Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Climate change groups urge Australia probe

By Peter Smith in Sydney
Published: June 15 2009 13:13

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has been asked to launch an investigation into alleged “misleading and deceptive conduct” by a group of companies over public statements on the impact of Australia’s proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.
The call has been made by the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Australian Climate Justice Program, which have named six companies in their complaint to the ACCC. The list comprises miners Rio Tinto and Xstrata, petroleum groups Woodside and Caltex, as well as Boral, the building products group, and Bluescope Steel.

The competition commission said it had received a letter from the ACF and was considering its contents before deciding whether it would take action.
A number of Australian companies have been vocal in their criticism of the country’s proposed CPRS legislation, complaining about about likely job losses, rising costs and disparities with companies in other jurisdictions which are not subject to similar laws. There have also been claims that energy and mining projects would be less competitive if Australia introduced laws ahead of other nations.
The ACF complaint sets out 14 instances where company statements are alleged to be “exaggerated and contradictory” when compared with disclosures made to shareholders, and independent analysis.
Don Henry, ACF executive director, said he wanted the competition commission to examine whether Australia’s Trade Practices Act has been breached.
“Some of Australia’s biggest corporate polluters appear to be presenting the worst case to government and the public in an effort to gain excessive free permits while presenting the best case to investors in order to keep their share prices up.
“We are asking the ACCC to investigate whether our politicians, policymakers and the public have been deceived,” he said.
RiskMetrics, the corporate governance adviser, estimates that the value of free permits Canberra has agreed to make to the country’s six heaviest polluting industries will reach A$12.6bn in the first five years after CPRS is introduced.
The complaint from the conservation group comes as Australia’s Labor government prepares to introduce its CPRS legislation to the country’s upper house, the Senate, next week. The introduction of the scheme has already been delayed and the government faces an uphill battle to get the bills passed into law.
Woodside said the ACF’s claims had “no substance,” adding that: “The ACF makes specific allegations against Woodside of no apparent disclosure, yet overlooks a series of relevant disclosures made to the Australian Securities Exchange over many months.“
Rio said it had made three major submissions to the Australian government on the issue but said it would be inappropriate to make a statement to its shareholders until the CPRS legislation was passed into law.
It added that the chances of the legislation being passed in its current form appeared remote.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Call to probe carbon plan statements

By Peter Smith in Sydney
Published: June 16 2009 03:00

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has been asked to investigate alleged "misleading and deceptive conduct" by a group of companies over public statements on the impact of a proposed carbon pollution reduction scheme.
The call has been made by the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Australian Climate Justice Program, which have named six companies in their complaint to the watchdog.
The list comprises Rio Tinto and Xstrata, the miners, Woodside and Caltex, the petroleum groups, as well as Boral, the building products group, and Bluescope Steel.
The competition commission said it had received a letter from the federation and was considering its contents before deciding if it would take action.
A number of Australian companies have been vocal in their criticism of the proposed CPRS legislation, complaining about likely job losses, rising costs and disparities with companies in other jurisdictions which are not subject to similar laws.
There have also been claims that energy and mining projects would be less competitive if Australia introduced laws ahead of other nations.
The federation's complaint sets out 14 instances where company statements are alleged to be "exaggerated and contradictory" when compared with disclosures made to shareholders and independent analysis.
Don Henry, executive director of the federation, said he wanted the competition commission to examine whether there had been a breach of Australia's Trade Practices Act.
"Some of Australia's biggest corporate polluters appear to be presenting the worst case to government and the public in an effort to gain excessive free permits while presenting the best case to investors in order to keep their share prices up," said Mr Henry.
"We are asking the ACCC to investigate whether our politicians, policymakers and the public have been deceived," he said.
RiskMetrics, the corporate governance adviser, estimates that the value of free permits that Canberra has agreed to make to the country's six heaviest polluting industries will reach A$12.6bn (US$10bn) in the first five years after the legislation is introduced.
The complaint from the conservation group comes as Australia's Labor government prepares to introduce its legislation to the country's upper house, the Senate, next week.
The introduction of the scheme has already been delayed and the government faces an uphill battle to get the bills passed into law.
Woodside said the federation's allegations had "no substance".
It added: "The ACF makes specific allegations against Woodside of no apparent disclosure, yet overlooks a series of relevant disclosures made to the Australian Securities Exchange over many months."
Rio said it had made three significant submissions to the government on the issue but added that it would be inappropriate to make a statement to its shareholders until the legislation had been passed into law.
The Anglo-Australian miner said that the chances of the legislation being passed in its current form appeared remote.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Scared silly over climate change

We are frightening children with exaggerations – they believe they don't have a future and that the world is going to end

Björn Lomborg
guardian.co.uk, Monday 15 June 2009 09.00 BST

The continuous presentation of scary stories about global warming in the popular media makes us unnecessarily frightened. Even worse, it terrifies our kids.
Al Gore famously depicted how a sea-level rise of 20ft (six metres) would almost completely flood Florida, New York, Holland, Bangladesh, and Shanghai, even though the United Nations says that such a thing will not even happen, estimating that sea levels will rise 20 times less than that.
When confronted with these exaggerations, some of us say that they are for a good cause, and surely there is no harm done if the result is that we focus even more on tackling climate change. A similar argument was used when George W Bush's administration overstated the terror threat from Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
This argument is astonishingly wrong. Such exaggerations do plenty of harm. Worrying excessively about global warming means that we worry less about other things, where we could do so much more good. We focus, for example, on global warming's impact on malaria – which will be to put slightly more people at risk in 100 years – instead of tackling the half a billion people suffering from malaria today with prevention and treatment policies that are much cheaper and dramatically more effective than carbon reduction would be.
Exaggeration also wears out the public's willingness to tackle global warming. If the planet is doomed, people wonder, why do anything? A record 54% of American voters now believe the news media make global warming appear worse than it really is. A majority of people now believe – incorrectly – that global warming is not even caused by humans. In the United Kingdom, 40% believe that global warming is exaggerated and 60% doubt that it is man-made.
But the worst cost of exaggeration, I believe, is the unnecessary alarm that it causes – particularly among children. Recently, I discussed climate change with a group of Danish teenagers. One of them worried that global warming would cause the planet to "explode" – and all the others had similar fears.
In the US, the ABC television network recently reported that psychologists are starting to see more neuroses in people anxious about climate change. An article in the Washington Post cited nine-year-old Alyssa, who cries about the possibility of mass animal extinctions from global warming. In her words: "I don't like global warming because it kills animals, and I like animals." From a child who is yet to lose all her baby teeth: "I worry about [global warming] because I don't want to die."
The newspaper also reported that parents are searching for "productive" outlets for their eight-year-olds' obsessions with dying polar bears. They might be better off educating them and letting them know that, contrary to common belief, the global polar bear population has doubled and perhaps even quadrupled over the past half-century, to about 22,000. Despite diminishing – and eventually disappearing – summer Arctic ice, polar bears will not become extinct. After all, in the first part of the current interglacial period, glaciers were almost entirely absent in the northern hemisphere, and the Arctic was probably ice-free for 1,000 years, yet polar bears are still with us.
Another nine-year old showed the Washington Post his drawing of a global warming timeline. "That's the Earth now," Alex says, pointing to a dark shape at the bottom. "And then it's just starting to fade away." Looking up to make sure his mother is following along, he taps the end of the drawing: "In 20 years, there's no oxygen." Then, to dramatise the point, he collapses, "dead", to the floor.
And these are not just two freak stories. In a new survey of 500 American pre-teens, it was found that one in three children, aged between six and 11, feared that the earth would not exist when they reach adulthood because of global warming and other environmental threats. An unbelievable one-third of our children believe that they don't have a future because of scary global warming stories.
We see the same pattern in the United Kingdom, where a survey showed that half of young children aged between seven and 11 are anxious about the effects of global warming, often losing sleep because of their concern. This is grotesquely harmful.
And let us be honest. This scare was intended. Children believe that global warming will destroy the planet before they grow up because adults are telling them that .
When every prediction about global warming is scarier than the last one, and the scariest predictions – often not backed up by peer-reviewed science – get the most airtime, it is little wonder that children are worried.
Nowhere is this deliberate fear mongering more obvious than in Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth , a film that was marketed as "by far the most terrifying film you will ever see".
Take a look at the trailer for this movie on YouTube. Notice the imagery of chilling, larger-than-life forces evaporating our future. The commentary tells us that this film has "shocked audiences everywhere", and that "nothing is scarier" than what Gore is about to tell us. Notice how the trailer even includes a nuclear explosion.
The current debate about global warming is clearly harmful. I believe that it is time we demanded that the media stop scaring us and our kids silly. We deserve a more reasoned, more constructive, and less frightening dialogue.
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2009

HFCs: Ozone-saving gas targeted for climate effect

The use of hydrofluorocarbons in cooling systems may save the ozone layer – but it will harm the climate.

From ClimateChangeCorp, part of the Guardian Environment Network
guardian.co.uk, Monday 15 June 2009 14.52 BST

The use of Hydrofluorocarbons in cooling systems may save the ozone layer – but it will harm the climate
The Montreal Protocol, set in action in 1987, forced the phase-out of ozone-depleting gases chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and later hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). But the hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) that are replacing them could have an equally negative impact on climate change.
HFCs are used as refrigerants and foam-blowing agents and emitted as leakage from air conditioning and refrigeration systems. They have a global warming potential similar to that of HCFCs and hundreds to thousands of times greater than carbon dioxide.
Unless action is taken, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted that emissions of HFCs will triple from 0.4 billion tons carbon dioxide equivalence in 2002, to 1.2 billion tons in 2015. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) expects HFC emissions to be considerably higher in light of the accelerated phase-out of HCFCs agreed by the Montreal Protocol in September 2007.
The biggest emitters of HFCs are mobile air conditioning (MAC) systems in cars (66% of all HFC emissions according to 2002 data from US EPA and ADEME); followed by commercial refrigeration, and particularly supermarket refrigeration (23%); and finally stationery air conditioning systems (6%) such as found in retail units and offices.
Cooling cars
In 2006, the European Union's MAC Directive banned the use of mobile air conditioning refrigerants with a GWP over 150 in new model cars by 2011 and in all cars by 2017. Since then, there has been a flurry of activity by manufacturers looking for alternatives.
The two contenders are the chemical HFO-1234yf and carbon dioxide, known as R744 as a refrigerant. According to the Alliance for CO2 Solutions, a grouping of organisations that support the use of CO2 Technology in car air conditioning, there is an estimated $14.5 billion global market for car air conditioning to fight for.
On one side are chemical giants DuPont and Honeywell, that have jointly developed HFO-1234yf. Its selling point to car manufactures is that it is a near drop-in replacement to HFC-134a and doesn't require a complete MAC system redesign.
CO2, on the other hand, operates at higher pressure so requires a new system with new components and tooling. New technology will spell unwanted costs and hassle for car makers.
But costs will come down once mass volumes are achieved, say CO2 manufacturers. Frank Wolf, CEO of Obrist Engineering that develops R744/ CO2 technology for MAC systems, says a R744 MAC system will add just 20 euros to the cost of a car on a run of one million. CO2 itself is cheap and readily available.
R744 manufacturers also argue that, unlike HFO-1234yf, CO2 is proven, safe, natural and sustainable. In a letter to German OEMs in May, Greenpeace Germany raises concerns over the chemical's flammability, stating that "the claim that 1234yf will be an alternative is not only wrong but also life threatening; the legal consequences not calculable".
HFO-1234yf is "mildly flammable", says Taner Eryilmaz, DuPont global marketing manager, but adds that all risk assessments undertaken by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International Cooperative Research Program, and additional tests by OEMs, have concluded that 1234yf is safe in mobile air conditioning. "They have gone to extreme, unrealistic conditions just to see what it takes to ignite 1234yf and their conclusion remains the same," he says (opponents question the independence of tests.)
As the debate rumbles on, car manufacturers are not placing orders. As a result, it is looking increasingly likely the 2011 deadline for the MAC directive will be delayed.
Without the politics to battle with, the commercial refrigeration industry is making faster progress towards climate-friendly alternatives.
Refrigerants, Naturally! is a corporate alliance of Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Unilever, Carlsberg, Ikea, and the PepsiCo, with support from Greenpeace and the United Nations Environment Programme, to replace HFC technology in favour of natural refrigerants.
Coca Cola plans to install 100,000 cold drink coolers and vending machines using CO2 as refrigerant by the end of 2010. (Coca Cola has 10 million coolers in operation.) "CO2 works. It's more efficient, and importantly, it is safe. It is the future, and now we are taking steps to making it a reality" Neville Isdell, Coca-Cola chairman and CEO at a speech in Beijing last year.
By early 2009, Unilever had 400,000 hydrocarbon freezer cabinets in use, and plans to double this figure by 2010 to generate 80,000 tonnes GHG emissions savings per year, according to calculations from Refrigerants, Naturally!
US restrictions against the use of hydrocarbon (which is flammable) in the US are holding back progress. But in 2008, Ben & Jerry's, part of Unilever, received federal permission to install and test the first hydrocarbon-based freezers in the United States.
Drink coolers are just the beginning. Much greater emissions savings can be achieved by switching supermarket fridges and freezers over to climate-friendly alternatives. Research from EIA has revealed that supermarkets are the biggest source of HFC emissions in the UK. And refrigerants account for around a quarter of a supermarket's GHG emissions (20% in the case of Tesco for 2008/09).
But supermarkets are lagging. In a survey carried out by EIA in summer 2008, it found that none of the UK's seven largest supermarket chains had more than four stores using HFC alternatives.
But there are signs of progress. From 2010, Marks & Spencer has pledged to only install climate-friendly CO2 systems. It is also trialling a new HFC with lower global warming impact that, if successful, will replace all existing HFC systems by 2012.Cool air
The move to climate-friendly alternatives in stationery air conditioning has been slower. Hydrocarbon and ammonia systems exist, but only in "dozens" of buildings in the UK, says Nick Cox, MD of environmentally-friendly air conditioning supplier Earthcare Products. "But there is enough out there to prove the technology," he adds.
Earthcare's hydrocarbon systems are being used by companies and government departments "that implement their environmental policies rather than ignore them," he says. Enquiries are also coming in from supermarkets that are already using natural refrigerants in fridges.
But Cox says it will take regulation to prompt a wholesale move away from HFCs in stationery air conditioning.A credible goal?
Cost is the major barrier. Most companies are only using HFC-free solutions in new equipment rather than replace existing. But the cost of doing this is still high.
The cost of the natural refrigerants themselves is low, sometimes lower than HFC. But because the technology is newer, the costs tends to be higher, says Daniel Colbourne from the Refrigerants, Naturally! Secretariat. He estimates that a CO2 point-of-sale chiller could cost around twice as much as an HFC equivalent.
But as Cox says, "if we were able to achieve the same volumes [as existing mass produced systems], the equipment wouldn't cost any more. It is all volume driven."
Cost is not the only factor. "The whole industry needs to change," says Bob Arthur, refrigeration technology specialist at Marks & Spencer. "The refrigeration industry needs to be able to support the alternative fluids in terms of equipment availability, quality trained operatives, and understanding of the alternatives' application."
Regulatory horizon
Challenging or not, this isn't something companies dare ignore with global regulation for HFCs on the horizon. EIA is calling for a global HFC phase out that would cover all sectors. It believes the Montreal Protocol is a good mechanism to co-ordinate this.
With the Obama administration recently expressing support for a clamp down on HFCs, and with HFCs being formally discussed at the climate meeting in Bonn this week, Fionnuala Walravens, EIA global environment campaigner, thinks a global phase could be on the cards. "So much has happened in the last six months that it looks like it could become a political reality. Some sort of agreement on HFCs would be a positive outcome at Copenhagen."Natural refrigerants
* Carbon dioxide (R744) – used as a refrigerant before the discovery of CFCs. Global warming potential (GWP) of 1, non-ozone depleting, non-toxic, non-flammable. CO2 operates at a higher pressure than HFCs, which means it requires new system design and components.* Hydrocarbon (isobutane (R600a) and propane (R290)) – negligible GWP, non-ozone depleting, non-toxic, flammable. US and Canada places restrictions on the use this flammable gas. But it is used in over 300 million household fridges across Europe, Japan, Russia and China. Unlikely to be appropriate for use in large applications such as supermarket fridges as a result of its flammability.* Ammonia – No GWP and non-ozone depleting. It is a hazardous substance, but used safely around the world in large-scale industrial cooling systems such as food processing and building air conditioning.
Fluorocarbons (F-gases)
* CFCs and HCFCs - Chloroflourocarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons are ozone layer-depleting substances (as well as potent greenhouse gases) regulated by the Montreal Protocol.* HFCs – Hydroflourocarbons are non ozone-depleting and were developed as replacements for CFCs. But they are strong greenhouse gases and are regulated by the Kyoto Protocol. HFC-134a , that accounts for the bulk of HFCs used, has a GWP of 1,430 over a 100-year lifetime.
• This article was shared by our content partner ClimateChangeCorp, a member of the Guardian Environment Network.

Climate change divides the Alps down the middle

Global warming is already causing flooding in the north and water shortages in south, report says
By Michael Day in Milan
Tuesday, 16 June 2009
The dramatic effect of climate change on the Alps comes into focus as never before this week with the publication of a major report which reveals that the mountain range is rapidly dividing into two contrasting climatic zones, each posing new problems.

The Convention on the Protection of the Alps is a statutory EU body set up in 1991 and its magisterial second report, published tomorrow, which has been seen by The Independent, reveals that the northern ranges of the Alps are suffering ever more serious flooding while the parched southern mountains see less and less snow.
According to the report, precipitation in the south-east of the region has fallen nearly 10 per cent in the past 100 years while rain and snowfall in the north-west ranges has increased by the same amount over this time.
"Predictions that the European climate is dividing into two are becoming all too real," said Marco Onida, secretary general of the Convention, who will present the report at the organisation's headquarters in Bolzano, Italy, tomorrow, in the presence of EU officials and national representatives. "The result will be havoc for the Alps and the communities and wildlife that rely on area."
Changing patterns of rain and snowfall, shrinking glaciers and rising temperatures will affect not only the mountains but also the communities which rely on their resources, the report warns. Already some Alpine villages in the north of the range face flooding, while areas further south are seeing tourist and other trades increasingly threatened. Some areas have already suffered water shortages.
The Alps' most famous high peaks, Mont Blanc, The Matterhorn and Monte Rosa mark part of the dividing line between the increasingly wet north of the region and Italy and Slovenia in the dryer south.
North of the dividing line, flooding and mud slides are becoming a common threat in some Alpine communities. In the south, some of the Europe's most celebrated Alpine beauty spots, including Italy's Dolomites are under threat, although some micro-climates mean the dividing line does not following a rigid north-south line.
As a result of these changes, only one Alpine river – Italy's 178-mile-long Tagliamento in the north-east of the country – has not suffered drastic modifications, the reports says. And even the Tagliamento may not be safe: the wildlife charity WWF has warned that even this, the Alps' last river system, is threatened by water abstraction in the upper Tagliamento valley, organic pollution, and gravel exploitation.
The situation across the Alps is made worse, the Convention report says, by the increasing demand for artificial snow created during the winter months by snow machines working on the ski slopes. This is needed to sustain the winter sports industry which is an economic mainstay of the slopes, but places a further heavy burden on water and energy supplies which are already under great stress.
"The Alps are the water tower of Europe," Dr Onida told The Independent, "But increasingly much of the water is not reaching the places downstream where it is needed, for ecosystems, agriculture and energy production."
Around 16 million people in eight countries, from France in the west to Hungary in the east, live in the arc of Europe's biggest mountain range. Rain and snow from its mountains provide the Danube, Rhine, Rhone and Po rivers with up to 80 per cent of their water.
Representatives from all eight Alpine countries – France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Lichtenstein, Slovenia and Hungary – together with the European Union – signed up to the Alpine Convention in 1991.
The report warns not only that the destruction of the Alps is accelerating, but that disruption to water supplies will be felt much further afield than originally thought.
Glacier shrinkage earlier this year led the Italian and Swiss governments to propose the first changes in the border line between the two countries in more than a century.
Dr Onida said there was "a battle between agriculture and tourism for control over water supplies" owing to the increasingly intensive exploitation of the slopes.
Climate change is also driving Alpine species further up the mountains while exotic species including palms get a foothold lower down.

FTSE to reflect ‘green’ growth

By Fiona Harvey, Environment Correspondent
Published: June 15 2009 17:54

The growth of the environmental technology sector is to be reflected in new indices from FTSE Group.
Although there have been dozens of new additions to the number of “green” technology companies in the past years, the lack of a separate category for the sector has made it difficult for investors to identify such companies and compare them.

FTSE will this week introduce seven indices covering markets such as the UK’s Alternative Investment Market, Japan, the US, Europe and one for the Asia-Pacific region excluding Japan. Donald Keith, deputy chief executive of the group, said the tools would support capital markets’ response to the desire of governments to develop low-carbon economies.
Pure-play environmental companies have outperformed companies for which low-carbon goods and services are only part of a wider offering, according to research published on Monday by HSBC.
The bank found pure-play stocks outperformed other green technology companies by 45 per cent and outperformed global equities by 43 per cent in the year to date. Pure-play companies made a return of 8 per cent on the year to date, compared with 7.2 per cent for global equities.
Of environmental stocks, energy efficiency and energy management specialists enjoyed the strongest sectoral return, up 16 per cent on the year to date.
The energy efficiency technology sector now trades at a 20 per cent premium to low-carbon companies overall, reflecting its earnings growth of 23 per cent. Energy efficiency is benefiting strongly from government stimulus packages. Of a total of $350bn allocated, the energy efficiency sector is due to receive 53 per cent.
HSBC, which tracks low-carbon and environmental companies through its Global Climate Change family of indices, said the waste sector fared worse than other green companies overall. Waste stocks and integrated power stocks were the only two of the company’s 18 investable “themes” in the climate change indices to register a loss since the beginning of the year.
The bank said the failure of many rich countries to meet Kyoto protocol targets on cutting emissions and slow progress on talks about a replacement to Kyoto had not dented optimism in the sector.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Sainsbury's brings green power to the checkout with 'kinetic plates'

Store first in Europe to pioneer green energy system where customers create 30kWh an hour by driving over plates in car park

Press Association
guardian.co.uk, Monday 15 June 2009 10.49 BST

A supermarket chain will open its first "people-powered" store this week using technology that captures energy from vehicles to power its checkouts.
In a European first, Sainsbury's will install the invention at its new store in Gloucester, opening this Wednesday.
Energy will be captured every time a vehicle drives over "kinetic road plates" in the car park and then channelled back into the store.
The kinetic road plates are expected to produce 30 kWh of green energy every hour — more than enough energy to power the store's checkouts. The system, pioneered for Sainsbury's by Peter Hughes of Highway Energy Systems, does not affect the car or fuel efficiency, and drivers feel no disturbance as they drive over the plates.
Alison Austin, Sainsbury's environment manager, said: "This is revolutionary. Not only are we the first to use such cutting-edge technology with our shoppers, but customers can now play a very active role in helping make their local shop greener, without extra effort or cost.
"We want to continue offering great value but we also want to make the weekly shop sustainable. Using amazing technology like this helps us reduce our use of carbon and makes Sainsbury's a leading energy-efficient business."
The kinetic road plates are one of a number of energy-saving measures at Sainsbury's new store in Gloucester Quays, Gloucester. The store will harvest rainwater to flush the store's toilets and solar thermal panels will heat up to 100% of the store's hot water during the summer, and more than 90% of the construction waste was re-used or recycled.
David Sheehan, director of store development and construction at Sainsbury's, said: "The new environmental features within the Gloucester Quays store mark a very exciting time in store development. We are able to use cutting-edge technology to improve our services and the store environment for our customers and colleagues, at the same time as ultimately reducing our carbon footprint across the UK."

UK trails EU league for renewables

Britain is Europe's 'most glaring failure', says Greenpeace, with only 1.3% of needs sourced from clean energy in 2005

Alok Jha, Green technology correspondent
guardian.co.uk, Monday 15 June 2009 18.44 BST

The UK is third from bottom in a league table of renewable energy across Europe, with only Luxembourg and Malta sourcing less of its energy from clean sources such as wind or sun.
The table, showing the percentage of renewables in EU countries, was published by the government in response to a parliamentary question by the former environment minister Michael Meacher. It showed that the UK received 1% of its energy from renewables in 1995 and just 1.3% a decade later. Only Luxembourg, at 0.8% and 0.9%, and Malta, which has no renewable energy, came lower on the list.
The numbers show the scale of the challenge facing the UK as it attempts to meet a commitment to source 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, part of binding European climate targets.
"We've got the best renewable resource in the country so, in terms of missed opportunity, the UK is the most glaring failure within the European Union, especially when you consider our economic power," said Robin Oakley of Greenpeace UK. "We've got 10 years of development in there and almost no change ... there have been lots of targets and talk, big numbers being spoken by government, but delivery has been a failure throughout the period."
Top of the EU list was Sweden, with 35.7% of its final consumption of energy coming from renewables in 1995 and 40.8% in 2005. Romania jumped from 9.3% to 19.2% over the same period, while Denmark went from 8.3% to 17%. Portugal dropped from 22.8% to 17% and France from 11.4% to 9.5%, though both are still comfortably ahead of the UK.
The growth of renewables in the UK has been slow despite much vocal support from the government. Since 1995, measures to stimulate the sector have included renewables obligation certificates to subsidise the introduction of clean technologies, EU directives on renewable energy targets and a commitment from Labour, when it came into power in 1997, that renewables would be a priority. In addition, the energy white paper in 2003 also prioritised the renewables sector.
"It is a disgrace that we generate such a pitiful amount of energy from renewables," said the shadow energy and climate secretary, Greg Clark. "Countries like Germany, Romania, and Estonia have made big increases in their contribution of renewables over the last 10 years, while Britain has made too little progress and is worse than any other country except Malta and Luxembourg. This failure reflects the government's decade-long absence of an energy policy. It is characteristic of Labour's approach to government – to sign up to targets, but have no plan to achieve them"
Oakley said Labour's policies on renewable energy had left project developers uncertain; the renewable obligation certificates, for example, had not stimulated much growth because, since they are market-based products, investors never knew how much money they would make from it in the long term. "If you're an investor, you're going to look at the German or Spanish market where there's a feed-in tariff and you know immediately how much you're going to make back on a project, whereas in the UK it's never been clear. That's meant the whole cost of doing renewables in the UK has been artificially higher – it costs more to borrow the money because interest rates are higher on loans and people are more wary of making the leap because of the risk."
A spokesperson for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said several wind farms had become operational in the UK since 2005 and that the proportion of renewable energy in the country had risen from 1.3% in 2005 to about 1.8% now. "Our [2020] target is ambitious but achievable. It's good for the climate to have more low-carbon energy, and good for our energy security to have more home-grown energy.
"We've started from a low base, but we have made big progress. There was an increase of 26% in onshore wind power generation from 2006 to 2007 and a 20% increase in offshore wind. The UK is now the world's leader on offshore wind, underlined by the green light given to the world biggest offshore wind farm, the London Array, thanks to the extra support in the budget."
The spokesperson added that the UK needed to "make more progress quicker on renewable electricity, transport fuels and heat and we'll publish our final renewables strategy in July to take us to our targets."
Oakley said the government could take further lessons from the countries that demonstrated the biggest growth between 1995 and 2005, where he said the governments had brought in forward-looking policies. "Those are countries where they set really strong targets, where they set a really clear support mechanism and where they really looked at engaging the public and having a solution to planning problems and investing in putting renewables first on to the grid."

Sunnier times ahead for solar energy as MPs back tariff boost for photovoltaic power

British market could boom with introduction of guaranteed, above-market price for electricity fed into grid

Ashley Seager
guardian.co.uk, Monday 15 June 2009 15.23 BST

Britain could become a booming market for solar power from next year when the UK introduces a support system used successfully by dozens of other countries.
Last week 240 MPs signed a parliamentary motion supporting the mass rollout of solar photovoltaic (PV) power. The support was the biggest of any such motion introduced in this parliament.
Colin Challen MP, who tabled the motion, said: "There is an enormous opportunity to drive forward this technology through the forthcoming feed-in tariffs."
Feed-in tariffs (FITs) work by paying a guaranteed, above-market price for any electricity fed into the grid for a period of 20-25 years. They have been designed to offer returns close to 10%, thereby reducing payback times for any household investing in a PV system to 10 years or less.
Similar tariffs have boosted solar power in the 50-odd countries that have introduced them in the past decade, in turn promoting production of PV panels and pushing down prices to the extent that PV will not need subsidies for much longer.
"FITs have been very effective at improving take-up," Kenichiro Wakisaka, senior manager at the Japanese electronics group and PV maker Sanyo, said at the recent Intersolar trade fair in Munich. "Japan has reintroduced one and the market there will double at least. The same will happen in the UK and we will increase our allocation to the UK market."
"We are very excited about this," said Clive Collison, head of Action South Facing, a solar system installer based in Hertfordshire. "We are now getting all sorts of inquiries from companies, local authorites and individuals. But nothing is guaranteed. We don't know the level it will be set at yet and the big energy companies are still lobbying against it."
Jerermy Leggett, chairman of the British solar group Solar Century, says the British market has tremendous potential but is also concerned that some officials at the Department for Energy and Climate Change may stall the introduction of the FIT at the behest of groups arguing that nuclear power is the answer.
"If so, UK plc will essentially have to sit and watch as other countries create jobs, tax income and energy security in one of the fastest-growing industries within the emerging green industrial revolution."
The British market, along with those of China, Japan and the United States, which have also recently announced plans for feed-in tariffs and other forms of support, offers a bright future for the solar industry. After several years of meteoric growth, it has been laid low this year by the credit crunch and a change to Spain's feed-in tariff that has reduced demand in one of the world's fastest-growing markets.
The global financial crisis has hit the industry hard because its costs are high and it has had trouble accessing bank financing. This has forced companies to rein in production and cut their prices in a bid to maintain their growth.
At the same time the supply of silicon, from which PV panels are made, has finally caught up with, and overtaken, demand, giving another nudge down to prices – to the benefit of consumers.
"Prices to end-users are down about 16% this year," says Georg Salvamoser, head of the German solar industry association, BSW. "This is hard for firms' margins but it does move us an important step towards making solar energy cheaper."
He predicts that the number of projects installed in Germany – Europe's biggest market – will grow this year, although more slowly than in recent years. "Last year we installed 1.5 gigawatts peak [GWp] of PV in Germany and this year I think there will be slightly more," he said.
That total is equivalent to the power produced from about two conventional coal or gas power stations. PV in Germany accounts for about 1% of total electricity production but the country hopes to boost that to 12% by 2020 and 25% by 2030.
Stefan Dietrich, spokesman for Q-Cells – the world's largest producer of silicon PV cells – said prices had tumbled 20% this year. "Things have changed a lot. It's a buyer's market right now. But in the short term that is good because it will help the industry reach grid parity."
"Grid parity" – the point at which PV electricity is as cheap as that coming from conventional power stations – is the PV industry's holy grail. It depends on how sunny a country is and the cost of its electricity.
Dietrich thinks Italy will be the first country in Europe to hit grid parity – possibly as soon as next year. Other candidates are Hawaii and California, where grid electricity is expensive. Many other countries, including Britain, will achieve parity within three to five years, say experts.
Once that happens, demand is potentially infinite. Solar PV also has the advantage that, once installed, the buyer is protected from rising oil and gas prices for several decades.
Industry analysts iSuppli forecast in a recent report that worldwide PV installation would tumble by a third this year to about 3.5GWp. But it expects growth to explode again from 2011, reaching 25GWp annually by 2013 and giving the industry an annual turnover of nearly $100bn.
But Jerry Stokes, vice-president for strategy at Chinese group Suntech – the world's biggest maker of PV panels – says life has got tougher.
"The market is very challenging now and there is a flight to quality going on," he says. "Project developers and investors are very cautious about what they spend their money on.
"It's not just about cost per watt but the number of kilowatt-hours you will get over the lifetime of a project, 20 years and more. And we are confident that we are in front in the race to grid parity – we don't want to live off government subsidies any more."

Pipe dreams of Ireland's green future

The Guardian, Tuesday 16 June 2009

You are correct that Ireland should have a comparative advantage in the production of renewable energy from wind and wave power, and one would expect that renewable energy will comprise a higher share of primary energy supply than it will in many other countries, but there is a huge gap between talking the talk and walking the walk (Emerald Isle plots green revolution, 15 June).
How is this green revolution going to be financed? Irish electricity and gas consumers are already paying over the odds to finance a share of investment in these industries that should be financed by the majority owner - the Irish state - and to recover the costs of wrong-headed infrastructure investments. The government has almost depleted the national pension reserve fund to recapitalise Irish banks, the national debt is growing rapidly and there has to be some doubt about the appetite of external lenders for Irish bonds.
The green begging bowl will do the rounds in Brussels, but any generosity from this quarter will have to be matched by Irish co-funding. Increasingly there is talk of a carbon tax (to accompany the EU's emission trading system), but there is little analysis of the willingness or ability of Irish consumers and businesses to pay much higher energy prices.
Despite all this, the Irish government has a solution under its nose. The Irish state is the majority owner of the dominant, incumbent electricity and gas businesses. Privatising these business would generate around €5bn. This is the scale of financing to which the government will have to commit to realise its green dream. Paul Hunt