies of electricity to variable demands, sources of clean energy such as wind power may be expanded well beyond the limits imposed by conventional wisdom. Zero-carbon eco-renovation can be part of a two-pronged strategy to ensure the resilience of UK electricity supplies.
We don’t need nuclear power
Nuclear power is one of the worst of all methods for generating electricity. Fortunately, there is now abundant evidence from several different reports that the UK can make deep cuts in CO2 emissions from electricity generation and meet its current and anticipated future needs for electricity, without using nuclear power.
If nuclear power was much cheaper than the alternatives, we might need to consider using it. But the weight of evidence is that, when all the hidden costs are added in, nuclear power is one of the most expensive sources of electricity. If nuclear power provided greater security of supplies than the alternatives, we might need to consider using it. But the evidence points in the other direction.
Concentrating solar power and the DESERTEC concept
The ‘DESERTEC’ concept is an important ‘vision’ for future energy supplies and other benefits in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa (EUMENA) developed by the ‘TREC’ group of scientists and engineers (see www.trec-uk.org.uk).
In collaboration with other countries throughout EUMENA, steps should be taken to make the DESERTEC vision a reality.
A EUMENA-wide Supergrid and a single market for electricity
Large-scale HVDC transmission grids, designed to operate in conjunction with existing HVAC grids, have important benefits, especially with renewable sources of electricity.
If these kinds of large-scale grids are to operate to their full potential, then it is essential that unnecessary restrictions on the transfer or trading of electricity should be removed. There should be a single market for electricity throughout EUMENA (as in the UK) and the creation of a single market within Europe would be a very useful staging-post in that development.
Given the major advantages and modest cost of establishing a EUMENA-wide or Europe-wide Supergrid and a single market for electricity, it would be good to see these things put in place as soon as possible.
Public transport by buses and trains is generally much more fuel-efficient than cars and should be encouraged. Walking and cycling should also be encouraged. In particular, there is a pressing need for a comprehensive nation-wide network of traffic-free routes for walkers and cyclists, to bring things up to the standards that have been enjoyed for many years in countries like Germany and Holland.
Bio-fuels derived from waste biomass are quite acceptable and there is some scope for bio-fuels derived from plants that are grown for the purpose, especially if the whole plant can be used. But, beyond that, there are risks that bio-fuels may displace food production and accelerate destruction of rain forest.
There is potential for the creation of synthetic fuels using the enormous quantities of solar energy falling on desert regions.
Given the great potential that exists for generating electricity from renewable sources, there is great scope for the use of electricity in powering trains and road vehicles. To replace fossil fuels in overland transport with renewable electricity would require less than 50% more electricity than we currently use.
The scope for significant reductions in CO2 emissions from planes is very limited. There is certainly no case for expanding UK facilities for air travel.
Wind has been the main source of power for shipping for thousands of years and it can be so again. But now there is great scope for the use of modern technologies to make it more efficient and less labour-intensive than before.