Sunday, 29 March 2009

Loan guarantees urged for green energy firms

Published Date: 29 March 2009
By Nathalie Thomas

GREEN energy experts are pressing the Scottish Government to set up a loan guarantee scheme for cash-starved renewables companies.
They warn that the major energy companies aside, the sector is struggling for finance and will not be able to fulfil the SNP Government's ambition of leading Scotland out of recession without an urgent lifeline. The green energy sector has repeatedly been named by Alex Salmond's administration as one of the brightest hopes for Scotland's future along with industries such as life sciences.Nathan Goode, head of the renewables team at Grant Thornton, the accountancy firm aimed at small and medium-sized companies, said Scotland had a competitive advantage over the rest of the world in many green technologies, but risked losing that if the financing problem was not solved quickly.He has proposed a scheme offering a combination of loan guarantees and equity targeted specifically at renewables.Goode said the programme, which could be managed by a body similar to the Scottish Futures Trust, would be particularly useful for smaller, local projects which are struggling for financial backing. He said: "The Government is taking a very proactive view of renewable energy and great strides have been made to encourage the big energy companies. "However, while regulation can help to support the massive wind and wave power projects that are now being planned, the Government can also help by investing in the local infrastructure and smaller projects that will be vital to deliver the greater diversity and security of supply that the country needs." Goode added: "Government money has tended to focus on early-stage development or on the revenue support mechanism for operating projects. The key challenge to be addressed at the moment is the bit in the middle – enabling companies to continue to move toward commercial operation and avoid market failure due to lack of financial support."At a conference held by trade body Scottish Renewables earlier this month, Grant Hodges, partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, also cautioned that UK investment in green energy was falling far short of fiscal stimulus packages in rival countries such as China."Renewables could help lead Scotland out of recession but they currently won't because of the lack of government investment," he said.

Water meters in all homes by 2030 to ease shortages

Report calls for strict controls as climate change threatens to dry up British rivers

Robin McKie, science editor
The Observer, Sunday 29 March 2009

Many parts of the country face crippling water shortages in the near future unless immediate action is taken to protect precious supplies, according to an Environment Agency (EA) report to be published this week. Measures include compulsory water meters in every home.
The EA warns in the Water Resources Strategy document that many rivers, particularly those in south-east England, could be reduced to a trickle in summer by the middle of the century because of climate change. On average, flows are likely to be cut by 50 to 80%.
As a result, the report urges that a series of key measures be introduced as a matter of urgency:
• A major review of funding of the water industry, so companies are rewarded for reducing, rather than increasing, the amount of water they sell.• The construction of desalination plants at several sites round the country.• Compulsory water meters for every household within the next 20 years.
At the same time, the report warns that carbon dioxide from water and sewage treatments now accounts for 6% of the UK's entire emissions output - more than the nation's aviation industry - and this needs to be cut urgently.
The authors also warn that some wildlife will be put under severe environmental stress and farmers will have far less water available for irrigation as climate change takes its grip. "Everyone will have to play a part in cutting water use," said Trevor Bishop, head of the agency's water resources policy. "It will touch all our lives."
The report's release coincides with news that water bills for Britain's 26 million households are to rise 4.1 %, taking the average to £342, compared with £285 at the start of the decade.
Ultimately, Britain should aim to cut each citizen's average daily use of water from 148 litres, one of the highest figures in Europe, to less than 130 litres, he added. To do that, a series of domestic measures will have to be introduced, including the redesign of houses so that they become fully water-efficient. For example, "grey water" - old bath or washing machine water - could be used to supply toilet flushes, while rainwater will need to be collected so gardens and parklands do not dry up in summer.
"Fresh water is a fragile and vulnerable resource," said Chris Smith, the agency's chairman. "Already there is less water available per person in England and Wales than in Egypt or Spain. If we fail to act now, we could face severe consequences such as water rationing, standpipes in our streets and the loss of wetlands and native wildlife."
The EA report uses the latest data to outline how England and Wales will fare as the world heats up over the next 40 years. "That data shows that the impact of climate change will be much more severe than was conceived only a few years ago," said Bishop. "At the same time there is still enough uncertainty to make it impossible to be absolutely sure about what measures to take."
Meteorologists say climate change will lead to more frequent bouts of heavy downpours and heavy flooding in Britain over the next four decades. However, the overall effect will be to reduce the amount of water available in rivers in England and Wales.
Among the worst affected will be the Lee, Colne, Medway and Stour in south-east England, where population and temperatures are both destined to rise more sharply than in other areas. In addition, many aquifers - underground stores of water - are likely to dry up as average rainfall figures drop.
As a result, the report urges that water meters be installed throughout Britain to minimise waste and that a number of desalination plants are built. Britain's first is under construction at Beckton, east London. It will cost £200m, produce 140m litres of water a day - enough for a million Londoners - and will run on biofuel, including recycled fat and oil from restaurants and homes.
"We will need a number of these, but I don't envisage them being built every 50 miles round the cost," added Bishop. "They will form only a part of our approach to water policy."
Forecasters expect climate change to occur in slow, incremental steps. However, there is no guarantee that a major event will not appear fairly rapidly.
"In Australia, its national drought began as a two-year anomaly, grew to a three-year event and is now in its 10th year," said Bishop. "We have got to be ready in case something like that happens here."

Green pioneers: Ken Yeang

The Sunday Times
March 29, 2009
Architect’s designs reduce power consumption sharply
Andrew Stone

GREEN buildings are all the rage but they are old hat to architect Ken Yeang. As a PhD student at Cambridge he helped to develop a “self-sufficient” house in the 1970s. Today he is turning such ideas into reality.
His latest project, a £300m extension to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, will generate 20% more power than it uses, through innovations such as a ventilation flue that does away with the need to heat or cool the building for much of the year.
Construction began last week and, once completed, the building should offset more than 20,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year — equivalent to the typical annual carbon footprint of 2,000 people, making it Britain’s greenest hospital building.
Yeang predicts that in the next decade such energy performance will become the norm as large new buildings will generate all their own power.
He credits his study of ecology for his approach to design. “I’m an ecologist first and an architect second,” he said. “Studying ecology changes your perception of life and makes you look again at your place on Earth. It encouraged me to look to ecological systems for inspiration.
“There is no such thing as waste in nature, merely food for other organisms. Waste is very much a human invention, so strive to re-use and recycle everything.”
Yeang and his fellow planners and architects have their work cut out transforming office blocks from energy guzzlers to power misers. The Building Research Establishment recommends that a large building should consume 100 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy per square metre, said Yeang. The UK average is 250-300kWh.
One of the worst offenders, a bank building in Canary Wharf, consumes 1,400kWh per square metre. “It’s a totally unsustainable building covered in glass, with poor insulation,” he said.
By contrast Yeang’s designs are shaped round the idea of eco-mimesis, designs that are energy efficient because they mimic natural systems.
They work in harmony with their location, maximising energy efficiency through a building’s design, making the most of its aspect, natural light and ventilation. Green technologies such as ground-source heat pumps augment these design features.
The buildings are not just green in terms of energy use. In many cases they are festooned with plants. Yeang’s 24-storey Fusionopolis building in Singapore, for example, includes a 1.4km coil of vegetation.
Planting a grass roof on a tall building and introducing other plants helps to capture rainwater, provide shade and even reintroduces other plant and animal species to a city. Widespread planting of greenery can cool city temperatures in summer by between 1C and 2C.
The technology is constantly improving, said Yeang. “The next generation of solar panels will mimic photosynthesis, promising much greater efficiency, while micro wind turbines should offer a viable way to generate power from the wind,” he said.
However, will developers suffering in the downturn really heed the call to create greener buildings?
Yeang thinks so. At a cost of perhaps 20% of the original build cost they can make existing buildings sustainable, he said. “It’s true that a lot of this depends on the business models of the developers, but sustainable buildings are increasingly attracting subsidies, tax breaks and more generous planning approval.”
- Ken Yeang is director of the UK-based architectural practice Llewelyn Davies Yeang and director of Malaysia’s TR Hamzah Yeang

Ethics are now coming into fashion

The Sunday Times
March 29, 2009
François-Henri Pinault wants to save the planet - one handbag at a time
John Arlidge in Delhi

François-Henri Pinault has more than a few reasons to be cheerful in spite of the economic slump. He owns the Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen fashion labels, which still bring in a few billion pounds a year. When he opens a bottle of Château Latour he is opening his own wine. He can sell his modern art collection through his auction house - Christie’s in London. And he has just got the girl. He married actress Salma Hayek on Valentine’s Day.
So why was he sitting glumly in a hotel in Delhi last week, warning anyone who would listen about the end of the world? “Nobody today would deny the existence of global warming, the threat to biodiversity,” he said. Dressed in a sober navy suit, dark blue shirt and sensible black lace-ups, he lectured guests at a conference on the future of luxury: “This is not a time for reflection. We must act now to change the future.”
Most fashion folk either ignore global warming - as temperatures rise, Versace is installing air-conditioning under a beach to cool the sand at its new hotel in Dubai - or embrace it as a chance to boost sales of their spring/summer collections. Not Pinault.
The 46-year-old French billionaire is styling himself as an upmarket Al Gore. He believes ethics are the new elegance. He even has his own version of Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth. He has financed Home, co-produced with film-maker Luc Besson, which chronicles environmental degradation, using aerial shots of the planet, and will be released in June.
Pinault, whose firm PPR is the second-largest luxury-goods conglomerate in the world with annual revenues of £17 billion, is making a £1 billion bet that green will be the new black. He believes a moral correction will follow the financial correction and, as the economy picks up, consumers will turn away from fast-moving, celebrity-driven flashy fashion towards sustainable luxury.
“Today, people want a return to genuine values, such as sincerity and exemplary standards. We need to be proactive, to get ahead of trend,” he told The Sunday Times.
British designers, notably Stella McCartney, are likely to benefit. He singled her out last week as the new face of responsible luxury. She refuses to use leather or fur and has launched Care, an organic skincare range. “Stella has set the bar,” said Pinault. PPR also owns the London-based Alexander McQueen label, although his extravagant creations and cat-walk shows could scarcely be described as green.
There’s no doubt that Pinault believes in environmental responsibility. He has swapped his beloved Aston Martin for a hybrid Lexus and takes the train rather than flying in Europe. He has championed recycling, green stores, efficient air-conditioning, solar power, fair-trade suppliers, smaller packaging, sea transport over air freight, and has ordered stores to turn off their neon signs after 11pm.
He and Gucci designer Frida Giannini are working on recyclable leather and suede. “We work in an industry where, at the end of a season, some products are destroyed,” he said. “We have to think about this. It’s not normal. Couldn’t we undo the product and make new small products and do it in a socially responsible manner?”
He is after greenbacks too, though. He believes going green will not only lure more customers, but will help PPR to attract the best designers and sales staff. “Young people want more than just financial remuneration. To them, a company is a human venture,” he said.
Pinault wants PPR to enjoy first-mover advantage in responsible luxury and become the face of green fashion in much the same way that Toyota has become the de facto green carmaker, thanks to its early move into hybrid technology with the Prius. “Sustainable development gives us a chance to differentiate ourselves from the others,” he said. “I see sustainable development as a business opportunity.”
It needs to be. Pinault concedes “business is tough” as demand for luxury goods slumps. Sales are flat and there are rumours in London and Paris that he is planning to sell off Christie’s and Château Latour. Pinault said no sales were planned but added: “We don’t have any secure forecast to make about any recovery.”
Going to India, home of fashion sweatshops, in the middle of a global recession to promote a posh green revolution sounds, at best, naive and, at worst, downright insulting – not least from a man who has a collection of some 60 watches and who flew to Delhi on a private jet. Gandhi would probably have gone on hunger strike at the idea.
Pinault acknowledges it’s a tough pitch at a tough time. “Luxury is associated with pleasure, individualism, unreasonable enjoyment . . . thought-lessness and waste, while sustainable development is synonymous with ethics, collectivity and restraint,” he said.
He believes there are shared values, however. “Luxury is based on fine materials, respect for the material, and for the craft itself that results in a rare and beautiful object. Just like luxury, sustainable development is founded in essence on respect for natural resources.” He defended the use of the private jet as “absolutely necessary” in the fast-moving modern business world and said he offsets all flights, private and commercial, with carbon credits. Many environmentalists dismiss carbon offsetting as worthless “green washing”. His love of watches was, he said, irrelevant.
Pinault’s concern for humanity does not stretch to reducing the price of the goods that he sells. “We will not touch the price because if we do it means that we were not delivering the real value for the money we were asking. Big discounts kill brands.”
However, he is prepared to sell fewer, more long-lasting, more sustainable items - a move that could affect the bottom line. “One of the consequences of the downturn is that it forces us to go back to basics, to the essence of luxury. We went too far, all of us, in the luxury world in the past five years. Now, let’s go back to product and do it right.”
Sell fewer but better products? It remains to be seen whether it’s a strategy that will make rivals green with envy - or PPR shareholders green at the gills.

World must put its faith in technology

The Sunday Times
March 29, 2009

Green investor Vinod Khosla believes that merely cutting energy use will achieve little
Dominic Rushe

THE technology guru Vinod Khosla is a billionaire but the walls of his office are grubby. Black, green and red smudges cover one of them as if someone has been playing squash in his office. Within minutes of the green investor’s arrival it becomes obvious who is responsible for the mess as Khosla begins to scribble his vision of the future all over the wall.
A Silicon Valley legend, Khosla made his first fortune as a co-founder of Sun Microsystems. He has since become one of America’s top venture capitalists, first at Kleiner Perkins, which funded Amazon and Google among others, and now at his own Khosla Ventures, one of the biggest investors in green technology.
Khosla’s commitment has put him at the forefront of the green tech revolution. He is an adviser to President Barack Obama and Tony Blair’s Climate Group, which aims to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.
Some environmental champions are gloomy about the future, but Khosla is not. He believes we are on the verge of a revolution. With money and talent pouring into green technology like never before, firms offering solutions to the energy crisis are about to break through, he said.

Khosla went to the wall to illustrate his thoughts. First he drew a chart of share prices in the dotcom bubble. It was the classic Matterhorn-shaped peak. Then he drew the growth of internet traffic. It went up and up and up. A similar scenario was likely to play out in green technology as new solutions go mainstream even as some companies fail.
Khosla, who was 52nd in the Sunday Times’ first Green Rich List of eco-barons investing in alternative technology, is a big fan of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book The Black Swan. This takes its name from the discovery of black swans in the 18th century. Before the Australian birds were found, all swans were assumed to be white. The story, Taleb claims, illustrates the fragility of knowledge and the limits to learning from experience. In reality, he argues, it is the “impact of the highly improbable” that shapes our world. The invention of the wheel, penicillin, Google, The Beatles. Black Swans can be good as well as bad.
But while green technology is hot, much of the debate on climate change is ill thought out, said Khosla. “The environmentalists are wrong. We don’t need to use less energy. We need to find new solutions.” Nor is Khosla a fan of what he sees as “silly” solutions to climate change. His favourite is singer Sheryl Crow’s suggestion that people cut back on loo roll to “only one square per restroom visit, except, of course, on those pesky occasions where two to three could be required”. He also dismissed “green” light bulbs, wind power and electric cars as niche products, too expensive or unreliable to become truly mainstream.
There are “only” four main problems that need solving, according to Khosla — oil, coal, cement and steel. Between them they are responsible for 75% of greenhouse-gas emissions. Those who want to save the planet (and make money doing it) would be better off concentrating on the big picture rather than fiddling at the edges, he said.
For technology to save the planet it must reach what he calls the “Chindia” price — a level at which a new product can compete fairly with existing products and can be adopted without adding extra cost by India and China, two fast-growing countries whose energy needs rival those of America. No matter what the environmental costs, Indians won’t buy a $22,000 Prius hybrid electric car when Tata makes the Nano for $2,000. “Where is the electricity for those cars going to come from? Coal. Do we want coal-powered cars?” said Khosla.
Governments as well as ecologists are just as guilty of backing the wrong solutions, he said. He pointed to Germany’s championing of solar power. “Germany has the same solar profile as Alaska. It’s encouraging the wrong technology,” he said.
Khosla, too, has been accused of backing false solutions. His firm is one of the biggest investors in corn ethanol, a substitute for petrol. The American government backed corn ethanol with heavy subsidies, but using corn as fuel has been partly blamed for soaring food costs in the developing world. His critics are “Luddite jokers”, said Khosla. “Bio-fuels are the single most important tool we have so far for alleviating climate change.” Corn ethanol is far from perfect but it is only a “stepping stone” for future fuels that will be made from non-food crops. without big subsidies.
All these arguments are healthy, said Khosla: “Let the best technology win.” When it does, the speed of change is going to catch many by surprise, he added. “In 1990 when I put my e-mail address on my card, people laughed. The speed of change seems improbable before it happens. The only way to predict the future is to invent it.”

Mey scores Scottish first on carbon label

Published Date: 29 March 2009
By Rosemary Gallagher

A FOOD company backed by Prince Charles, has become the first Scottish consumer goods firm to get official recognition of its commitment to cutting its carbon footprint.
The label will be put on all Mey Selections' goods from May 1. In response to the threat of climate change, Mey has been working with the Carbon Trust, an independent company set up by the UK Government, since February last year to quantify and reduce footprint for its key products.The Carbon Trust said businesses benefit through better supplier relationships and greater trust among consumers. John Strak, managing director of Mey Selections, said: "Not only are we the first Scottish-based consumer goods company to achieve the certification, we are one of the first food and drink companies to become involved with the initiative."He added that the firm was committed to using sustainable standards of farming, fishing and food production, so looking for ways to reduce its impact on the environment was a natural next step. Strak said the carbon reduction label footprinting process provided it with the structure to measure energy use and carbon emissions."Surprisingly, we found that transport and logistics seemed to be areas of relatively low carbon emissions for us," he said. "However, we were impressed by the potential revealed to cut down on our carbon footprint, including investigating better monitoring, heat recovery and renewable energy systems that would make major savings in electricity in our factory."The Carbon Trust said there had been a significant growth in interest from consumers in the carbon impact of the products they bought. Its label gives customers confidence that they are buying products from companies committed to limiting climate change. The carbon footprint of a product or service is the total carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted during its life, from production to final disposal. Prince Charles, the president of the Castle of Mey Trust, launched the North Highland Initiative in 2005 to promote economic development in the area. Mey Selections is the brand name of North Highlands Products, a company formed by Caithness farmers to source quality farm and food products.

What we need to get the low-carbon revolution going

The Sunday Times
March 29, 2009
Lord Browne

There is one question I am asked a lot these days: why is a low-carbon revolution not happening?
The answer is certainly not lack of intent. A remarkable political consensus now exists in support of moving to a low-carbon economy. Ambitious targets are in place. The chorus of people saying the same thing in conferences around the world is deafening.
Nor do we lack a blueprint for what needs to happen. The answer is fourfold:
- Take energy out of global GDP by revolutionising energy efficiency;
- Take carbon out of energy by deploying renewables, nuclear and carbon capture and storage;
- Preserve carbon sinks through improved forest and land management;
- Help vulnerable people to adapt to climate change.
There are no real technology barriers. A good deal of innovation is still needed. But the challenge of putting up hundreds of wind turbines in the North Sea, or of reconfiguring the grid, is hardly insurmountable compared with the engineering feats of the past 50 years, not least in the offshore oil and gas industry.
Business willingness is also not the problem. Businesses will invest anywhere they can see an attractive balance between risk and return. My career has taught me never to underestimate the market’s ability to innovate if the right incentives are there.
What’s missing is political leadership as governments shift focus from goal-setting to delivery.
If I were to add a few climate-change recommendations to the advice being offered to the G20 summit, I would make four points.
Make climate-change efforts mainstream
This is in large part a matter of political framing. Environmental protection is too often treated as an option or a luxury, rather than as something that is essential for society to flourish. Environmental protection must be accorded its place at the heart of society.
Practically speaking, that means all levels of government — local, national and international — and all government departments must be involved in the solution.
President Barack Obama understands this. His administration is leading the mainstreaming of low-carbon energy and energy efficiency. Last month’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act contained a substantial green-energy component, with more low-carbon legislation likely to follow.
Other countries should follow suit. Targeting just 10% to 20% of the several trillion dollars expected to be spent on fiscal-stimulus packages around the world to low-carbon infrastructure would be a triple win. It would help to create jobs and diversify economic activity away from property and financial services, as well as enhance national security and protect the environment.
Don’t be thrown off course by interest-group politics
It is clear from every analysis I have read that cost is not the biggest obstacle. But there will be winners and losers, leading to difficult political decisions.
Consumers will need to pay more for energy over time. Measures to address fuel poverty will be critical. However, consumers will pay significantly less in aggregate than the increase in fuel and electricity prices borne recently as a result of the spike in fossil-fuel prices.
Get government intervention right
The market remains the most effective delivery unit available to society. But the market needs a framework of incentives and regulations laid down with a firm hand by the state.
This is justified on economic grounds because energy security, climate-change mitigation and accelerated innovation will go unrecognised until they are “priced in” by governments.
Yet poorly designed policy is worse than no policy at all. Low-carbon energy investments are highly capital intensive, so it is essential that government frameworks possess long-term certainty and clarity. A blunt instrument that possesses these qualities — like a feed-in-tariff — is far preferable to an over-finessed policy that does not.
Focus more effort on engaging developing countries
Developing countries are the single biggest source of emissions growth. And these countries contain by far the most opportunities to reduce emissions between now and 2020: two-thirds of the global potential, deliverable with half the capital spending.
Yet it is unfair to expect these countries to shoulder the same amount of effort as developed countries from the start. Developing countries must do what they can, focusing on areas, such as energy efficiency, that align with other policy goals.
In parallel, enhanced carbon-finance mechanisms linking developed and developing countries will be needed, coupled with direct funding to build administrative and human capital, encourage the transfer of low-carbon technologies and pay for adaptation efforts.
A recent analysis suggests that flows of climate-change-related finance to the developing world will, in time, need to be about $100 billion a year — roughly the same amount as was spent globally last year on overseas development assistance.
Getting these funds to flow will be impossible without better international institutions. This in turn will require a great deal of diplomatic leadership. Building institutions able to balance the need for a global approach with the imperative of sharing efforts equitably is the greatest leadership challenge of all.
The constant stream of analysis and the resulting policy prescriptions is, in my view, becoming wasted effort. The time for talking is over. It’s time to get things done. And that requires, above all else, bold, far-sighted and outward-looking leadership.
- Lord Browne of Madingley is president of the Royal Academy of Engineering and chairman of The Climate Group’s International Leadership Council

Leaders to meet in summer for special climate change talks

Obama's call hits home, writes Geoffrey Lean
Sunday, 29 March 2009

Leaders attending the G20 meeting in London plan to gather again in the summer for a special summit on tackling climate change, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

The new summit – which is being called on the initiative of President Barack Obama as part of a US drive to get a new international agreement on tackling global warming – is to take place alongside the annual G8 gathering of world leaders on the island of La Maddalena off Sardinia.
Scientists and environmentalists will hope that it will make up for a failure by the leaders at this week's meeting to do more than agree warm words about the need for a "green new deal" and the importance of building low-carbon economies. Every nation attending has flatly refused to discuss any commitment to devote an agreed percentage of its financial stimulus package to green measures, insisting instead on focusing on relatively short-term measures to tackle the immediate financial crisis.
News of the summit comes as governments gather in Bonn today to start eight months of negotiations on an agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which are to climax at a conference in Copenhagen in December. The conference is widely seen as the world's last chance of getting global warming under control before it precipitates disastrous climate change.
This month President Obama wrote to Gordon Brown and the leaders of France, Germany, Russia, Italy, Japan, Canada, China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, South Korea, Australia and Indonesia to propose the summit, and the plan has gelled over the past week. Ironically, it will take place under the auspices of a mechanism – the "major economies" meetings – started by the former US president, George W Bush, to detract from the international attempt to get a new treaty, rather than galvanise it.
The initiative is one of the clearest signs to date of the unexpectedly high priority the new President is giving to combating climate change.
Gordon Brown has repeatedly pledged that the G20 London summit would launch a "global green new deal". Many, will be disappointed, however, at the failure of the G20 talks to commit nations to take the opportunity offered by the huge spending on stimulus packages to allocate a high proportion of the money to recession-beating environmental measures.
Countries have earmarked widely varying percentages (see graphic). South Korea leads with 81 per cent, while Britain is one of the worst performers at 7 per cent. China has earmarked more than 110 times as much money as the UK for the purpose.
Lord Stern, the author of a seminal government report on climate change, says that 20 per cent of the stimulus should go on green measures, which have been shown to employ more people and spark more innovation than conventional economic ones. When the UK government put the proposal on the table for the G20 meeting, not a single country supported it.
But late last week, secret pre-summit negotiations were making progress on agreeing measures to help developing countries, including maintaining aid and increasing finance for the International Monetary Fund.

Earth Hour: Landmarks plunged into darkness in support of climate change action

Buildings around the world are being plunged into darkness as millions support Earth Hour 2009, aimed at raising awareness of climate change.

Last Updated: 9:16AM BST 29 Mar 2009

At 8.30pm local time WWF is encouraging people to switch off their lights for one hour in a bid to raise awareness of environmental issues.
In Australia lights went out at Sydney's normally brightly-lit Opera House and Harbour Bridge

In Asia, lights at landmarks in China, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines also dimmed as people celebrated with candle-lit picnics and concerts.
In London landmarks including the London Eye, The Gherkin, and the BT Tower are expected to take part.
Hundreds of other landmarks around the world are expected to take part, including the Empire State Building and the Las Vegas Strip.
Earth Hour is aimed at showing global leaders the strong support for action to tackle climate change.
Activists have warned companies in the financial sector they will shut down electricity supplies themselves unless the lights go out.
Earth Hour comes on the same same day as police feared demonstrations across London ahead of next week's G20 summit could turn violent.
Activists had initially gathered along Victoria Embankment to stage a protest for "jobs, justice and climate". Just after noon, they began their four-mile march to Hyde Park, with most marchers arriving at about 2pm.
Some protesters chanted: "What do we want? Jobs not bombs". Many carried banners bearing slogans including "People before profit'', "Money for need not greed'' and "Climate emergency".
Demonstrators whistled and booed as they made their way past 10 Downing Street along Whitehall.
Glen Tarman, who has helped organise the march, said he had no evidence that anyone intended to break the law or commit acts of violence.
Murray Benham, head of campaigns at the World Development Movement, said: "The cost of the summit is clearly incredibly high.
"The only possible justification for this expenditure will be if the G20 leaders make the bold moves necessary to make the global economy work for people in the developing world, who are being hit the hardest by the credit crunch and climate change."
Further direct action is feared next week with police leave in the capital cancelled on Wednesday and Thursday, when campaigners are planning disruptions around the City's Square Mile.

British eco-migrants flee to New Zealand

The Sunday Times
March 29, 2009

Jonathan Leake and Anna Rushworth

NEW ZEALAND is seeing its first influx of British eco-migrants, environmental refugees who have quit the UK because they fear the long-term impacts of climate change.
The country’s islands, renowned for their temperate climate, clean environment and low population, have often been put forward by greens as potential “lifeboats” for a world suffering serious warming.
Recently, James Lovelock, the scientist and creator of the Gaia theory, said in his new book, The Vanishing Face of Gaia, that New Zealand could be one of the world’s last havens as climate change fundamentally changes the planet.
Such effects are expected to take years or decades to happen but some families are already trying to anticipate them.
Among them are Lizzy and Mike Larmer-Cottle who have moved their family from London to Albany, half an hour north of Auckland on North Island, surrounded by rolling hills and beaches.
Britain’s recent climate of summer droughts and warm, wet winters was becoming alarming, said Lizzy. She added: “England was just having more and more flooding — if that continues, half of it is going to be underwater.”
The couple stress there were other factors too, such as lower traffic, less pollution and cheaper property. Before moving to New Zealand their sons Milo, 10, and Theo, 12, had, for example, never been able to ride their bikes on local roads.
They are, however, part of a rising tide of Britons heading for the New Zealand. Statistics NZ, which collects data for the country’s government, said more than 18,000 British residents moved there last year alone.
Among recent arrivals was John Zamick who also believes climate change will tip Britain into long-term environmental decline.
The businessman, who now co-directs a biodiesel company in Nelson, a town on South Island, points to East Anglia, where rainfall is now so low it is classed as semi-arid, while its coasts are threatened by rising sea levels.
What such eco-migrants have in common is not so much a fear of Britain becoming warmer but that climate change could destabilise the global economy, causing shortages of food.
At the Copenhagen climate science conference earlier this month, scientists set out the latest research on how climate change could affect crops.
This showed that, as heat and water shortages took hold, many equatorial regions in Africa and Asia would become unable to grow enough food, creating global shortages of staples like wheat and rice.
Zamick said New Zealand's low population density, agricultural independence and availability of farmland were all prime attractions, along with its English-speaking population.
Americans have also spotted New Zealand’s potential. Adam Fier and his wife Misbah Sadat moved their family from Maryland in the United States to New Zealand late last month.
Fier, a computer security expert who used to work at Nasa, told the Washington Post the decision was made because of his two girls.
“I am not going to predict how the climate might change and how it might affect New Zealand,” Fier said. “But quite honestly, I feel in 100 years, one of my daughters is still going to be alive and this planet is going to be a mess.”
Scientists agree that New Zealand is likely to be more resilient to any global warming than many other countries — but that could lead to problems with immigration. Dr Vicky Pope, head of climate change advice at Britain’s Met Office, said: “A lot of countries in temperate zones could come under pressure to take eco-migrants.”
Immigration specialists say climate is an increasingly important issue for Britons trying to emigrate. Liam Clifford, a director of the British-based GlobalVisas, described how clients increasingly wanted to move to “a temperate country that will escape extreme climate.”
James Hardy shared such views. He used to live in lush Buckinghamshire but became increasingly concerned at how he and his family might cope on such a crowded island if the global climate underwent sharp changes.
Three years ago he moved to New Zealand with his wife and their three children.
“New Zealand has land, New Zealand has wind, New Zealand has a far more sustainable climate,” he said.

Battery-powered cars take over the roads

The oil giants could be taken by surprise at how quickly battery-powered cars take over the roads. David Strahan reports on a world-changing market
Sunday, 29 March 2009

'The future has not been cancelled," quipped BP chief executive Tony Hayward in a bullish presentation about the company's prospects recently. But one thing the company has been forced to cancel, or at least postpone, is a reception to celebrate its centenary at the British Museum this week – shelved because BP feared disruption by climate campaigners gathering for the G20 summit.
A century on from the founding of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, this may be the least of BP's worries. Because along with the recession, the collapse of the oil price and the struggle to maintain output in the face of global oil depletion, BP and its peers face the rapid resurgence of an ancient rival: the electric car.
Invented in the 1830s, the electric car predated the internal combustion engine and the oil industry by decades, and dominated the car market into the early 20th century. It was only in the second decade that electric cars were overtaken by petrol and diesel models with superior range. But today a combination of factors – climate change, oil-price volatility and improving battery technology – are coalescing to make a powerful case for the electric vehicle once again. Mass-market models will be launched from later this year, the charging infrastructure is being rolled out, and electricity companies around the world are manoeuvring to claim a slice of the new automotive energy market.
Since about half the world's oil production is turned into petrol and diesel, any shift to electric vehicles could ultimately cost the oil industry a vast chunk of its earnings. According to Dale Vince, chief executive of the wind generator Ecotricity, Britain's cars could be powered by fewer than 5,000 wind turbines, and we are on the verge of a rapid shift to transport powered by renewable electricity. "The oil companies are dinosaurs," he says, "and the comet is coming."
It is a dra- matic turnaround, according to Chris Paine, the director of the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?, which told the story of GM's withdrawal of its EV1 model in the 1990s amid allegations of oil-industry lobbying and corporate chicanery. Today most major car manufacturers are developing battery-powered vehicles, GM is preparing to launch its Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid, and Paine is making a sequel: The Revenge of the Electric Car. "It's totally different now we've had the shock of $150 oil, and the automakers are staring out at thousands of unsold gas-guzzlers. I am convinced the electric car will have its revenge."
Until recently the only models available have been niche vehicles such as the tiny G-Wiz commuter car or the Tesla Roadster, but a slew of mass- market models will start to appear this year. The first to arrive in Britain will be Mitsubishi's iMiEV, a four-door with a range of 100 miles on a single charge from a three-pin domestic socket. The cars will be relatively expensive to start with, at about £20,000, but the company says the price will come down as sales grow, and will be offset by min-uscule running costs. Lance Bradley, the new managing director of Mitsubishi UK, points out that the petrol needed to drive 10,000 miles per year costs about £1,000, whereas the electricity to drive the iMiEV the same distance would cost just £40, and electric motors require virtually no maintenance.
The iMiEV will be the first of many. In 2010 Vauxhall will launch the Voltera, the British version of the Chevy Volt, and Think will unveil an all-electric four-seater. In 2011 Renault will launch three electric cars including a large saloon and a van. New models are also due from Smart, Toyota, Nissan and Subaru. Thierry Koskas, director of Renault's electric-vehicle programme, predicts that within five years electric cars could take 10 per cent of global car sales, even on current battery technology. With further improvements in range, he says that number "could easily double or triple". The consultancy AT Kearney predicts battery and hybrid technology will take 50 per cent market share by 2020, assuming oil rises to $200 per barrel.
As climate-change forecasts become ever more alarming, the renaissance of the electric car is supported by a growing consensus that it is the only technology remotely capable of delivering zero-carbon private transport. According to Gary Kendall, director of climate change at SustainAbility, a London-based consultancy, and author of a report called Plugged In: The End of the Oil Age, biofuels will continue to rely on fossil fuel and fertiliser and so will not cut emissions enough, while producing hydrogen cleanly is far too energy-intensive. However, electric motors are so efficient, they would roughly halve car emissions, even if run on UK grid electricity that is heavily reliant on coal and natural gas. "Electric vehicles are the best way to cut car emissions quickly," Kendall concludes, "and combined with zero-carbon electricity generation, they are the only realistic way to eliminate car emissions altogether."
For that to happen would require a network of charging points, which is already starting to be rolled out in Europe and Japan. The Brighton-based company Elektromotive has developed a recharger that looks like a futuristic parking meter, and the firm is working with local authorities, such as Westminster City Council, and power companies, such as EDF Energy, to install them at on-street parking bays and shopping centres. London has 40 such "Elektrobays", with another 60 being installed in the next two months. The company expects to have installed 300 around Britain by the end of the year, and managing director Calvey Taylor-Haw predicts that in 10 years "every street will have one". Elektromotive has also installed rechargers in Germany and Sweden, where it is working with power firms to integrate billing systems, so that wherever the customer recharges a car, the cost will appear on their domestic electricity bill.
A range of 100 miles would more than cover most people's daily travel needs, but would be awkward for longer trips. Better Place, a $200m (£140m) start-up founded in 2007 by a former software executive, Shai Agassi, plans to solve this problem by building a network of battery exchange stations powered by renewable electricity. Motorists would drive in and have depleted batteries replaced with freshly charged ones in an automatic process. In a business model adapted from the mobile phone industry, the batteries would be owned by the network, and motorists would be billed for the number of kilometres they drive. The company plans to launch its network in Israel in 2011, followed by Denmark, Australia, Can-ada, Hawaii and California, and is in talks with a dozen other countries.
The Better Place mission statement is extraordinarily ambitious, promising "a world living free from oil", but business development executive Josh Steinmann says it could all happen much faster than people think. "I don't think we are that far from it because all the technologies exist. The challenge is to persuade people there is another way. Within 10 years we can make a tremendous impact."
The Better Place model relies on a series of deals with renewable generators around the world, and a similar alliance was forged in France last October between Renault and EDF, which plan to create "a large scale zero emission individual transport and travel system". EDF generates almost all its power from low-carbon nuclear and hydro, and already runs a fleet of 1,500 electric vehicles. Renault and EDF are working with the French government, local authorities and Peugeot to develop a recharging infrastructure for Paris, and aim to produce a strategic plan by June. "This is a massive opportunity for electricity firms," says Steinmann. "They stand to address an entirely new market."
Another reason power companies will increasingly want to supply electricity for vehicles is that it could help solve the problem of balancing supply and demand as the proportion of wind generation grows. In Denmark, where wind penetration has reached 20 per cent, the country sometimes has to export power to its neighbours for next to nothing because the wind is blowing but domestic demand is too low, usually at night. Electric vehicles recharging overnight would create a new market for that power, which is why DONG Energy, Denmark's biggest electricity generator, decided to invest in a €€103m (£96m) joint venture with Better Place. According to Torben Holm, who devised the DONG strategy, other power companies round the world will face similar pressures as wind penetration rises, and are likely to follow suit. Meanwhile, the firm hopes a fifth of Denmark's passenger cars will be electric by 2020. "It's very ambitious", says Holm, "but achievable."
While new players circle the transport energy market, the oil companies seem determined to stick overwhelmingly to oil and gas. ExxonMobil has never had any truck with renewables, and Shell recently outraged climate campaigners by announcing it will invest no more in wind and solar following the slump in the oil price. Meanwhile BP, which the company claims stands for "Beyond Petroleum", invested just $1.4bn in its Alternative Energy business last year, against total investment of almost $31bn.
A BP spokesman pointed out that the company is the largest wind generator in the US, and will have invested $8bn in renewables by 2015. He said the shift to electric cars would be "a decade-long process – if it goes that way". And if it did, BP would still be involved in supplying the energy through gas-fired generation using carbon capture and storage (CCS). BP is currently considering two CCS projects overseas, but has abandoned its original project at Peterhead in Scotland, and pulled out of a government-funded competition to build a pilot plant.
Some analysts argue the problem for the oil industry is not so much that it is investing too little in renewables but too much in oil and gas. BP recently made much of the fact that it added reserves equivalent to 121 per cent of its production in 2008. But Gary Kendall of SustainAbility, which counts the world's three biggest listed oil companies among its clients, says the industry's resource base of hundreds of billions of barrels risks becoming a vast stranded asset. "Climate change means we can't afford to burn all of this stuff, so at some point they will have to walk away from it with massive write-downs." And the electric car could precipitate that crisis surprisingly quickly, he adds: "Twenty years ago nobody had a mobile phone, but nowadays, who doesn't?"
The future may not have been cancelled for BP and its peers, but if they don't reinvent themselves soon, it could be very much smaller.
Power play: The fall and rise of electric vehicles
1830s: The electric car was invented by Robert Anderson in Scotland.
1899: Camille Jenatzy breaks the 100 km/h barrier.
1907: First electric bus in London.
1912: Electric car production reaches a peak.
1930s: Mass production collapses.
1966: Scottish Aviation's Scamp and the Enfield 8000 concept cars introduced.
1990s: GM abandoned its EV1, despite public support.
2009: Mitsubishi iMiEV launched.

Boost for huge Scots tide-power plan

Tim Webb
The Observer, Sunday 29 March 2009

Scotland plan's to host the world's largest tidal energy project have moved a step closer after Norwegian renewables giant Statkraft joined the consortium backing the £250m scheme.
The project, which will create over 700 jobs, is to build a large data centre powered by tidal energy, in a remote area on the north Scotland coast dubbed the "Saudi Arabia of tidal energy".
Data centres - warehouses containing powerful computers - consume vast amounts of energy. Because they require constant cooling, it makes sense to locate them in cold regions, although often remote locations do not have access to sufficient electricity to power them.
Tim Cornelius, chief executive of Atlantis Resources Corporation, the firm behind the 150MW project in the Pentland Firth, said tidal power for new data centres was the perfect solution.
Experts believe that the strong currents in the firth, between the Scottish mainland and the Orkneys, could generate over 1GW of renewable energy - as much as a large coal-fired plant.
Tomorrow, Atlantis will announce that it has raised $14m from existing investors, which include Morgan Stanley as well as new backer Statkraft.
Cornelius added: "Statkraft is a real player in the renewables market and will encourage other utilities to come on board. To get their validation is a big step forward for the renewable energy industry in the UK."
It is a rare piece of good news for the UK's renewables industry. Investment has ground to a halt, despite Gordon Brown's rhetoric about the "Green New Deal" to help the UK out of recession.
The Observer has learnt that a £1bn public-private funding body, the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI), is allowing several multinationals to secure exclusive licences to British renewable developers' innovations in return for providing funding. The firms in question include BP, Shell, E.ON and French government-controlled EDF.
Martin Wright, managing director of Marine Current Turbines, said: "The danger is that organisations like the ETI will only hasten the development overseas of technologies which originated in the UK. The UK is in danger of losing an opportunity to develop a world-leading domestic marine energy industry if the only way developers can get funding is by giving up their intellectual property to multinationals."
An ETI spokesman said: "The ETI puts in place mutually acceptable IP arrangements as part of commercial contract negotiations," adding that this was similar to other such initiatives.

Cave ‘batteries’ will store wind power

The Sunday Times
March 29, 2009

Special caverns will be used to store energy for when it is needed most
Dominic O’Connell

Promoters of wind-power projects tout them as the feel-good alternative to burning fossil fuels. Energy secretary Ed Miliband seems to agree, saying last week that it should become “socially unacceptable” to oppose new wind-farm developments in your area.
Wind power has an Achilles Heel, however. It is fickle — as fickle as the wind. Energy planners who have to make sure the lights don’t go out cannot guarantee power will arrive, no matter how many turbines are built. Conventional power plants, probably run on coal or gas, have to be ready to pick up the slack if the wind doesn’t blow.
Now two British companies are putting money into a technology that could overcome this problem. Electricity from wind farms will be used to compress air, which will be stored in caverns below ground. When power is needed, the compressed air will be released, driving turbines to generate electricity.
If the technology works, energy planners will be able to rely on power from wind farms when it comes to planning the next day’s output — and the plants that burn fossil fuel can be stood down. Such a development could be critical to Britain, which wants to increase wind power tenfold by 2020 as part of the government’s plan to have 35% of electricity generated from renewable sources.
The compressed-air technique may sound far-fetched, but it is already in operation. At Huntdorf in Germany, a 290MW plant — powerful enough to run 290,000 homes — has been running for 25 years. A 110MW facility at McIntosh, Alabama, opened in 1991. Neither stores wind power, but excess production from conventional stations. They were built to store electricity generated at periods of low demand, with it being sold to the local grid whenever demand surged.
Sirius Exploration, a group quoted on the Alternative Investment Market, London’s junior stock market, has a controlling stake in an ambitious power-storage project in North Dakota. The state is America’s windiest, and President Barack Obama has made the construction of wind farms there one of the planks of his administration’s alternative-energy policy. Power from the turbines is destined for mid-western cities, including Chicago.
Sirius has invested in an American company, Dakota Salts, which has a lease on 5,000 acres of salt pan. It plans to mine potash found in deposits beneath the surface, leaving behind caverns that have the ideal geology to store compressed air.
Richard Poulden, Sirius chairman, said he was attracted to the idea because of his knowledge of cars that ran on compressed air. “I had a misspent youth taking cars apart and putting them back together, so I knew there was this alternative power source that actually worked very well for storing energy, better than batteries,” he said.
Sirius had also been watching the Dakota project because the caverns could be used to store gas or other hydrocarbons — and gas pipes from Alaska and Canada to American markets run straight across Dakota.
Walter Doyle, boss of Dakota Salts, said the technology had the potential to transform the economics of wind farms. “In the midwest, the local grid will buy off-peak power at 6-8 cents per kilowatt-hour. Peak prices are more like 26 cents an hour. With the storage option, you can guarantee your availability for the peak.”
The ultimate size of the Dakota plant is still to be decided. Potash mining has to take place first, a task that will probably be given to a joint venture with a mining group.
The resulting caverns will be about 16m in diameter and 160m tall, and capable of generating some 100MW of electricity. Sirius and Dakota plan up to eight caverns in the project’s first phase, with the units coming on line in about five years. Doyle said that he was look- ing at similar projects in China and Australia.
Closer to home, the Irish power group Gaelectric has begun investigating a storage facility near Larne in County Antrim. Subject to further geological investigation and planning permission, Gaelectric plans
to spend £200m on a cavern with a minimum 136MW capacity — and possibly 300MW.
“We have been looking at this since we started the company in 2004,” said Keith McGrane, the firm’s head of energy storage. “It’s not a new idea, but with the increasing proportion of wind power across Europe it is an idea whose time has come.”
McGrane said the technique allowed wind farms to take on the characteristics of conventional power plants.
“The problem with wind is that it is not reliable. Even if you have a large number of turbines spread across a number of locations, forecasting wind patterns is not particularly accurate — and wind can often blow more strongly at night, meaning you are generating power when there is no demand.
“Storage means that wind power can be reliable, and grid planners won’t need the back-up fossil-fuel capacity. There is a big social benefit in avoiding that pollution.”
The Larne plant is unlikely to be an eyesore. McGrane said the project needed only four acres of land, with a few buildings on the surface and the business end of the plant hidden deep underground. It will store air at up to 68 times atmospheric pressure.
A modern compression plant should be able to have an overall efficiency of about 75%. A crucial part of the process is capturing the heat generated when air is compressed. If that heat is not harnessed, the efficiency can fall to 65% or less.
The caverns are created by “solution” mining — where the substance being extracted is dissolved and pumped out in solution rather than dug out.
McGrane said it would not be necessary to build wind farms alongside the storage plant. “We don’t care where the electrons come from. We just need a connection to a power supply.” McGrane said the plant could be up and running by 2015.
Energy experts say that the biggest obstacle to the storage projects is the cheapness of conventional generation.
“The storage technology is a good technology, but it will be expensive to build and wind-generated power is more expensive than fossil-fuel power,” said Bikash Pal, reader in power systems at Imperial College, London.
“If there was a way of capturing the wider socio-economic benefits from the avoidance of fossil-fuel stations, it would make a big difference to the economics of the schemes,” he added.

Consumers beware the costly spin of wind turbines

The Sunday Times
March 29, 2009

Jonathan Leake, Environment Editor

The view from the top could not be clearer: Ed Miliband, the minister for energy and climate change, said last week that opposing the onward march of wind turbines – on which the government is pinning its hopes of meeting its targets on renewable energy – should be as “socially unacceptable” as not wearing a seatbelt or failing to stop at a zebra crossing.
Hmm. Tell that to the people who believe the view over Britain’s last remaining wildernesses is about to be destroyed for ever – and for a very dubious set of returns. Will wind farms turn out to be a truly revolutionary source of energy for the future or an expensive folly?
Whatever the final answer, there’s no doubt about the expense. Over the past decade developers have grown rich on lavish – and, critics would say, misdirected – government subsidies. Wind farming is the new gold rush.
So far, renewable power companies have erected 2,390 wind turbines at 200 onshore sites. Another 4,800 are planned, with many more to follow. The power generated will be carried away by lines of pylons crossing Snowdonia national park and areas of outstanding natural beauty in Anglesey, Kent, Lincolnshire and Somerset. For enthusiasts such as Miliband, this destruction is the price Britain must pay.

Alas, it’s not the only price. A quick calculation shows just how lucrative wind farms can be for the lucky few: take the output of a 3-megawatt (MW) turbine, standing about 550ft high. In a good wind it can generate enough power to meet the annual needs of about 1,600 households.
The owner of such a machine could expect to sell the 9,200MW hours of power generated in a year for about £331,000 at today’s prices. Not bad, but the real profit lies elsewhere, in the form of little bits of paper known as renewable obligation certificates (Rocs). Under a government scheme, the wind farmer is allowed to “create” one Roc for each megawatt hour of electricity generated – and to charge the consumer for doing so.
Currently each Roc is worth £48, so our 3MW turbine is generating an additional £441,600 each year, simply from the sale of Rocs. Add this all together and that one machine will earn £772,600 a year, or just under £20m over a typical 25-year lifetime – assuming the subsidies continue at the same rate. And it will have cost only around £3m£4m to build.
In other European Union countries the payback can be even more astonishing. Germany subsidises renewable power generation through the so-called “feed-in tariff” (Fit). Anyone generating solar, wind-powered or hydro electricity gets a guaranteed payment of four times the market rate – about 35p a unit – for 20 years.
The cost is spread among users so that only €1.50 (£1.40) is added to the average bill a month. The German system is deemed so successful that Fits have been adopted in 19 countries and the recent Climate Change Act allows for their introduction here.
In Britain, however, while the government has thrown money at renewable energy generators, it seems not to have anticipated the huge additional costs that wind brings with it.
The problem is this: wind does not blow all the time, so if Britain is to keep the lights on when the breeze slackens, wind power needs support from other forms of power. This means that for every wind farm we build, there must be a coal or gas-fired power station waiting in the wings to take over.
Right now Britain has about 76 gigawatts (GW) of generating capacity, mostly nuclear, coal and gas. The government has said it wants 30GW of our power to come from wind by 2030, but to achieve that it will also have to build or maintain an extra 30GW of back-up power stations. So by 2030 Britain will have to sustain power stations capable of generating 100GW of electricity to provide the power we now get from 76GW.
Then there are the new European Union regulations, which stipulate that Britain must get 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. To meet this target overall will mean producing some 30% of our electricity from renewables – and wind is the only mature technology able to deliver it.
Dieter Helm, professor of energy policy at Oxford University, believes this is too ambitious. “We could build and install the thousands of turbines and back-up power stations needed, but only at great cost,” he says. “It is bound to fail but no one dares talk about that – or not yet.”
The other thing government does not like to talk about is the cost to consumers. At the moment, subsidising wind turbines adds £12 to the typical annual domestic power bill of £474. This is small now but will surge as more turbines are built.
Will it be worth it? The renewables obligation, by the way, is just one of the charges for dealing with climate change already being added to our energy bills. The average power and gas consumer is already paying an annual extra £31 for carbon permits, under the EU emissions trading scheme, and another £38 for the UK government’s carbon emission reductions programme, which subsidises home energy efficiency programmes.
Many wonder if such mounting charges are politically sustainable. A couple of years ago Ofgem, the energy regulator, warned the government that the renewables obligation system was handing wind farm operators windfall profits that could provoke a consumer backlash – perhaps one as angry as the fuel tax protests of 2000. What price then for Miliband’s bleats about the “social unacceptability” of opposing wind power?