Monday, 4 January 2010

Gordon Brown to launch £100bn wind energy programme

Crown Estate to announce which consortia will develop the nine zones cited for the project

Tim Webb, Sunday 3 January 2010 15.08 GMT
Gordon Brown will this week launch a £100bn programme to build thousands of offshore wind turbines that could power most of Britain's households during strong winds and are crucial to meeting the country's renewable targets.
The Crown Estate will announce which consortia have been successful in bidding to develop the nine zones, mostly in the North Sea, in the project, which is the most ambitious of its kind in the world. The prime minister is expected to use the event to promote the potential economic benefits of the massive building works.
Bidders, which include the UK's big six energy suppliers, are being judged on their financial resources, expertise and safety record.
Many developers are privately sceptical about whether all the projects will be built by 2020 as planned because of the huge logistical and financial challenges involved. Dozens of smaller projects – including the London Array – have been delayed because of funding problems in recent years.
The projects will be bigger than anything which exists today in the UK or elsewhere. They will be further away from the coast and in deeper waters than existing offshore projects, making them more difficult and expensive to build and operate.
The biggest zone is at Dogger Bank, about 100km off the north east coast, where wind farms with a capacity of 10gw – enough to power 10m homes – are planned, at an estimated cost of more than £30bn.
Successful applicants will carry out further scoping work to decide where exactly to build the farms before submitting planning applications. Construction is not expected to start until 2014 at the earliest.
But the Crown Estate will not require developers to source a proportion of the turbines and other components from domestic manufacturers unlike other countries, including Spain and China.
The paucity of Britain's low carbon industry was exposed last year, when Dutch firm Vestas closed England's only turbine manufacturing plant.
A spokeswoman for the Crown Estate said the government body, which owns the UK's seabed, was holding a supply chain roadshow for British manufacturers around the country, starting later this month. Working with regional development authorities, companies will be informed what components will be needed by the energy companies to help British industry benefit from the construction programme.

Manufacturing sector savages Darling claim that Labour supports green jobs

EEF says 90% of £2bn earmarked for London Array wind farm is being spent abroad
Terry Macalister, Sunday 3 January 2010 15.39 GMT
The manufacturing sector has savaged suggestions from the chancellor, Alistair Darling, that Britain is benefiting from government support for a "green" jobs revolution, warning that the UK was instead in danger of "missing the boat".
The industry body, the EEF, points out that over 90% of the €2bn earmarked for the world's biggest wind farm in UK waters – the London Array, off Kent – is being spent abroad and ministers must take some of the blame.
"In Germany you get government sitting down with business and saying, this is what the targets are for renewable energy and what do you need to provide the kind of necessary capacity," said the EEF's head of climate change and environment policy, Gareth Stace. "Lord Mandelson [the business secretary] has brought a sense of urgency, but it still requires a different mindset to push the boundaries of state aid like other countries do. We have missed the boat on onshore wind and risk doing the same offshore," he added.
E.ON and the other investors in the London Array have just finalised a €2bn contract bonanza for suppliers, but the German power company confirmed that all but €180m of the work was being spent outside of Britain, largely because there were no suitable local suppliers.
The setback follows the decision by the leading turbine maker Vestas to shut its Isle of Wight turbine factory this summer, just days after the government promised a clean-tech job revolution.
Yet Darling wrote in the Guardian on 30 December that government action meant that 500,000 jobs would be created around the clean energy sector. "By addressing investment barriers we've released billions of pounds for offshore wind, ultra low-carbon vehicles, marine energy and low-carbon aerospace. Green industries alone could support a further half a million jobs over the next decade. None of this would happen without support," he said.
Around £500m is being spent on turbines for the London Array, but the propellers are going to be built by Siemens Wind Power at its factory in Denmark.
The bulk of the €180m that is being spent in Britain is also going to Siemens, to build two offshore electrical substations and one onshore one. Siemens is a German company, but that work will be done through its Manchester-based subsidiary, Siemens Transmission and Distribution. The only other significant contract for Britain is for some transmission links from JDR Cable Systems, a UK subsidiary of a larger group based in Houston, Texas.
The British Wind Energy Association (BWEA) said the lack of real local content highlighted the need for the UK to build up its indigenous industrial capacity as soon as possible. "Huge efforts are being made by government to attract manufacturing to the UK and we wholeheartedly endorse that, but the London Array shows the sooner we manage to do this the better," a BWEA spokesman said. "We are starting from a very low base, or pretty much non-existent one, when it comes to turbines."
E.ON, one of the three main backers of the 630-megawatt London Array, along with Dong of Denmark and Masdar of Abu Dhabi, said all €2bn worth of contracts went out to competitive tendering. "We estimate that €180m of that went to local companies, but unfortunately there were not more British companies in the running," an E.ON spokesman said.
He added that the enormous project – set to open in 2012 – would provide plenty of work in the home market, giving as an example the 45 jobs which would be created at the port of Ramsgate, the main logistics base for the London Array.
Siemens unveiled plans to set up a wind power research centre at Sheffield University, but continues to dither over whether it is prepared to construct a turbine manufacturing plant in the UK. The head of Siemens held talks with Gordon Brown in October, but the German firm declined to say whether it was any closer to making a final decision to invest here or abroad.
Mitsubishi of Japan and General Electric of the US have also been considering whether to build an assembly plant here, while the government has given a grant to the US-based firm Clipper Windpower to build a prototype mega-blade for UK deep water windfarms in Hartlepool.
A spokesman for Mandelson's department of business, innovation and skills, said it was "unfair" to judge the wider low carbon industry on the back of the London Array, which is only one project.
"British companies are successfully competing for work on schemes around the world such as the Masdar city project in Abu Dhabi," the spokesman said. "The government has unveiled a range of new initiatives, such as support for the Dalton Nuclear Institute in Manchester and the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre in Rotherham."

Sun, wind and wave-powered: Europe unites to build renewable energy 'supergrid'

• North Sea countries plan vast clean energy project• €30bn scheme could offer weather-proof supply

Alok Jha, Sunday 3 January 2010 22.30 GMT
It would connect turbines off the wind-lashed north coast of Scotland with Germany's vast arrays of solar panels, and join the power of waves crashing on to the Belgian and Danish coasts with the hydro-electric dams nestled in Norway's fjords: Europe's first electricity grid dedicated to renewable power will become a political reality this month, as nine countries formally draw up plans to link their clean energy projects around the North Sea.
The network, made up of thousands of kilometres of highly efficient undersea cables that could cost up to €30bn (£26.5bn), would solve one of the biggest criticisms faced by renewable power – that unpredictable weather means it is unreliable.
With a renewables supergrid, electricity can be supplied across the continent from wherever the wind is blowing, the sun is shining or the waves are crashing.
Connected to Norway's many hydro-electric power stations, it could act as a giant 30GW battery for Europe's clean energy, storing electricity when demand is low and be a major step towards a continent-wide supergrid that could link into the vast potential of solar power farms in North Africa.
By autumn, the nine governments involved – Germany, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden and Ireland and the UK – hope to have a plan to begin building a high-voltage direct current network within the next decade. It will be an important step in achieving the European Union's pledge that, by 2020, 20% of its energy will come from renewable sources.
"We recognise that the North Sea has huge resources, we are exploiting those in the UK quite intensively at the moment," said the UK's energy and climate change minister, Lord Hunt. "But there are projects where it might make sense to join up with other countries, so this comes at a very good time for us."
More than 100GW of offshore wind projects are under development in Europe, around 10% of the EU's electricity demand, and equivalent to about 100 large coal-fired plants. The surge in wind power means the continent's grid needs to be adapted, according to Justin Wilkes of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA). An EWEA study last year outlined where these cables might be built and this is likely to be a starting point for the discussions by the nine countries.
Renewable energy is much more decentralised and is often built in inhospitable places, far from cities. A supergrid in the North Sea would enable a secure and reliable energy supply from renewables by balancing power across the continent.
Norway's hydro plants – equivalent to about 30 large coal-fired power stations – could use excess power to pump water uphill, ready to let it rush down again, generating electricity, when demand is high. "The benefits of an offshore supergrid are not simply to allow offshore wind farms to connect; if you have additional capacity, which you will do within these lines, it will allow power trading between countries and that improves EU competitiveness," said Wilkes.
The European Commission has also been studying proposals for a renewable-electricity grid in the North Sea. A working group in the EC's energy department, led by Georg Wilhelm Adamowitsch, will produce a plan by the end of 2010. He has warned that without additional transmission infrastructure, the EU will not be able to meet its ambitious targets. Hunt said the EC working group's findings would be fed into the nine-country grid plan.
The cost of a North Sea grid has not yet been calculated, but a study by Greenpeace in 2008 put the price of building a similar grid by 2025 at €15bn-€20bn. This would provide more than 6,000km of cable around the region. The EWEA's 2009 study suggested the costs of connecting the proposed 100GW wind farms and building interconnectors, into which further wind and wave power farms could be plugged in future, would probably push the bill closer to €30bn. The technical, planning, legal and environmental issues will be discussed at the meeting of the nine this month.
"The first thing we're aiming for is a common vision," said Hunt. "We will hopefully sign a memorandum of understanding in the autumn with ministers setting out what we're trying to do and how we plan to do it."
All those involved also have an eye on the future, said Wilkes. "The North Sea grid would be the backbone of the future European electricity supergrid," he said. This supergrid, which has support from scientists at the commission's Institute for Energy (IE), and political backing from both the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and Gordon Brown, would link huge solar farms in southern Europe – producing electricity either through photovoltaic cells, or by concentrating the sun's heat to boil water and drive turbines – with marine, geothermal and wind projects elsewhere on the continent. Scientists at the IE have estimated it would require the capture of just 0.3% of the light falling on the Sahara and the deserts of the Middle East to meet all Europe's energy needs.
In this grid, electricity would be transmitted along high voltage direct current cables. These are more expensive than traditional alternating-current cables, but they lose less energy over long distances.
Hunt agreed that the European supergrid was a long-term dream, but one worth making a reality. The UK, like other countries, faced "huge challenges with our renewables targets," he said. "The 2020 target is just the beginning and then we've got to aim for 2050 with a decarbonised electricity supply – so we need all the renewables we can get."
A North Sea grid could link into grids proposed for a much larger German-led plan for renewables called the Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII). This aims to provide 15% of Europe's electricity by 2050 or earlier via power lines stretching across desert and the Mediterranean. The plan was launched last November with partners including Munich Re, the world's biggest reinsurer, and some of Germany's biggest engineering and power companies, including Siemens, E.ON, ABB and Deutsche Bank. DII is a $400bn (£240bn) plan to use concentrated solar power (CSP) in southern Europe and northern Africa. This technology uses mirrors to concentrate the sun's rays on a fluid container, the super-heated liquid then drives turbines to generate electricity. The technology itself is nothing new – CSP plants have been running in the United States for decades and Spain is building many – but the scale of the DII project would be its biggest deployment ever.

Moulton and Hands profit on wind farm

Guy Hands and Jon Moulton, the private equity veterans, have finally seen a Cumbria-based wind farm they acquired in 2006 blow into profit.

By Jonathan Sibun, Deputy City EditorPublished: 6:59PM GMT 03 Jan 2010
Wharrels Hill LLP crept into the black, posting a £62,161 pre-tax profit in the year to April 2009, according to documents filed at Companies House.
That followed losses of £407,000 and £223,000 in 2007 and 2008, respectively.

Mr Hands and Mr Moulton own the Wharrels Hill wind farm together with a group of investors that also includes Robert Adair, the multi-millionaire chairman of oil and gas group Melrose Resources.
Revenues from the wind farm rose 60pc to £1.14m, boosted by a £109,000 payment from Nordex UK, a manufacturer of wind turbines, for "revenues lost due to the initial under performance of the wind farm".
Wharrels Hill LLP bought the site from nPower Renewables in May 2006.
On its opening in August 2007, the wind farm near Cockermouth was championed as a project that demonstrated that "city finance and local commitment can be brought together for the wider benefit of the local community".
At the time of the launch FIM Services, the company responsible for operating the wind farm, said it would supply electricity to 5,900 households and save the emission of 23,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide from coal fired power generation.
Mr Moulton, formerly of Alchemy, returned to private equity in December with new venture Better Capital.

More China Companies Are Going Green

BEIJING -- Chinese entrepreneurs and private citizens are starting to become more active in trying to address concerns over global warming, a nascent trend that could have significant long-term impact on the ability of the world's largest greenhouse-gas emitter to curb its effects on the climate.
Bloomberg News
A worker produces solar vacuum tubes at a Himin factory in Dezhou, China. The company's chairman says customers' green goals are boosting sales.
The shift is most pronounced among a small-but-growing group of private business executives, who are adjusting their business practices and helping to spread awareness more broadly among the public.
Wang Shi, the 58-year-old chairman of China Vanke Co., the country's largest housing developer, said he became concerned about global warming through mountain climbing, a hobby he took up in 1998. He had read the Ernest Hemingway story "The Snows of Kilimanjaro," and in 2002 went to Tanzania to scale the mountain in the title. He was surprised at what he found.
"I didn't see any snow," he says. "I did more research, and discovered that within 50 years...its glaciers could be entirely gone as well."
Mr. Wang is gradually replacing wood used in the interiors of Vanke's apartment buildings with recyclable materials. Vanke is using more solar and other renewable energy, and adopting prefabrication techniques, borrowed partly from Japan, that are less wasteful than standard Chinese construction.
Mr. Wang is building a new corporate headquarters in Shenzhen designed by Steven Holl, an American architect, that he aims to make the first building in China with a platinum ranking -- the highest available -- on the international Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system for "green buildings."
"China is a big country," says Mr. Wang, who founded Vanke 25 years ago. "It should try to shoulder the responsibilities of a large country, and therefore China's companies need to shoulder their own responsibilities."
Courtesy of Wang Shi
Wang Shi, seen climbing China's Mount Yuzhu, was suprised to find no snow on Africa's Kilimanjaro.
In 2004, Vanke's Mr. Wang and about 60 other businessmen founded the Society of Entrepreneurs and Ecology to promote awareness and action on climate change and other environmental issues. It now has 160 members, each of whom pays 100,000 yuan ($14,620) in annual dues. That means an annual budget of at least $2.3 million, not including other contributions like free rent -- a hefty sum for a Chinese NGO.
SEE uses the funds for reforestation programs in China and educational efforts, and to help support more than 150 smaller environmental groups around the country.
On Dec. 8, at the beginning of the Copenhagen climate summit, the group joined several other organizations representing 200 business members to issue a communiqué pledging to reduce their companies' emissions and calling on governments to reach a deal including binding legal benchmarks.
Yang Peng, SEE's secretary-general, says the growing green consciousness is a natural outgrowth of China's development.
"In the past, people just wanted to get enough to eat. Now, many people live in nicer homes, and they're more concerned about the environment," he says. "Low carbon is a new idea, but it's spreading very fast."
Most of the focus in assessing China's climate-related practices has been on the government. That is logical, since Beijing, in addition to setting policy, plays an enormous direct role in the economy. The government has pledged to reduce China's carbon emissions relative to the size of its economy, but has refused to commit to outright emissions cuts. Some foreign officials and scientists have criticized China's stance and said it contributed to the failure of the Copenhagen summit to reach a breakthrough. China says it played a constructive role at the summit, but can only agree to a deal that treats developing nations fairly.
But the participation of private businesses and regular citizens in the world's most populous nation will also be a major factor in China's climate impact.
Until recently, there was little of the sort of nongovernmental activity on climate change and other environmental issues that is common in more-developed places like Europe, Japan and the U.S. Now, climate experts take heart in the increasing activities of some executives, educators and others -- even if it is too early for them to have had major impact, and abundant examples remain of indifference and waste.
"We are starting to see a growing level of awareness of climate change among people" in China, says Barbara Finamore, China program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York-based environmental organization. Ms. Finamore points to educational efforts in schools and by the state media to make people aware of climate issues, as well as "forward-looking companies who recognize the importance of this issue and are taking a leading role in trying to encourage their government to do more."
Some executives are changing their personal, as well as corporate, behavior. Zhang Yue, chairman of Broad Air Conditioner Co., was one of China's first entrepreneurs to buy a private jet, back in 1997. About five years ago, he became aware of the huge volume of carbon dioxide produced by a single 1,900-mile trip on the jet. Since then, he has heavily restricted the jet's use, and he often takes commercial flights.
Mr. Zhang has also made emissions reduction a central mission of his company. Broad is a major producer of giant air conditioners used in buildings, and it specializes in chillers that don't use electricity, instead relying on other energy sources like natural gas and waste heat. Broad says its air conditioners have only 20% the carbon-dioxide emissions of electric models.
Still, Mr. Zhang, who considers himself a pioneer on climate-change issues in China, is pessimistic about the overall level of awareness in the country.
"Public understanding of energy conservation and emissions reduction is still woefully behind," he says, adding that more education and publicity of the issue by the government is needed.
Others see progress already. Huang Ming, the chairman of Himin Solar Energy Group Co., China's largest maker of rooftop solar water heaters, says the desire among some of his customers, particularly educated, urban residents, to use more-environmentally friendly devices is helping to boost Himin's sales.
If property companies like Vanke change their behavior, it could have an especially strong impact, since China has the largest building market in the world by floor space. Building operations create about one-sixth of China's total carbon emissions, according to the China Greentech Report 2009, published by a business consortium.
A separate report in October by the NRDC and Boston Consulting Group estimated that "moderate" energy conservation, affecting 5% of China's existing buildings and 60% of new buildings, would have an environmental impact equivalent to halting global air traffic for four months.
Write to Jason Dean at

Eco-warrior plans cities with soul to help save the planet

Rebecca O’Connor

On a subject of global importance that international leaders were unable to resolve in Copenhagen last month, Keith Clarke is resolute. A low-carbon world is a matter of survival, and not just a “special project”.
The chief executive of WS Atkins, Britain’s biggest engineering and design consultancy, is consequently more than a little disappointed by the result of the climate-change talks. The accord was, he says, “the least acceptable result possible”.
Mr Clarke has a vested interest in creating a low-carbon economy. Atkins, which counts the popular Oxford Circus redesign among its recent projects, has made big strides and significant investments in ways that the engineering industry can contribute. But the topic is also one that is genuinely close to his heart. He cycles, he air-drys rather than using a tumble dryer and, when he takes to the road, he drives a Toyota Prius.
Mr Clarke admits that learning to accept a degree of hypocrisy is a fundamental part of being an eco-warrior. The one thing that he has failed to curtail in the name of the environment is air travel.

“I have a more efficient boiler and fridge, solar hot water, I air-dry, I cycle and drive a Prius — but I fly around the world. I don’t know how else to do business. I just had an international conference call and they are fine, but the only reason they work is that in two weeks’ time, we will see each other. People have to meet. I accept that dichotomy.”
That acceptance is something that Mr Clarke has also applied to the corporate social responsibility strategy in WS Atkins.
“We are attempting to practise what we preach,” he said. “We are looking for a 12 per cent energy reduction by next year and had a review conducted by Jonathan Porritt. It said we were pretty good, but could do better. If you are a world leader, then you have to lead ... we have been pushing hard on awareness.”
It is all evangelical stuff for a chief executive, but then, Mr Clarke, 57, is a big-ideas sort of man — an approach that has earned him a reputation as “Labour’s go-to man on construction issues”. He certainly has a Blairite zeal for decarbonising.
He says: “There will be a paradigm shift. This is not just about stuffing insulation in. As a planet, we have reached that point of saying not if, but how, to decarbonise. One day we will all look back and say it was 2010 when the industrial world changed.
“When consuming profligately, burning oil in a car or to heat a house will be considered completely barmy. Our behaviour, the constant improvement in living standards, flying around the world, being safe, warm and dry, having TVs, being able to afford what you want — it is all great, but that way of doing things is going to change.”
Such is Mr Clarke’s belief that others share his views that he thinks that other companies will continue to pay to reduce emissions in spite of the disastrous impact that the downturn has had on the construction industry.
He said: “There are probably two more years of recession left — companies will have to give better value to customers. But I don’t see anyone compromising. The transition to low carbon is serious stuff and we are all going to do it.”
Mr Clarke believes that engineers will play a key role in achieving this. The business he has been in for more than 20 years is, he says, “becoming sexy again”.
“Engineering is about making things better. For engineering, [the carbon agenda] is brilliant. It is possible to overcome all sorts of technical issues. We might not know how yet, but mankind’s inventiveness has always won. Even if something new doesn’t work very well at first, then they will work a bit better, then a bit better. Just as you can make cars safer all the time, you can make buildings more efficient.
“The UK has a phenomenal history in design. It is just becoming sexy again. Our professional institutions — the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Institution of Civil Engineers — are the envy of the world.”
Mr Clarke learnt his trade in New York, to which he moved “because he thought it would be fun” and where he stayed for ten years until 1989.
In New York, he did a master’s degree in urban planning, before going into public sector planning and design for the city. As a lover of the urban landscape, this was a plum position for him. He considers being involved in the development of the city to be “as exciting as development can be”.
When he and his wife moved back to Britain, Mr Clarke transferred what he had learnt in New York to his role with Olympia & York at Canary Wharf, where he won praise as “one of the best analytical minds in planning and architecture”, from George Iacobescu, chief executive of Canary Wharf. T
hat business sank as Canary Wharf struggled to find tenants in the 1990s recession and Mr Clarke joined Trafalgar House, for which he helped to run the Eurorail bid for the Channel Tunnel rail link that eventually lost out to London & Continental Railways.
He describes his time with Trafalgar House as a steep learning curve.
“I learnt that there is far more to leadership than you think. It is about the people, ethos and values, careers and bringing people together. Knowing that a business is more than a sum of its parts. No one teaches you the people things — like how important it is for people to feel good about their jobs, the importance of wellbeing — that is a massive responsibility.”
In Kvaerner, the company that took over Trafalgar House in 1996 before itself being rescued in 2001 by Aker and undergoing an extensive restructuring, Mr Clarke says he learnt “how to turn businesses around and to make the most of what you’ve got”.
He adds: “All people within a business can improve its performance; your job is to help the good bits to flourish.”
Presumably the way that he does this is through keeping enthusiasm high with the sort of thoughts that make staff feel that they are doing something worthwhile.
He says: “It is so exciting. We are creating the built environment. It changes the way you feel about a city. Cities can make you feel cheerful or miserable. A civilised society is one where it is a pleasure to move around. Design doesn’t solve the ills of society, but our environment should be sustainable and enjoyable.”
After two years with Skanska, Mr Clarke switched from construction to consultancy when appointed chief executive of Atkins in 2003.
“Consultancy work is a different ethos to construction. Construction is about low-price bidding and turnover base. The more work you win, the more profit you make. Consultancy is a man-hour business; it is about problem-solving. There are no time-sheets in construction. At Atkins, it is all about the time you spend on projects, creating knowledge and designing things. It is creating knowledge so that someone can say, ‘I’d like a park’, or ‘I’d like a sewer’, and then a contractor goes off and builds it.”
Atkins is working on a lot of the infrastructure on the 2012 Olympics — it won the contract for the “architectural bit” of Crossrail. It is also working on metro lines in Hong Kong and Dubai. Despite the recent Dubai World setbacks, the Middle East business is performing well.
“We started work in the Middle East four or five years ago,” Mr Clarke said. “The carbon footprint of those countries was going through the roof. They are actually now very respectful of the desert and going back to values — their vision is much more sustainable.”
For Mr Clarke, though, nowhere will beat London as a place to live and work. On this, he is as enthusiastic as he is about decarbonising. “I love London,” he says. “It has the South Bank and you can drop into a museum at any time. I go to the theatre to be with people, to sit with strangers.
“There is great public transport. The Tube is phenomenal. It is magic, like time travel, a great institution. The only thing is we need to make the public spaces work better, as we have done with Oxford Circus. Everyone is smiling there now. Getting rid of the traffic on the north side of Trafalgar Square also transformed it from ugly to magnificent. Creating public spaces is about bringing people together.”
Born Brixton, 1952
Education Brighton Polytechnic and Pratt Institute, New York
Career 1979-89, New York City Public Development Corporation;
1989-93, Olympia & York;
1993-96, Trafalgar House, deputy managing director;
1996-2001, Kvaerner Construction Group, executive vice-president;
2001-03, Skanska, chief executive of Skanska UK; 2003-present, chief executive, WS Atkins
Who, or what, is your mentor?
Ed Koch, the Mayor of New York City from 1977 to 1989, for showing me how to deal with public consultations; Bob Esnard, the deputy mayor, for showing me how always to deal with substance calmly; and my management team for showing me that impossible things can be achieved.
Does money motivate you?No, but it is easy to say that when you are well paid.
What was the most important event in your working life? Turning up in America without a work permit.
Which person do you most admire? Al Gore for actually being smart and brave enough to engage in the climate-change debate long before it was remotely fashionable.
What gadget must you have?Pen and pencil — best gadgets ever.
What does leadership mean to you? Sticking to your values and beliefs regardless of how difficult circumstances are.
How do you relax?Enthusiastic, but poor, tennis; increasingly slow running, theatre and detective books.

Belching cows can help to rescue our planet

The prodigious methane output of cattle is bad for the environment. But grazing on grass will soak up carbon
Graham Harvey

When I grew up in the Fifties roast beef was as much a part of Sunday as the clamour of church bells and Two-Way Family Favourites on the radio.
In those austere days foods such as beef, butter and cheese were seen as the mainstay of a healthy diet. Though no one on our Reading estate had much money, the idea that you’d cut back on such essentials would have seemed tantamount to self-harming.
Today their reputation has lost its shine. For years nutritionists have warned of the dangers of saturated fats. Now environmentalists have joined the attack on livestock with dire predictions about climate change and the damaging effects of the methane emitted by cows.
But the attack has been overdone. New findings on traditionally reared beef and dairy foods could lead to their reinstatement as “protective foods”, as they were once known. Far from causing illness, they may play a key role in defending the body against modern diseases.
Even more remarkably, their production is now being seen as part of a land management system that benefits the planet. Though methane from ruminant animals undoubtedly adds to greenhouse gases, they can play a far more important role in cutting carbon dioxide.
Britain has a long tradition of livestock farming dating from Neolithic times. Two thirds of Britain’s farmland are occupied by grassland, much of it in the hilly West and North of the country where few other crops can be grown. The climate and soils of western Britain are well suited to grass, which is why this country has long been renowned for the quality of its beef.
Today, livestock production is moving away from grassland. Around the world, large numbers of animals are confined to sheds or yards and fed diets rich in high-energy and high-protein foods such as cereal grains, maize and soya. These systems appeal to farmers because they reduce costs and speed up production. But because the feed crops are grown with heavy inputs of chemical fertiliser, pesticides and diesel fuel, they can hardly be considered “climate-friendly”. Even worse, large tracts of rainforest are felled to produce the grain for cattle.
Now the pendulum may be about to swing back in favour of grassland. The evidence is stacking up that meat and dairy foods from animals grazing fresh pasture are healthier than the grain-fed versions. Pasture-fed beef and lamb contain higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants such as vitamin E. Pasture-fed meat and milk are also rich in a remarkable compound known as CLA, which protects against many cancers and heart disease. When animals are fed large amounts of grain, the levels of these health-protecting nutrients fall rapidly in the resulting foods.
Grasslands have another gift for humanity, one only now coming to light. Pioneering US farmers believe they could become a key weapon in the climate change battle. Scientists have long been aware of grassland’s ability to capture or “sequester” carbon. Grass leaves take in carbon dioxide from the air, converting it to sugars by photosynthesis. Some of the resulting carbon compounds are transferred to the roots and released into the soil through the normal cycles of growth and decay.
Agriculture accounts for 7 per cent of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions and, of this, methane from ruminant animals makes up one third. Cows on a grass diet produce more methane than those fed on cereal grains, but grasslands more than compensate in other ways. Some pasture plants, such as bird’s-foot trefoil, are known to reduce methane emissions. In any case, about 18 per cent of methane is neutralised by bacteria in the soil under grassland. Carbon capture through photosynthesis is thought by scientists to account for up to 40 per cent of the UK’s farming emissions.
But if these American farmers are right, with skilled management the grasslands can capture far more carbon. Their inspiration has been the prairie grassland that once covered vast areas west of the Mississippi. Grazed by great wandering herds of bison, these natural grasslands built up huge stores of carbon in their soils. The level of organic matter — the carbon-rich residues of decayed plants and animals — could be as high as 20 per cent. In many UK arable soils, organic matter content averages just 2 per cent. When European settlers arrived on the prairies, they ploughed the grassland, turning it over to wheat. The vast stores of soil carbon were released into the atmosphere, adding greatly to greenhouse gases. By the 1930s the prairie soils, their fertility exhausted, blew away in dustbowls, an event that inspired Steinbeck’s classic novel The Grapes of Wrath.
Today a group of US farmers are discovering that they can build up those same high levels of soil carbon under their own pastures. The key is to get their cattle to mimic the behaviour of the wild bison herds. As a defence against predators, these herds packed closely together and were constantly moving. This meant that each patch of grassland was trampled and grazed hard, then left to recover for weeks or months until the grazing herd returned.
Under this regime the soil carbon store builds rapidly, as today’s farmers are now discovering. They call it “mob grazing”. Using electric fences, farmers split their pastures into a large number of small paddocks. Putting their cattle into each paddock in turn, they graze it off quickly before moving the herd to the next. US farmers report that their animals stay very healthy on this grazing regime, putting on weight fast. At the same time the soil quickly becomes more fertile as it accumulates carbon compounds.
Joel Salatin, one of the Virginia farmers practising mob grazing, describes it as the closest thing he has found to a free lunch. “It doesn’t require combines, ploughs, tractors or buildings,” he says. “It’s the fastest way to sequester carbon, collect solar energy, and rebuild soil. Grazing is truly amazing.”
Mob grazing hasn’t yet arrived in the UK. But there is no reason why it shouldn’t be adapted in a country with such a long grazing tradition. It could give a boost to the livestock- rearing communities of the West and give hard-pressed farmers a new crop to sell — soil carbon.
Then we could tuck into a steak with a clear conscience.
Graham Harvey is a farming journalist and author of The Carbon Fields