In the finale of our month’s focus on energy a post written by John Youatt
Energy, the people and the planet
We depend on energy, In our daily lives, in business in our leisure time, we use energy and all too often we take it for granted. Understandably people get cross if the power fails, or if the fuel they want gets too expensive. Governments know this and energy policy focuses on security of supply and affordability. The ConDem Government will claim that this is exactly what it is doing. It is backing nuclear and a big push for gas to ‘keep the lights on’ as they keep saying, and the Tories want to scrap the green levies to keep prices down. But this is all short term thinking, it is not costing in the full impacts of a nuclear-fossil fuel energy strategy, it is more about winning the next election than securing safe and affordable energy for the next generation.
UK is rightly and legally committed to reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere and into the sea, by 15% by 2020 and by 50% by 2050. These are the minimum to avoid massive harm by erratic warming, melting, and climate chaos. Science says that, to achieve these targets, most ancient carbon (oil, coal and gas) must be left in the ground, and/or the carbon must be captured and returned to the ground.
It is tehnically possible to achieve these targets in the UK and internationally by carbon capture, and by harvesting wind, wave, sea current, solar and biomass energy. It’s unnecessary to look for more.
We now know beyond any remaining doubt (Cameron in the lower house October 2013), that the Tory-driven coalition government is determined to stay in power in 2015, by appealing to voters by short-term cost cutting: and by satisfying the right wing and global capital by massive investment in the unsafe carbon based technologies. This is a disastrous policy framework both for the majority of people and for the planet since it builds in rising prices and carbon emissions. It fails to establish a clear framework to support the development of sustainable renewable energy.
In the light of the science and even of the full economics of energy and climate change, (Stern), it beggar belief that any sane or logical government would be so stupid as to turn their back on renewable energy and back unsustainable fossil and nuclear. But we need to remember that, the carbon pirates are highly persuasive, because of the massive power of the global capital invested in carbon by organisations and powerful individuals.
The UK is very well endowed with renewable sources of energy, even solar, and we might think that the Government would grab the enormous opportunity presented to it, but it doesn’t. Instead it does all it can to load the dice against renewables in favour of fossil and nuclear.
The Department of Energy and Climate Change, set up by Ed Milliband, raised the profile of climate change to primary cabinet level for the first time. Ed noted Germany’s Greens’-inspired successes, including the winding down of nuclear power and the use of tariffs and taxes to encourage renewables. Germany now has 300,000 jobs in renewable energy and already exceeds it’s 20% renewable target for 2020. The coalition government and Cameron, its PR spinner, works relentlessly to blame energy prices on green taxes through a compliant media, and is threatening to scrap them. The Government and its media poodles regularly attack investments in energy saving that really help households and ignore the reality of global price rises for fossil fuels. They also ignore the profits and dividends of the big energy companies that are effectively a cartel. Price rises by one are followed within a few days by similar rises by the others. Yet smaller energy companies eg Good Energy (100% green) don’t get the support they need.
Despite the fact that the science clearly states that to avoid dangerous climate change – a global temperature rise of 2ºC, the Government annually pours over £2 billion in subsidies and tax breaks into the fossil fuel sector. In addition it is backing extreme energies like fracking and Underground Coal Gasification with big tax breaks paid for by all of us. And if all this wasn’t enough to rub fossilised salt in to our green wounds, the Government is now backing a new generation of nuclear power stations, built by French and Chinese state owned companies who will earn guaranteed profits paid for by us who will also have to clean up the mess of the abandoned reactors in 30 years time.
Government energy policy is leaving a dangerous legacy of rising bills, reliance on dwindling fossil and uranium supplies and a nuclear clean up bill that will dwarf the profits made. Green policy would end this nonsense. Because we all depend on energy, its supply should not be used as a means to make massive private profits. Green policy to promote renewables and scale down fossil and nuclear, would secure a sustainable supply for now and for the future that will enable all to afford energy that does not represent a long term threat to the well being for either the people or the planet.
© John Youatt for DGP October 2103
Here is a brief account of the good energies – good for people and for our planet:
Solar energy 1 (Solar electric or PV panels; solar thermal panels; air, ground or water source heat pumps; thermodynamic panels; electric-to-heat-store transfer).
All arms of this industry have grown exponentially since Ed Milliband set up DECC. All take energy direct from the sun. They are supported by tariffs which have survived Government cuts, but have been atrociously managed by the coalition, jealous of the diversion of funds from the fossil fuel economy. Solar panels, despite the lack of Government support remain good value, whether funded from personal savings, from business plans or as rental installations.
Solar energy 2 : Biomass
Virtually all biomass can return photosynthetic energy from the sun as heat and/or electrical energy. The main technologies are anaerobic digestion (AD); incineration of mixed wastes; and growing crops for oil, usually in place of food. Huhne was this time not lying when he placed AD as the best of this bunch in the coalition agreement. AD is a managed natural process like brewing that produces heat, electricity and nutrients from material that would have gone to ground. The AD nutrients replace expensive high energy artificial fertilisers and reduce poisoning of ground waters. Wood burning as log or chip works locally, however the jury is out on large scale wood burning because of processing and haulage costs. Sadly, big business conned local authorities into signing 25 year contracts for incineration, which requires huge waste miles, and is far less beneficial than AD, and reduces recycling. Greens do not support incineration.
Solar energy 3 Solar power stations .
Technically these have to be big, requiring low value land space and strong sunlight. They are not for low-sun, high-density states such as most of the EU, but could be good news for the Sahel region, provided a mutually benefit deal can be developed between the EU and the host nation.
There are broadly two categories of wind power generation
- individual machines, usually of small to medium size, designed to meet the energy use where they stand (eg c.100kW capacity/25m height for a large dairy farm or 250kw/35m for a village). check These micro generators also save transmission costs (up to 20% in centralised generation) check by using networks ‘in the opposite direction’.
- large machines, now typically 2mW/ 50m check often in groups or ‘arrays’ of up a hundred on land or out to sea.
They are both highly desirable components of the UK and world wide energy mix.
The Tories are obsessed by hatred of wind turbines in the landscape and of state support being given to them. It is true that there are extremes of views from moving sculptures, even ‘objects of grace and desire’; to a blot on a beloved landscape. Unfortunately the ‘antis’ use lies and spin to make their case, ignoring the absolute need for wind power in the UK energy mix, and their hatred, bred largely by big poorly designed and over greedy windfarms, leaks into the mindset and infects reactions to well designed schemes. As a result, investors are discouraged and go abroad, and the UK has missed out on being a world leader in wind technology.
Waves and sea currents It was of course Maggie that took against research into sea power why? Ever so slowly, too slowly, investment is now going ahead, from private and public sources, into sea-current and wave power.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) Not a renewable energy technology, but a means of cutting carbon emissions enabling us to use fossil reserves as bridging fuels to secure energy supply while the renewable system is developed. If carbon capture works (it’s technically and geographically possible, the doubt is cost) CCS should be promoted. A failure to do the research in the 1980’s was another of Maggie’s bad mistakes, this time perhaps allied to her war with the miners. Sadly, ‘clean coal’ is still part of the Tories hang ups. Carbon generators are still being promoted in the UK and world wide, without a precondition to install and retro fit CCS, and research into the technology has again stalled.