Thursday, 16 July 2009

The road ahead is green

Transport, my ministerial brief, must play a major role in a low-carbon future. And I am determined we'll get there

Andrew Adonis, Wednesday 15 July 2009 09.30 BST

There are issues that shape every generation and define every age. Climate change is just such an issue and our political generation has got to deal with it.
The scientific consensus tells us that by 2050 we must reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 50%. But, as a developed country, we have a responsibility to go even further. So we passed the landmark Climate Change Act and set ourselves a binding target to reduce the UK's greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80% by 2050.
With transport accounting for 21% of total UK domestic emissions, de-carbonising this sector has to be front and centre of efforts to meet our obligations and commitments. Which is precisely why we are launching our new strategy today: "Low carbon transport: a greener future".
This is a key component of the government's wider plans to cut carbon. It sets out our long-term vision for a fundamentally different transport system in our country, contributing substantially to the CO2 savings needed to meet the economy-wide carbon budgets. Our vision is underpinned by the concept of choice – making low-carbon travel a genuine and viable option for people and businesses, within and between different modes of transport. And it's inspired, in Anthony Giddens's words, by "a mixture of the idealistic and the hard-headed".
Real progress is already being made. The New Car CO2 Regulation, which we agreed with our European partners last December, is expected to save 7m tonnes of CO2 in the UK in 2020. We also have a huge opportunity to create a flourishing market for ultra-low emission vehicles in the UK. We have moved firmly into this space, to get new, greener technology on our roads. We have established a £250m fund for consumer incentives and electric vehicle charging infrastructure, to encourage take-up and support the technology as it comes to market. We have also launched a £30m scheme to encourage uptake of low-emission buses, which will stimulate the market as well as helping to safeguard jobs in bus manufacturing.
Last month, we announced the results of two technology competitions. The first, a £25m programme run by the Technology Strategy Board, will see more than 340 ultra-low emission cars tested out in cities around the UK. In the second, public-sector fleets will trial up to 150 low-emission and all-electric vans.
But technology isn't the whole answer. We also need to think about how and when we travel. There is an important role for the regions and local authorities here. We are giving large urban areas across England the chance to bid to become the country's first sustainable travel city. This will be used to encourage greener and more active travel modes – walking and cycling, as well as improving public transport.
There is an exciting agenda on the railways with transformational projects like the Crossrail scheme, which will bring an additional 1.5 million people within 60-minutes' commuting distance of London's key business districts. We have completed the country's first high-speed rail line, High Speed One, and we are preparing the way for a north-south high-speed line with the establishment of the High Speed Two Company. We have been examining in detail the case for more rail electrification and plan to make announcements soon.
Another important point – close to my heart – is improving the integration of services. That is why I have pledged £5m to improve radically cycle facilities at our railway stations.
In aviation, we have set ourselves a tough national target to bring CO2 emissions from UK aviation below 2005 levels by 2050. We will achieve this first by the use of market-based measures, including an effective emissions trading scheme. And Ed Miliband and I will be pressing for international aviation, as well as international shipping, to be included in any new global deal agreed at the Copenhagen climate change conference in December.
The goals we have set ourselves are certainly ambitious. But, thanks to a track record of progress and achievement, we have before us a real opportunity to build a greener, cleaner future for our transport system, our country and the environment we all share. It is an opportunity I am determined to seize.

Fuel bills could rise by £250 per annum to pay for switch to renewables

Energy bills could rise by as much as £250 in the next decade, the Government admitted, under plans to tackle climate change.

By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent Published: 7:33PM BST 15 Jul 2009

Ed Miliband, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, set out a raft of measures to cut greenhouse gases by more than a third by 2020.
Most of the cuts will have to come from the energy industry as it switches from fossil fuels like coal and gas to renewables like wind and solar.

This will mean a £100 billion investment in building the new infrastructure and most of the cost is likely to be passed onto the consumer by energy companies.
The Renewable Energy Strategy released on Wednesday set out how the Government will boost the amount of power coming from renewables from 2 per cent to 15 per cent by 2020.
The document estimated that it could cost households as much as £250 per year, while energy experts estimated bills could rise by up to £500 every year.
Mr Miliband insisted there will be no cost before 2015. Even when bills do begin to rise he said the annual cost would be closer to £77 because households will be using much less energy as a result of new efficiency measures.
But the Tories acccused ministers of "hiding the truth", while energy campaigners voiced concern for vulnerable households.
Launching the new strategy, Mr Miliband said the cost of switching to renewables would be compensated for by households taking up voluntary energy saving measures.
For example 7 million households are expected to take advantage of "green loans" in order to improve insulation and heating.
Home appliances like televisions are becoming more efficient, most people will be using energy saving lightbulbs and energy companies are obliged to help households fit insulation and double glazing.
Some 1.5 million homes will be given loans to set up their own tiny renewable energy schemes like putting solar panels or wind turbines on the roof in order to generate their own electricity.
Mr Miliband said failing to switch to renewables would ultimately cost more as the cost of fossil fuels increases. He also said there will be a cost to the countryside through climate change and less energy security.
"There are costs as a result of the Renewable Energy Strategy but there are also gains," he added.
Greg Clark, the Tory energy spokesman, said: "They [the Government] say we need to be candid about the facts but this is not being candid.
"This is hiding the truth. I think it is very likely that households will end up paying more than £77 and it is because the Government has failed over a 10-year period to take any steps to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and increase energy efficiency. We are now in a hole and we are having to pay dearly to get out of it."
Ian Parrett, an energy analyst at Inenco, said: "The six per cent increase in energy bills, that the Government predicted for 2020, is based on the balance between increased energy prices and expected improvements in efficiency.
"We know that to support the scale of investment required in low carbon energy, companies will have to increase prices. The issue here though, is that those homes and businesses that have already taken efficiency measures will see greater increases in their bills without benefiting from additional support to reduce consumption.
"There are already fears that this increase could be as much as 50 per cent."
Garry Felgate, chief executive of the Energy Retail Association, also called on the Government to be honest.
"Increased investment in clean energy and domestic energy efficiency will have cost implications for all customers," he said. "We encourage the Government to be candid about the increase in costs to customers. While some people are struggling to pay their bills, we must be mindful of the increased costs these customers will face, over and above the cost of the energy they use."
Jonathan Stearn, energy expert for Consumer Focus, said the poorest households must be better protected to prevent hundreds of thousands more being pushed into fuel poverty.

Miliband's manifesto to make Britain a low-carbon economy

The national strategy to cut emissions published yesterday comes at a price. But are we willing to pay it?
By Michael McCarthy, Environment Editor
Thursday, 16 July 2009

Thousands more wind turbines, millions of "smart" electricity meters for homes and new cars emitting 40 per cent less pollution than they do now all are on the way in the next decade under ambitious plans to slash CO2 emissions from every sector of the economy.
They form part of the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan, a national government strategy for cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the fight against climate change, which was launched by the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband, yesterday.
Although the detail may sound familiar – many of these projects are already on the drawing board – it is the bringing them together into an all-inclusive society-wide plan which is new, as the Government faces up to its legally-binding target of cutting UK carbon emissions to 34 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.

Under last year's Climate Change Act, ministers have bound themselves to hit the target with a system of rolling five-year "carbon budgets", and the strategy shows in detail for the first time how they intend to do this.
Its central component is a seven-fold increase – in just a decade – in the amount of Britain's energy for power generation, transport and home heating supplied from renewable sources such as wind, wave and solar power (from just over 2 per cent to 15 per cent).
This leap will mean that by 2020 about 30 per cent of electricity alone will come from renewables (up from 5.5 per cent today) and this huge expansion will derive principally from much more wind power. Although no precise figure was given yesterday, this will involve, Mr Miliband said, "thousands" of new wind turbines, both onshore and offshore (one current estimate is about 7,000).
By the 2020 date another 10 per cent of electricity will come from non-renewable low-carbon energy sources, principally the new nuclear power stations whose construction the Government is backing, and the infant technology of carbon capture and storage (CCS), which takes the CO2 emissions from power stations and buries them underground. Demonstration power plants fitted with CCS should be coming onstream by 2020.
The Government accepts that low-carbon energy will be more expensive for consumers and yesterday gave two sets of estimated increases on power bills. Just paying for the new system might add £77 to electricity and £172 to gas bills each year but when all climate change measures are taken into account – such as home insulation which will save consumers money – the total addition is likely to be between £75 and £92 by 2020, the Government said. On the other hand, the White Paper foresees a substantial increase in employment from the changes, with as many as 400,000 new green jobs being created.
The Low Carbon Transition Plan: Major cuts in five sectors of society
Energy Generation (responsible for 35 per cent of UK emissions)
The plan envisages 40 per cent of UK electricity coming from low-carbon sources by 2020 – 30 per cent from renewable energy sources and 10 per cent from nuclear and clean coal. Later this year there will be a national Policy Statement on Nuclear Power which will assess potential sites for new atomic power stations. The Government has already said that any new coal-fired power stations will have to be fitted with Carbon Capture and Storage technology. Later this year plans will be published for a "smart" version of the National Grid which will be more flexible.
Workplaces: Industry and Business (20 per cent of emissions)
High-carbon industries will be included in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme which will save around 500 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year by 2020. There will be financial incentives to save energy and invest in low-carbon technologies. The Government will seek to boost green industries with £405m for new technologies, up to £120m of investment in offshore wind, and £60m for marine energy and to help develop the South-west as the UK's first Low Carbon Economic Area.
Homes and Communities (13 per cent of emissions)
Emissions will be cut from homes by 29 per cent on 2020 levels by much greater energy efficiency achieved through the wider use of insulation. Smart meters, which enable people to understand exactly how much energy they are using in real time, and maximise their energy saving opportunities, will be rolled out to every home – 26 million – by 2020. The obligation on energy suppliers to help households save energy will be extended. From 2016 all new homes will have to be zero-carbon and rental properties may have to have Energy Performance Certificates.
Farming, Land Use and Waste (11 per cent of emissions)
Farmers will be encouraged to cut emissions by 6 per cent by 2020 through more efficient use of fertiliser and better management of livestock and manure. Although the UK now recycles or composts a third of its waste, more must be done. There will be support for anaerobic digestion (a technology which turns waste and manure into renewable energy) and there will be a push to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills, and also for better capture of landfill emissions.
Transport (20 per cent of emissions)
By 2020 transport emissions will be cut by 14 per cent on 2008 levels, and the first step will be to improve the fuel efficiency of conventional vehicles : C02 emissions from new cars will have to fall by 40 per on current levels across the EU by 2015, to 95 grams per kilometre. British government vehicles will comply with this by 2011. £30m will be invested to deliver several hundred low-carbon buses and there will be more support for new technology for low-carbon cars. £140m is being invested to promote cycling and £5m is being spent on new cycle storage at rail stations.

Saving tomorrow's world: How the planet's environmental problems could be solved by technological innovation

By Steve McCormack
Thursday, 16 July 2009

This year's Bosch Technology Horizons Award, in association with The Independent and the Royal Academy of Engineering, gave young people in two age groups the chance to answer the question, "How can technology and engineering provide innovative solutions to today's global challenges?"
A total of 545 entries were received, with writers grappling with issues such as renewable energy, the global water shortage, and medical solutions to new diseases. Their essays also addressed the philosophical and public relations side of the engineer's role. As one of the judges, I was impressed by the combination of scientific understanding and writing flair exhibited by all 14 essays that made the shortlist in both age groups. In the 14-18 age group, Leon Zhang from Urmston Grammar School in Manchester took the first prize of £700, while in the 19-24 age group, Gavin Harper, in the second year of a PhD at Cardiff University, netted the top award of £1,000.
The Technology Horizons Award, now in its fourth year, encourages students to think creatively about the changes and challenges facing the world. The award also seeks to highlight the importance of technology and engineering to young people, and inspire more of them to choose these subjects for study at A level and university.
The winners attended a presentation ceremony at The Royal Academy of Engineering in London, hosted by former Tomorrow's World presenter Kate Bellingham, now President of Young Engineers, and featuring presentations from Andy Green, the RAF pilot who drove the Thrust supersonic car to a world record 763 mph in 1997, and Peter Fouquet, President of Bosch UK.
Winner, 14-18: Leon Zhang
Take this time to think, for just a moment. In the past second, one and a half acres of rainforest were cut down, destroying the homes of many species of wildlife. In the past minute, the energy used in the UK was equal to 313 million tons of oil, which we can never get back. In the past hour, 160 children died from lack of access to safe drinking water and sanitation.
Mother Earth is in deep trouble. And it is our duty to get her out.
The problems our Earth faces can affect us all. Melting polar ice caps, rising temperatures, the economic crisis – it seems we cannot escape them. The media has done its fair share emphasising the problem. Yet, there is a bright side. Our greatest strength as human beings is the ability to think. We can try to put a stop to these global dilemmas.
One prime example is finding solutions to water problems in developing countries such as Africa. In one of the hottest places on Earth, water is in scarce supply. Up to 250 million Africans could live in water-stressed areas by 2010, and more than 50 per cent of Africans suffer from water-related diseases such as cholera and infant diarrhoea. However, there are solutions. Engineering has already produced breakthroughs. By pressurising sea water to produce vapour jets and filtering them through carbon nanotubes, we can get clean drinking water from sea water – an almost inexhaustible resource. It may sound complex, but such engineering feats can save millions of lives, not just in Africa but all over the planet.
Japan has long been renowned for its mind-blowing technological advances that are often years ahead of the rest of the world. One of its most ambitious plans is to build a working space solar power system by 2030. By drawing on the colossal energy of the sun, it could meet the entire world's electricity requirements indefinitely without nuclear or GHG emissions. It sounds like a space-age dream, doesn't it? If successful, the impact on the world would be monumental. It would mean energy for schools, hospitals, and homes. It would mean another industrial revolution.
Every day, people everywhere are doing their bit, from recycling newspapers at home, to developing hydrogen-powered fuel cell cars in a lab. We are finally entering an era where engineering and technology are making the world a better place. Take the time to think, for just a moment. Now stop, and think towards the future.
The award winners
Aged 14-18
Winner: Leon Zhang, Urmston Grammar School, Manchester. Runner-up: Jonathan Morris, St Olave's Grammar School, Kent Highly Commended: Emily Cullis, Ounsdale Sixth Form College, Wolverhampton; Max Iles, Worcester Sixth Form College; Constance Mantle, Highgate School, London; Ben Richardson, Cults Academy, Aberdeen; Ethan Simpson, Hawick High School.
Aged 19-24
Winner: Gavin Harper, Cardiff University Runner Up: Alejandro Vicente-Grabovetsky, Cambridge University Highly Commended: Thomas Barker, Sheffield Hallam University; Mohammad bin Jalil Welbeck Defence Sixth Form College; Holly Ferrie, Brunel University; Su Sean Goh, LSE; Cole Soutter, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
Winning Schools: (those submitting most entries)
St Olave's Grammar School, Kent; Westcliff High School for Girls, Essex.
Winner, 19-24: Gavin Harper
Bespoke pieces are always expensive. Whether it's a tailor-cut Savile Row suit, or a hand-made piece of furniture, there is a premium to be paid for exclusivity. That is why one-off's are never going to change the world. They're just too expensive. Make fewer than 100 of them, and the cost of R&D is prohibitive. Churn them out like bottletops, and the initial costs of development dwindle into insignificance.
While many would advocate a smattering of made-to-measure nuclear power stations, the real clean-tech solutions will borrow more from the high street than haute couture.
Once we take a design, engineer out the complexity, make it cheaply and stamp it out cookie-cutter style, the price of innovation falls. It makes engineering business sense, and the concept can just as easily be understood by the hordes of shoppers flocking to Primarni, who know that if you take leading edge design, simplify it and make a lot, you get a product that performs, at an acceptable price.
GE announced in November 2008 that it had shipped its 10,000th 1.5MW wind turbine – impressive, for a company that has only been in the market for just over half a decade: it shows that once mass production intervenes, it's possible to increase capacity quickly. Unlike Ford... these turbines are "only available in white".
Another company, SolFocus is fast becoming the IKEA of the Solar Industry. It knows that if you have an expensive material, whether silicon for a solar panel, or top-notch wood for a table, there are parts of the product where you can use a cheaper material, and where using the more expensive material is needless over-specification. So where IKEA uses quality wood as the facing veneer for its furniture, but makes the structure from cheaper recycled manufactured woods, so SolFocus is using a cheap mirror to concentrate the solar energy onto a small piece of high-quality silicon. It is using less of an expensive material to achieve a similar effect.
They are not the only people with this idea – Cool Earth Solar takes it further. While you can produce a precision-reflecting surface that will give high performance, how much cost can you engineer out of a parabolic reflector? Rather than trying to extract the most sunlight from a given area, why not turn the idea on its head and extract the most sunlight for a given amount of money?
The company feels anything but deflated about its idea to make parabolic reflectors out of metallised mylar – an exceptionally cheap material, but one that does not hold its form very well due to its flimsy nature... unless you make it into a balloon. Premium helium party balloons are made from two circular sheets of plastic fused together, so imagine a parabolic reflector formed from a clear sheet, and a shiny sheet. It's a lightweight solution, to a heavyweight problem. Best of all, the lack of weight means the mounting hardware can be commensurately lean.
Concentrating solar plants apply the same approach on a larger scale. eSolar is a company with bold ambitions – to churn out electricity from the sun at a price lower than you can make it from coal, with its associated carbon penalty. The concept is similar – rather than coating large areas of land with expensive silicon, make arrays of cheap mirror that can focus the energy on a single point. The US threw £266m into developing Solar One, a concentrating plant with a capacity of 64MW (since upgraded to Solar Two), but take this concept, and rather than making a one-off, break it down into modules that can be mass produced out of standard components, and you've got a recipe for cheap, clean power.
The challenge for engineers isn't generating complexity – throw sufficient money at a problem, and it's always possible to generate a sophisticated technical solution – but reducing the cost to a point where the technologies become ubiquitous.
An apocryphal tale, long proven to be fictitious, carries an important fable for clean-tech. The story goes that the Americans invested a small fortune in inventing a pressurised pen (that claim should rightfully be attributed to Dr Paul C Fisher) which could write in zero-G, while the Russians used a pencil.
Cheap and a lot is the answer.