Thursday, 30 April 2009

Deals to bring expansion of UK nuclear energy

By Ed Crooks, Energy Editor
Published: April 30 2009 02:42

A big expansion of nuclear power was launched on Wednesday as a German consortium bought two sites for building new reactors and committed itself to a huge investment programme.
RWE and Eon, two German-owned companies that are already large energy suppliers in Britain and have teamed up to build new nuclear plants, bought the sites at Wylfa in Anglesey and Oldbury in Gloucestershire in an auction held by the government’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

They said they planned to build 6,000 megawatts of nuclear generation capacity, implying four to six new reactors on the two sites.
RWE plans to invest up to £15bn ($22bn) in Britain in nuclear and other power plants.
However, Andy Duff, chief executive of RWE’s UK business, warned he had been “very very concerned” about the government’s energy policy in recent years, and delivering the new reactors on time relied on “an energy policy that is low on surprises and high on predictability and stability”.
The German consortium’s announcement gives Britain a second strong nuclear generator to compete with EDF of France. Last year, EDF bought British Energy, owner of most of the working nuclear power stations, for £12.4bn, and said it planned to build 6,400MW of new nuclear capacity in four reactors, probably at Sizewell in Suffolk and Hinkley Point in Somerset.
In total, the French and German plans meant that new nuclear power stations could generate more electricity than the ageing reactors they would replace, the government said.
The NDA’s auction of three sites suitable for new nuclear development – the third at Bradwell in Essex – closed on Wednesday, raising £387m for the government to help pay for the costs of cleaning up nuclear sites.
One of the bidders, a consortium of Iberdrola of Spain, which owns ScottishPower; GDF Suez of France and Scottish and Southern Energy of the UK dropped out after deciding that the bidding had gone too high.
That consortium said on Wednesday it was still interested in investing in nuclear power, but would look at other sites put up for sale by the government.
Mr Duff said he planned to have the RWE/Eon consortium’s first new reactor operational by 2020, but that depended on staying on the “critical path” for planning approvals, the licensing of reactor technology by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, and a long-term solution being found for the disposal of nuclear waste.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Electric Citroën C1 car is ready, but government grants are not

The Times
April 30, 2009

Ben Webster

The shift to greener motoring is being delayed by the Government’s refusal to offer grants for electric cars until 2011, according to a British company that today introduces the first fully electric car available to buyers.
The Electric Car Corporation fears that drivers will be deterred from buying its Bedford-built car for two years until the Government starts giving grants of up to £5,000.
Lord Mandelson, the Business Secretary, and Geoff Hoon, the Transport Secretary, announced the Government’s £250 million electric car strategy two weeks ago. They promised grants of £2,000-£5,000 per car to help motorists to buy electric vehicles “when they hit the showrooms — which we expect from 2011 onwards”.
However, the electric adaptation of the Citroën C1, a four-seater available from today, meets all the criteria for the grants.

When asked yesterday by The Times whether the grants would be brought forward to apply to the C1, the Department for Transport said: “Incentives will coincide with the expected mass introduction of ultra-low carbon cars to the market so that consumers have the maximum choice of which car they buy — we expect this to be around 2011.”
David Martell, chief executive of the Electric Car Corporation, said: “It would have been better if the Government had not made any announcement. Offering free beer tomorrow does not persuade people to buy beer today. The grants should be available now because our car meets the criteria outlined by the Government.”
He said that the company had been planning to produce at least 4,000 cars a year for the British market but the Government’s announcement meant it was unsure of demand and might have to scale back plans for expanding production.
The electric C1 costs £16,850, double the cost of the petrol version. With a £5,000 grant, the electric model would still be about £3,500 more expensive but the driver could save that much in a year in reduced running, parking and congestion charge costs.
It costs 90p to charge the electric C1’s 26 batteries, which give the car a range of 70 miles. It costs £5 for the fuel to cover the same distance in a petrol C1.The electric version has a top speed of 60mph and takes about seven hours to recharge fully from a domestic 13-amp socket.

Vestas raises £700m a day after cutting 600 UK jobs

Vestas, the world’s biggest maker of wind turbines, has raised 5.98 billion Danish crowns (£700m) in a new share issue - a day after cutting 600 jobs in the UK.

By Telegraph StaffLast Updated: 8:35AM BST 29 Apr 2009

The fund raising follows its announcement that it was cutting 1,900 jobs, maining in Denmark and Britain, because of sluggish demand in northern Europe, despite reporting a 70pc rise in first-quarter profits to €56m (£50m).
The layoffs represent about 9pc of Vestas’ global work force of 21,000 and will lead to the closure of its UK turbine plant on the Isle of Wight.

Vestas said in a statement on Wednesday that it had raised the £700m via the placing of 18.5m new shares at 323 Danish crowns a share with institutions.
The fund raising was announced alongside the jobs cuts on Tuesday.
Commitments by European governments, including the UK and Germany, to increase the amount of electricity generated by green energy alternatives has not translated into increased demand, the company said.

Barack Obama's 100 days: Green measures

Environmentalists in general have been impressed by the speed and sheer sweep of Obama's efforts to leave behind the George Bush era of climate change denial

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Wednesday 29 April 2009 11.33 BST

Barack Obama promised on his very first day in the White House to help move America towards a new green future. Now, 100 days on, environmentalists in general have been impressed by the speed and sheer sweep of Obama's efforts to leave behind the George Bush era of climate change denial, and try to set in place the foundations of a low carbon future.
So how has he performed? Obama, of course, has not had time to put in place the long-term measures needed to wean America off oil and coal. His administration has also had to scale back some of its ambitions because of opposition from Congress, charged with passing cap and trade legislation, and an American public that – unlike Obama – has yet to see global warming as a priority threat.
The Senate has yet to take up climate change legislation, which sharply reduces the chances of introducing a market-based cap and trade system by the end of this year. The administration has also frustrated some environmentalists.
But most agree that Obama has moved faster, and acted across a wider, than any other president to lay the foundations of a new low-carbon economy.
Here are some of the highlights of the last 100 days:
January 20: Only hours after Obama takes the oath of office, the White House issues a memo staying a number of Bush's "midnight regulations". The regulations, issued in the final hours of the Bush administration, had sought to do away with a generation of environmental protections imposed on polluters from factory farms to the burning of hazardous waste and oil shales development. Obama orders a review of the measures, which had been deplored by conservationists.
January 26: The president signs a pair of executive orders intended to set stricter limits on car exhaust emissions. Obama directs the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider its refusal, under George Bush, to allow California to cut car exhaust by 30%. The president also calls on the Transportation Department to draw up new fuel 35 MPG fuel standard for all cars rolling off the assembly lines from 2012.
February 17: Obama signs a $787bn economic recovery plan. The rescue package contained historic levels of green investment – well over $100bn by some estimates. There were billions for refitting existing buildings to make them more energy efficiency, high-speed rail lines and commuter transit and updating the electric grid.
"In a lot of respects the stimulus package was a gigantic climate and energy bill by itself in a very positive way," said David Gardiner, a senior adviser at the Energy Future Coalition. "We have never had a president who has focused on this ... with [that] intensity."
March 19: He pledges $2.4bn for the development of hybrid cars and advanced batteries.
March 20: Michelle Obama digs up a patch of ground behind the White House to plant the first presidential vegetable garden since the second world war. The Obamas plan to put in lettuce, spinach, herbs such as coriander, and hot peppers – but no beets because the president does not like them.
March 30: Obama sets aside 2m acres of public land spread across nine states as wilderness, from California's Sierra Nevada to Virginia's Jefferson forest, shielding it from mining, logging and other operations. Another provision protects 1,000 miles of river.
April 17: The Environmental Protection Agency formally declares that carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases are a danger to public health and welfare. The so-called endangerment finding is a first step towards regulating coal-fired power plants and to forcing US car manufacturers to make cleaner and more fuel-efficient vehicles.
April 27: The US hosts a two-day forum for 17 of the world's most polluting economies to try to get closer to a deal before the international climate change summit at Copenhagen in December. The secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, declares the US, after eight years of going missing under George Bush, is now committed to helping lead the world towards a planet-saving deal. She also makes a direct pitch to India and China, saying that a move towards a greener economy will not hold back development, but could help them reach greater prosperity.

It can be done but what is it we are doing?

The Times
April 30, 2009
Carl Mortished: Analysis

"Oh Lord, make me carbon-neutral, but not yet.”
If St Augustine were in charge of UK energy policy, he might utter such a prayer. The sheer scale and cost of putting Britain on the path towards zero carbon is only beginning to become apparent.
In its report, published on Thursday, the UK Energy Research Centre suggests that a carbon price signal of £200 a tonne, 15 times the present level, is needed if we are to reach the Government's target of an 80 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050.
Small wonder, then, that the centre is dismissive of the Government's aspiration of generating a third of electricity from renewables by 2020. That we have barely started — wind accounted for about 1 per cent of power generation last year — is reason enough to be sceptical. What is more important, however, is not whether we match some politically inspired timeline (always just beyond a minister's career horizon) but whether the practical steps that must be taken to get even halfway towards the desired goal are affordable.

Recessions have a way of concentrating minds over the nitty-gritty price tags that must now be stuck on policies dreamt up when we thought we were rolling in clover. We are almost a decade away from 2020. In the energy industry, a decade is the lifespan of one big project.
The notion that Britain has the engineering capacity to build 30 gigawatts of wind power in the time available is fanciful. It is highly doubtful, even after the recent increase in the value of the renewable obligation, that the private sector has the appetite to commit resources to such a gargantuan objective.
More relevant is the rarely asked question whether the public wants the British power industry to undertake this challenge, when the costs are fully understood. If we are to go down this road, we are more or less saying goodbye to a free market in energy. At present, power companies selling electricity generated from nuclear, coal or gas bid their capacity into the grid but must buy a certain amount of wind power — the renewable obligation.
Such a massive increase in wind-generated power is causing headaches for National Grid as it seeks to ensure that all those off-shore turbines have equal access to the system as the power stations sitting close to the economic centres in southeast England. To make matters worse, wind often does not blow, so the investment in expanding the grid is hugely inefficient. On average, wind turbines operate at 20 per cent of capacity, so we still need all those coal and gas power plants to fill the gap on cold, still days.
The solution, suggested by some, is to have a clever system that can prioritise wind. When it blows hard, the proposed 30GW of wind-generated power would become the base load. Every electron from every whirligig would be used — nuclear, coal and oil would pick up the slack.
That would make best use of the resource and it would cut out more carbon, but it would turn the market on its head. Instead of a system that rewards the most efficient and cheapest source of power, we would have a command to buy the most expensive and unreliable. By government diktat, the stuff that powered your fridge would be gold dust, not coal dust.
We can do these things, slowly, but must understand we are doing more than just building windmills. We are moving from a market economy to a planned economy. It will be hard to go back.

Generals must give us their exit strategy for climate change

It's not unreasonable for us to ask how today's sacrifices will meet tomorrow's climate change goals, says Myles Allen

Myles Allen, Wednesday 29 April 2009 18.02 BST

Like many of us in these cash-strapped times, I lead a double life, fitting the job of a climate physics lecturer around the implacable 3pm primary school pick-up time. I get a range of reactions at the school gates when other parents find out that I work on climate change. Some mention how much effort they put into recycling or ask whether it really is as bad as the papers make out. Others quietly change the subject when it looks as if our work on flood risk might affect house prices.
Like all scientists, most of what I do is arcane and technical and of very little interest to outsiders. For once, however, I'm involved in a couple of studies (published today in Nature), that my fellow parents might just find interesting. The headline result of both papers is that the risk of dangerous climate change is primarily determined by the total amount of carbon dioxide that we, the human race, release into the atmosphere over all time, not by emissions in any particular year.
For example, releasing a total of a trillion tonnes of carbon causes a most likely warming of around 2C, which many scientists and governments regard as a threshold above which the risks rise steeply. A most likely warming of 2C means, of course, a substantial risk of warming higher still. Keeping the risk of warming over 2C to odds of less than one in four makes the job even harder. It cuts the total "cumulative budget" that we can get away with releasing to under three-quarters of a trillion tonnes.
Given that we have released over half a trillion tonnes already since 1750, we are left with a budget in the region of half-as-much-again to the-same-again. On current trends we'll use that up in only 20-40 years. Emissions are clearly going to have to start going down soon.
So is this just another climate doom-story to make the parents at the school gate feel even more worried and guilty? Worry and guilt comes naturally to green-minded parents. Listening to environmentalists, it's easy to get the feeling that climate change is primarily their fault, and that it's up to them to solve it.
It is they who are left struggling to find the right size of low-energy lightbulbs in Homebase; turning down the central heating; finding an electricity supplier who is 30% renewable; nagging the kids about turning the television off at the wall. And now, to cap it all, they have to worry sending the kids to school on the bus is exposing them to swine flu.
As the cannon fodder in the forthcoming battle to curb climate change, my fellow parents are entitled to know their generals' strategy. Heroic efforts to reduce your family's carbon footprint will reduce your contribution to the current rate of emission of carbon dioxide. But what our research papers coming out today show is that emitting carbon dioxide slower will not prevent dangerous climate change unless it is a means to an end of phasing out carbon dioxide emissions altogether.
So the question I'd like to see posed to our politicians, speaking now not as a scientist but from the primary school gates, is: "What do you plan to do with trillionth tonne?" (And, of course, every tonne thereafter.)
There are only three options: we release it into the atmosphere, in which case we are committing, most likely, to dangerous climate change greater than 2C; we set up an emission control regime so stringent that no one, anywhere in the world, will dream of digging it up and burning it; or we accept it is going to get burnt and prevent it getting into the atmosphere. None are palatable options.
There are promising signs though. The UK Committee on Climate Change acknowledged the need for a cumulative budget in their report last year, and politicians of all stripes are talking about carbon capture and storage. But the proposals are for pilot plants, "capture ready" plants (which seems to mean as much as HD-ready television), deployment over the next 20 years and so on.But we won't find out until try.
So, as your local environmental group urges you over the top to capture the next ridge in the fight against climate change, it is neither defeatist nor disloyal to ask, "what is the exit strategy?" How will the sacrifices we will have to make today achieve what must at the very minimum be our long-term goal – to save the trillionth tonne?
Dr Myles Allen is generally known as Colette, John and Jim's Dad. He is also a university lecturer in the department of physics, University of Oxford

Climate countdown: Half a trillion tonnes of carbon left to burn

To avoid dangerous climate change of 2C, the world can only burn another half a trillion tonnes of carbon, climate change experts warn

David Adam, environment correspondent, Wednesday 29 April 2009 18.03 BST

The world has already burned half the fossil fuels necessary to bring about a catastrophic 2C rise in average global temperature, scientists revealed today.
The experts say about half a trillion tonnes of carbon have been consumed since the industrial revolution. To prevent a 2C rise, they say, the total burnt must be kept to below a trillion tonnes. On current rates, that figure will be reached in 40 years.
Myles Allen, a climate expert at Oxford University who led the new study, said: "Mother Nature doesn't care about dates. To avoid dangerous climate change we will have to limit the total amount of carbon we inject into the atmosphere, not just the emission rate in any given year."
The scientists say their research could simplify political attempts to tackle global warming, which encompass a range of targets and timetables. Such proposals usually set future limits on the amount of carbon dioxide allowed to build up in the atmosphere, such as 450 parts per million (ppm), or as future emission rates, such as the UK's pledge to slash emissions 80% by 2050.
The new study effectively re-frames such targets as an available budget - to avoid dangerous climate change of 2C the world can only burn another half a trillion tonnes of carbon.
Writing in today's Nature, Allen and colleagues say a trillion tonnes of carbon burnt would be likely to produce a warming of between 1.6C and 2.6C, with a "most likely" 2C rise.
Chris Huntingford of the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology said: "Research often reveals new complexities, but this analysis could actually simplify matters for policy makers. The relationship between total emissions and future warming can be inferred largely from quantities we can observe, and is remarkably insensitive to the timing of future emissions."
The key implication of the research, the scientists say, is that access to fossil fuels must somehow be rationed and eventually turned off, if the 2C target is to be met. "If country A burns it then country B can't," said Bill Hare, a climate expert with the Potsdam Institute in Germany. "It's like a draining tank."
The research also highlights that continued high rates of fossil fuel use in the next decade will demand extraordinary cuts in emissions in future decades to hit the 2C target. Allen said: "If you use too much [carbon] this year, it doesn't mean the planet will come to an end. It means you have to work even harder the next year."
A separate study, also published today in Nature, led by Malte Meinshausen at the Potsdam Institute, use a similar approach and sets a different carbon budget. They say the world can only emit 190bn tonnes of carbon between now and 2050 if it aims for a 2C rise. Emissions over 310bn tonnes in that time lead to a 50% chance of going over 2C.
The new research does not say anything about the likelihood of reaching the 2C target. They simply change the way progress towards the target is measured.
In an accompanying commentary article, the scientists behind both studies say: "These results are not incompatible with current proposals for near-term emission targets -- the small size of the cumulative emission budgets to 2050 reinforces the need for global CO2 emissions to peak around or before 2020 so that emission pathways remain technologically and economically feasible."
They add: "Having taken 250 years to burn the first half trillion tonnes of carbon we look set, on current trends, to burn the next half trillion in less than 40. No one could credibly suggest that we should carry on with business as usual to the 2040s and then somehow suddenly stop using fossil fuels, switch to 100% carbon capture or just shut down the world economy overnight."

Yes, the planet’s future is a worry, but we’ll carry on flying, consumers tell opinion poll

The Times
April 30, 2009
Marcus Leroux

Even consumers who care about the environment are not willing to fly less and are sceptical about the benefits of carbon-offsetting, a poll for The Times has found.
Only 38 per cent of concerned consumers said that they would take fewer flights in the next 12 months, down from 46 per cent last year, while just 10 per cent believe that offsetting is an effective way to tackle climate change, according to the Populus poll.
The findings will hearten the aviation industry as it faces the combined challenge of a global economic downturn, amid which passenger numbers fell by 11 per cent last month, and concern about the environmental impact of the growth in air travel in the past decade.
Cynicism about carbon-offsetting, by which a passenger or a company pays a premium for carbon-saving measures elsewhere, has convinced people that it is merely a “sticking plaster”, David Lourie, an analyst from Good Business, said.

Only 16 per cent of respondents had offset carbon emissions and 41 per cent said that it was “purely a gesture”. Concern about a lack of transparency on carbon-saving schemes associated with offsetting programmes appears to be well-founded: of those who had paid to offset flights, only 45 per cent knew where the money went.
However, the onus of environmental responsibility still rests upon airlines, according to concerned consumers. Some 38 per cent said that carriers bore responsibility, ahead of the Government and aircraft manufacturers, with 19 per cent each.
Passengers and oil companies were bottom of the list.
Respondents believing that the airline industry is taking its environmental impact seriously have risen by nearly half – to 39 per cent, from 27 per cent. Yet 84 per cent believe that airlines should be forced to retire older, more polluting aircraft.
Budget airlines, such as Ryanair, fare poorly in the survey on perceptions of ethical and environmental behaviour, even though they tend to use newer aircraft than larger rivals, and to fly with fewer empty seats.
This is likely to reflect environmental concern about the growth of budget air travel itself. Companies such as Ryanair and easyJet have comparatively low environmental impact per passenger mile.
Mr Lourie suggested that Ryanair’s bad showing may be related to Michael O’Leary, its outspoken chief executive, who has said: “We will take [passengers] off British Airways and the other old carriers who are flying gas-guzzling, ancient aircraft and pack them into fuel-efficient planes. So Ryanair will be saving the environment – not that we care much.” Mr O’Leary has also said: “I listen to all this drivel about turning down the central heating, going back to candles, returning to the Dark Ages. You do that if you want to. But none of it will make any difference. It just panders to your middle-class, middle-aged angst and guilt.”
Ryanair’s load factor – how full its aircraft are – was 77 per cent last month, against its 12-month average of 81 per cent. British Airways had a load factor of 73 per cent last month.
Mr Lourie said: “The aviation industry does have a huge impact on the environment, though its contribution is very little compared with overall emissions. It’s an issue that the motor industry has shirked in the past by ploughing on regardless. There’s still a long way to go for the airline industry.”
The Ryanair effect shows that how a company communicates its environmental message matters, Mr Lourie said. “Airlines need to show commitment with big steps like increasing load factor and increasing the efficiency of flights and retiring planes earlier,” he said. “But there’s also potential for small steps, such as on the supply chain, that will help to address these issues. That would help to demonstrate to the consumer that not only are they addressing the big issues where they can, but also the little issues that may be more about showing consumers they are serious.”
The airline industry has complained of being unfairly singled out on carbon emissions. In 2006 it was responsible for 6.4 per cent of Britain’s greenhouse-gas emissions, but campaign groups such as Plane Stupid say that air travel’s growth is unsustainable.
Yet even among concerned consumers the case against a third runway at Heathrow is not conclusive: two thirds support expansion of Britain’s aviation capacity, but two thirds oppose the building of a third runway.
More generally, the findings suggest a gap between perceptions and reality. Concerned consumers were asked which did most harm to the environment from a range of activities, including heating your home and flying to Europe twice a year. Heating ranked last, with only 11 per cent identifying it – rightly – as having most impact.
Overall, the concerned consumer poll indicates a better opinion of companies’ social and environmental records. Since people have become more critical of companies during the credit crunch, Mr Lourie cited the change as a sign of improved consumer sentiment.

Climate scientists warn of looming disaster

By Fiona Harvey, Environment Correspondent
Published: April 29 2009 18:59

Scientists have worked out how much greenhouse gas the world can emit in total without tipping climate change towards catastrophic levels of warming and have warned the world is on course for disaster.
Even the most drastic emissions cuts currently being discussed stand little chance of limiting global warming to safe levels, two studies by scientists in Oxford and Germany have found, prompting calls for a radical rethink on how to tackle climate change.

The findings, to be published on Thursday in the peer review journal Nature, mean that less than a quarter of the world’s proven and economically recoverable fossil fuel reserves can be burnt between now and 2050 to avoid a jump of more than 2ºC above pre-industrial levels, widely regarded by scientists as the limit of safety.
To remain on track with this “carbon budget” Canada would have to leave its oil sands untapped and Saudi Arabia would need to leave most of its oil reserves in the ground to avert disaster.
“If we continue burning fossil fuels as we do, will have exhausted the carbon budget in merely 20 years and global warming will go well beyond 2ºC,” said Malte Meinshausen, of the Potsdam Institute and lead author of one of the studies.
At more than 2ºC of warming, climate change becomes irreversible and in many cases catastrophic, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Sea level rises, droughts, floods, heatwaves and more intense storms would result, and large swaths of land, including parts of southern Europe, would become unsuitable for agriculture.
The conclusion has led to calls for governments to consider more drastic measures than emissions cuts, including ways to “geo engineer” the world’s climate through untried and exotic methods such as erecting mirrors in space.
“This changes the way we think about climate change,” said Myles Allen of Oxford University, one of the lead authors. “It’s something for policymakers to chew on.”
More than 100 governments have committed to halving global emissions by 2050, and many developed countries to reducing their emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, compared with 1990 levels. But the authors of Thursday’s studies said this was unlikely to be enough.
“In theory we could just make it,” said Martin Parry, of Imperial College London. “But this is the real world, not scientific theory – and who would bet on this, given our experience with the pace of [progress] in the past?”
Once the carbon budget, which the studies put at about 1,000bn tonnes of carbon, has been used up then the world will be committed to more than 2ºC of warming unless drastic alternative action is taken.
Another danger of reaching 2ºC of warming is that the climate might surpass some “tipping points” which amplify the warming effect, resulting in much more rapid rises in temperature. Tipping points result from feedback mechanisms in the climate – for instance, as permafrost melts in Siberia it uncovers marshes which release methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, adding to the warming.
Drastic actions such as “seeding clouds” to lighten their colour and reflect more sunlight could help to cool the earth by reflecting sunlight. Other suggestions including putting a sunshield or mirror in space to deflect some of the sun’s rays.
Prominent scientists including John Holdren, President Barack Obama’s chief science adviser, have mooted such methods recently. But these would have to be carried out alongside deep emissions cuts to have an effect.
We must also adapt the world’s infrastructure – through flood barriers, improving health services and other measures – to prepare for warming far above 2ºC, according to Professor Parry and colleagues, also writing in Nature. “We should be planning to adapt to at least 4ºC of warming,” they said.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Europe's green energy vision puts UK in dark

The Times
April 30, 2009
Robin Pagnamenta, Energy and Environment Editor

It is a dazzling vision of a clean energy future. An entire continent powered by solar panels, wind and wave turbines, geothermal and hydroelectric power stations — and all stitched together by a European “supergrid” stretching from the sunbaked deserts of the south to the windswept North Sea, from the volcanoes of Iceland to the lakes of Finland.
It may sound like the stuff of science fiction but this is a vision that the European Union wants to make a reality. The concept is gaining ground among policymakers, including leaders such as President Sarkozy and Gordon Brown, who are concerned about Europe's carbon emissions and its steadily growing dependence on Russian gas.
Adam Bruce, chairman of the British Wind Energy Association (BWEA), is convinced that a European supergrid that could eventually banish polluting fossil fuels altogether, is only a matter of time.
“We are only limited by our own ambition,” he says. “The capacity is there. There is the potential for wind alone to supply 50 per cent or more of our energy needs.”

Gregor Czisch, a German academic at the University of Kassel who developed the concept, claims it would cost €45 billion (£40.5 billion) to build. The numbers add up, he insists, and all of Europe's electricity supplies could eventually be harvested from the wind, water and the sun.
Such dreams of renewable energy certainly catch the imagination but for Britain, which generates just 1 per cent of its electricity from renewables — the least in the European Union after Malta and Luxembourg — the gap between ambition and reality seems particularly stark.
The truth is that, despite the Government's talk of a green energy revolution, Britain's renewable energy industry is in crisis.
About 40 per cent of the UK's power stations were built before 1975 and urgently need to be replaced. But the combined impact of the credit crunch, falling oil and coal prices and the weaker pound now threaten to hold up wind projects just as the UK has raised its commitment to green electricity.
“The economics a year ago were already tight but the cost of capital and the foreign exchange movement have made it much harder,” says Sarwjit Sambhi, director of power generation at Centrica, one of Britain's Big Six power companies, which is trying to build a 250 megawatt (MW) wind farm off Lincolnshire, big enough to supply 170,000 homes. “We are not going to make investments below our return on capital so my goal will be to spend as little as possible until the economics improve,” he said.
In last week's Budget, the Government announced incentives designed to bolster investment in huge offshore windfarms and ensure that Britain hits its target of raising the share of electricity produced from renewable sources to 35 to 40 per cent by 2020.
So will they work? Not according to Jim Skea, director of the UK Energy Research Centre. He has just undertaken a big research project into how the UK can slash its carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. “In none of the scenarios we looked at were renewables picked up nearly fast enough to meet the 2020 targets,” said Professor Skea. “It will be a big struggle. We are not spending nearly enough.”
Wind power, easily the most economically attractive form of renewable energy in the UK, remains hugely expensive when compared with gas and coal.
A recently approved gas-fired station in Pembroke will cost £1 billion and will be the largest in the UK, producing 2,000MW. It would cost six times as much to build a windfarm of similar capacity.
While a strengthened subsidy regime and up to £4 billion of extra funding from the European Investment Bank (EIB) announced in the Budget are welcome, Professor Skea believes that far more radical action will be required, including huge increases in research spending to accelerate the development of better technology, and a dramatic rise in the price of traded carbon emissions, up from £13 presently to £200 a tonne.
But that is not all. Sceptics scoff that wind, wave and solar power are inherently unreliable. A solution could lie in back-up gas and nuclear plants and a far smarter grid that includes technology to balance the load at moments of reduced supply.
This could range from sophisticated centralised networks right into homes, where chips embedded in non-essential appliances could force them to switch off for brief periods as and when the grid demanded it.
Such technology exists but it is a world away from today's grid, some of which dates back to the 1930s, and it will require vast investments and sweeping regulatory change to accomplish.
Until Europe's governments grapple with the fine detail of these issues, the Continent's dreams of a supergrid and a future free of fossil fuels are likely to remain in the realms of science fiction.
Ultimately, according to Professor Skea, an international deal at the UN climate talks in Copenhagen in December will be critical to achieving the political momentum required to achieve all of this.
Nevertheless, the BWEA's Adam Bruce remains upbeat: “It's certainly a challenge but these problems are not insurmountable. The more renewable energy you create the less it costs. People focus on the upfront capital cost but not the longer-term benefits.”

Small-scale green energy grants rise to £150,000

Published Date: 30 April 2009

THE level of grants to help communities develop small-scale renewable energy schemes has been increased by the Scottish Government.
Up to £150,000 is now available – a rise of 50 per cent – to fund technical support, training and installation of green energy equipment.The Communities and Renewable Energy Scheme (Cares) replaces an initiative which helped develop more than 400 projects. Energy minister Jim Mather said: "I want to maximise the benefits of renewable energy to communities throughout Scotland." Nicholas Gubbins, chief executive of Dingwall-based charity Community Energy Scotland, which is delivering the Cares project, said: "There is already a high level of interest and enthusiasm within communities for developing their own projects."These can bring real benefits to communities, helping to address energy costs and making a significant contribution to Scotland's carbon and renewable energy targets."

UK 'will struggle' to meet 2020 renewables goal

Coalition of energy and climate scientists reveal scenarios for how lifestyles and energy generation in Britain must change to reach 2050 emission reduction targets

Alok Jha, green technology correspondent, Thursday 30 April 2009 00.05 BST

The UK will "struggle" to meet its 2020 target to source 15% of its electricity from renewable sources, according to a leading energy expert who also advises the UK government on climate policy.
Jim Skea, research director of the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) and a member of the government's advisory Committee on Climate Change warned yesterday that, while renewable energy would play an important role in meeting the UK's target to reduce CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050, the more immediate 2020 goal of sourcing 15% of UK electricity from renewables would be "a very big struggle".
He made the comments at a briefing to launch a new UKERC report that presents scenarios for how lifestyles and energy generation in Britain would have to change reach the 2050 climate targets. The study concludes that investing in low-carbon energy technologies in the short term will save the UK billions of pounds in its goal to reach its long-term targets while consumer resistance to change would also raise the cost of a low-carbon Britain.
The scenarios were based on two years of work by a coalition of energy and climate scientists. Each study took in various constraints such as how willing consumers might be to use energy more efficiently or change the amount and way they travel. In all the scenarios, the electricity sector would be completely carbon free by 2050 through the use of nuclear power, renewables and carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. This clean electricity would then become the main source of power for homes and transport.
Skea said that none of the scenarios had a major role for renewables technology until at least the 2030s. "If you're looking at all the potential delays on the system of deploying renewable energy, getting grid connections in, getting planning permissions, 2020 is almost tomorrow and we'll have to struggle very hard to reach it," said Skea. "If these barriers could be removed, it's technically possible but a lot of political will is needed to push this through."
According to the report, achieving the 2050 target using the most economic methods would cost around £17bn, or around £700 per household per year. But this cost would rise if consumers were resistant to new technologies.
"Nimby" attitudes to building nuclear power, biofuel crops or onshore wind could push up the costs of reaching 2050 targets to £20bn or £800 per household per year. An ecologically active public that demands an end to all fossil fuels and all environmentally damaging practices such as open-cast coal-mining would push the price up even further, to £28bn, or £1,100 per household, though this scenario would also end up providing more clean energy for Britons to use.
Skea said that driving these required changes would be difficult but one way would be to raise the price of carbon so that businesses were incentivised to invest in cleaner, low-carbon technologies instead. A carbon price of £200 per tonne of CO2 by 2050 would be required, he said, leading to petrol prices of at least £5 per litre. But this would not necessarily mean that household energy bills would rise. "The price of energy might go up but the absolute amount you pay might go down," said Skea.
One of the UKERC scenarios involved wide-ranging changes in the way people lived their lives, for example, that could end up saving consumers and businesses more than £50bn in energy bills every year. This included taking up energy efficiency measures at home including lowering temperatures on thermostats from 20C to 17C, installing insulation and microgeneration. At the same time almost all car journeys for short distances would be cut out, and only ultra-low carbon or electric cars be used for longer journeys with more people working from home.
"In the residential and transport sector, energy demand will halve by 2050," said Jillian Anable, head of transport research at UKERC. "What that means for the total energy system is that energy use will reduce by a third. This means de-carbonisation could take place more slowly. The cost of delivering this low-carbon scenario would be reduced."
Another author of the study, Mark Winskel of the Institute of Energy Systems at Edinburgh University, highlighted the need for more support for research and development (R&D) of new energy technologies. "There has been an absolute decline in R&D spend which went down from £700m per annum in the mid 1970s. From the mid 1990s, we're averaging £100m per annum."
Raising the investment back to 1970s levels and using the cash to accelerate the commercial viability of energy systems including solar photovoltaics, wave and tidal energy, would save the UK around £1bn a year on average between 2010 and 2040, said Winskel, in not having to buy in more expensive carbon-reduction technologies in future to meet 2050 targets.
Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, said that converting to a low-carbon economy was a task that demanded spending now, despite the economic downturn, to save money in the long run.
"Evidence from countries that have successfully developed big renewable industries shows that governments need to support domestic markets, encouraging rapid development with help on planning and incentives. Without a strong government lead the fossil fuel corporate dinosaurs will get in the way and prevent the growth in green-collar jobs which we need. Expanding renewables is about controlling corporate influence as well as government targets."
Friends of the Earth's executive director, Andy Atkins, said: "This report confirms what we have always said - slashing UK emissions and building a low carbon economy is both achievable and affordable. But the government must stop dithering over the urgent need to act."
"Putting energy saving and the development of green sources of power at the heart of policy-making would make the UK a world leader in tackling climate change, increase energy security, end fuel poverty and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs. A green energy revolution is desperately needed to meet the challenges we all face. Time is running out – Brown must show that he has the political courage to develop a safer, cleaner future."

UK Government green goals face failure

The Times
April 30, 2009
Robin Pagnamenta, Energy and Environment Editor

Government plans to generate more than a third of Britain's electricity from green energy sources, such as wind and solar power, by 2020 are doomed to failure without a dramatic increase in state support, according to a leading energy research group.
Despite fresh incentives to increase investment in offshore wind parks announced in last week's Budget, the UK Energy Research Centre (ERC) said on Wednesday that it was virtually impossible for the UK to meet the target imposed by Europe of generating 15 per cent of total energy from renewable sources by 2020 — which equates to about 35 per cent of total electricity.
Jim Skea, research director, said: “Renewables can make a significant contribution, but if you look at the scale of what is required, I think that is very, very challenging and 2020 is almost tomorrow when you look at what needs to be achieved.”
Professor Skea said that Britain urgently needed to set a higher carbon price to hasten the adoption of low carbon technologies and to boost investment in energy research — which has collapsed from £700 million a year in the 1970s and 1980s to just £100 million annually.

He also said that sweeping new measures would be needed to encourage dramatic cuts in energy use.
Speaking at the launch of a new study on how the UK can meet its long-term goal of cutting carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050, the ERC said the carbon price would need to rise to £200 per tonne from £13. He said that this would equate to an increase in the price of petrol to about £5 a litre. Professor Skea said: “In almost every scenario we looked at, oil is driven out of the system. It would be cheaper for people to shift to biofuels or electric vehicles.”
Professor Skea said that the goal of cutting emissions by 80 per cent was achievable, but only with big changes in funding and in people's lifestyles, including a shift towards teleworking and phasing out petrol vehicles.
The ERC claimed that the cost of meeting these goals would be £17 billion a year — or £670 for every one of the 25 million UK households, which would be achieved through higher utility bills, extra transport costs and higher prices for goods and services.
The ERC, which consists of energy academics at universities across the UK, undertakes research that is supplied to the public sector and to government. It was established in 2004 after a recommendation from Sir David King, the Government's chief scientific adviser at the time.
Professor Skea said: “UK energy policy goals are extraordinarily ambitious. Meeting them will require efforts well beyond the bounds of historical experience. By looking at the energy system in the round, our researchers have shown not only that the goals can be met, but that it is possible to reconcile them with wider technological, social and environmental changes.”
The UK spends about £100 billion a year on energy, including domestic, transport and industrial use.