Saturday, December 31, 2005

Welcome to 2006 - crunch year for nuclear and renewables

A huge amount of work is needed in 2006 by anti-nuclear campaigners to win the battle to avoid a new generation of nuclear power stations being built in the UK.

The first part of 2006 is going to be a tipping point. Whatever the energy review decides will set the scene for Britain's energy future for years to come.

It's therefore crucial to set out the agenda for what needs to be achieved if renewable energy is to play a significant part in that future.

If it doesn't, then the lion's share of investment in new energy infrastructure will go to nuclear power.

A Guardian/ICM poll published on Boxing Day found that 57% of men (33% of women) support nuclear power. This gender split doesn't surprise the Low Carbon Kid - see previous blog on the theme of nuclear power and Prometheus.

The same number of women oppose nuclear power but 39% of men. This averages at 48% against, 45% for.

Why so many for nukes?

The Nuclear industry is spreading lies and disinformation

The nuclear industry has been pouring money into lobbying for some time. They have even fed George Monbiot with figures that persuaded him that nuclear's the thing.

The Nuclear Industry Association, the trade association representing operators of nuclear power stations, and those engaged in decommissioning, waste management, nuclear fuel cycle, equipment, engineering, construction, research, etc. spends a lot of money spreading lies and disinformation about the "safety" and "sound economics" of nuclear power on behalf of its members.

Don't believe me? At a recent sixth form debate at an Essex grammar school, home of future policy makers, the PA sent by the NIA, a Cypriot woman untrained as a scientist, and not long in the job, made a number of false assertions. For instance, that only 12 people died as a result of the Chernobyl accident. And the fallout was negligible here.

Try telling that to the sheep farmers on the Welsh hills where I live who experienced lambs born with five legs and other mutations.

Bernard Cohen, a professor of physics and radiation health at the University of Pittsburgh, has written that the fallout from this accident, "will eventually, after about fifty years, reach 60 billion millirems, enough to cause about 16,000 deaths."

[He also says that the same number of deaths are caused every year by air pollution from coal-burning power plants in the United States alone. Renewable energy? Yes, please.]

Deaths are only part of the picture. For the full picture, and details about the distortion of history, read 'Chernobyl Reinvented'

These nuclear lobbyists have been bending the ears of the Cabinet for some time, whispering that nuclear is ok, the only answer, it's cheaper than you think.

[The Low Carbon Kid believes that Margaret Beckett's days are numbered in the Cabinet, as the only openly anti-nuclear minister. She'll join Michael Meacher as a second casualty of the Blair/Brown anti-environmental stance.]

But don't be fooled by the nuclear industry's dodgy economics either. In Finland, the industry bid below cost price in their effort to secure a contract to build a new power station. After the building had started, they began to demand more money.

Another factor in the nuclear renaissance, reminiscent of the GM story, is that Blair's buddy Bush's administration is also the most aggressively pro-nuclear government since the days of Richard Nixon. The British people fought off much of the GM policies Blair tried to foist on it. But will it do the same to nuclear power?

The renewable industry's agenda

The nuclear lobby's serious points need proper answering.

The industry and campaigners therefore have to do two things:

  1. Counter these lies
  2. Set out a blueprint for a renewable energy future

This blueprint must be costed, scaled to the energy demand, and given a timescale, or roadmap, showing what technologies can be introduced when, and at what level to meet the demand.

And we have less than six months to do this.

Happy New Year from the Low Carbon Kid

Friday, December 23, 2005

Accident last night at Torness nuclear power station

An incident at Torness Nuclear Power Station last night saw emergency services rush to the plant.

Operators British Energy said there was no threat to plant workers and no radiation leaked out.

But in June this year a Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) report revealed that a May 2002 accident at Torness power station, which shut it down for six months at exhorbitant cost, was much more serious than previously acknowledged and that plant operators did not give a high enough priority to nuclear safety.

So how do we know who to believe?

Reports initially said that a fuel element had "moved" and it has emerged this morning that some "debris" had prevented the movement of a nuclear fuel element - the unusual behaviour of the nuclear material had triggered the emergency response.

The NII report was only made public after South Scotland Green MSP Chris Ballance used Freedom of Information legislation to obtain it.

At the time, British Energy reported the accident as "vibration problems in one gas circulator", but in fact a "loud noise" and "heavy vibration" caused "significant damage" to the cooling gas circulation system with "many loose parts", "significant deformation" and 750 litres of oil leaking into the "lower reactor area".

According to the report "the operators' ignorance of the local plant vibration monitoring system is not acceptable and there seems to be little attention afforded to vibration alarms..."

Chris Ballance, Green MSP for South Scotland said: "The incident serves to remind us of the great risks with this technology, in addition to the legacy of nuclear waste and economic costs which future generations will have to bear."

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Heat pumps could slash UK need for gas imports

Why argue with a technology that gives you 300% back for what you put in?

Because that's what heat pumps do, and the Low Carbon Kid thinks we ought to see many more of them.

Heat pumps are low carbon technology which have huge potential for the UK and Europe.

Europe had installed 4,531 MW of heat pumps - 379,183 units - by the end of last year, an increase of 20% over 2003, according to the latest Barometer produced by the EurObserv'ER consortium. 33,000 systems are also installed in Switzerland.

Sweden tops with 185,531 systems installed with 1,700 MW of thermal capacity, followed by Germany with 48,662 systems (633 MW-t), Austria with 30,577 (612), France with 49,950 (550) and Finland with 30,000 systems (300 MW-t of capacity).

The UK has a long way to go.

What are heat pumps?

Heat pumps are like backwards fridges. They're simple, proven and reliable.

They use a 'coolant' to suck heat energy from a large volume, usually the ground, but it can be a body of water, and concentrate it in a small volume - like a central heating system.

Since any mass above absolute zero has some heat, even what feels cold can provide a heat source.

(Not to be confused with deep-bore geothermal electric and geothermal direct-use thermal energy.)

Naturally you need an electricity source to pump the heat out. Your electrical input gives, on average, 3 to 4 units of energy back for every one put in.

Fossil-based and nuclear electricity typically loses two thirds of its primary energy in generation and delivery, so the heat pump needs to be very efficient to make savings, but ideally a renewable electricity tarriff or independent supply should be used.

Space heating accounts for 29% of all energy use in the UK. Deployment of this technology would therefore reduce the need for imported gas.

Experts say that if the European earth energy heat pump sector can maintain an average annual growth rate of 10% until 2010 "it could reach a capacity of 8,000 MW".

The objectives in the EU white paper of 5,000 MW, including 2,500 MW-t of heat pumps for the 15-member EU, were exceeded last year.

Low carbon technology updates from the DTI

The Low Carbon Kid believes in the judicious use of carrots and sticks.

My diet aside, I will support Government initiatives that make some sense.

That's why, for once, I am using this column to publicise the DTI's Low Carbon Energy Technologies e-Bulletin - because I don't think it gets enough publicity.

It highlights completed R&D projects, grants, news and events from the DTI's Sustainable Energy Programme. Below are the headlines. At the end is a link to the full monty.
  • Proposals wanted: The DTI Technology Programme is seeking proposals on collaborative research and development projects on leading edge and emerging technologies. Deadline for registering your intention to apply: 31st January 06
  • Sixth Framework Programme: the EU's main source of support for leading edge research and technological development.
  • Workshops and Events run by the Sustainable Energy Programme
  • Biofuels: Short Rotation Coppicing and Fuel Supply from Energy Crops
  • Embedded Generation: Guide to the Sale of Power Opportunities
  • Fuel Cells: prospects for use in stationery power and CHP
  • Solar: latest publications on photovoltaics
  • Wave & Tidal: Development of a 5th Scale Tidal Turbine; and Near Shore Oscillating wave column.
  • Wind: Modelling of Offshore Wind Turbine Support Structures
To subscribe to this e-bulletin email The Sustainable
Energy Team

Visit the DTI's Renewable energy web site

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Supreme success for community-owned wind project

Profits from the community-owned Isle of Gigha's grid-connected windfarm have not only paid for the first phase of a housing improvement program for its residents, but also helped the windfarm win three awards.

The wind tubines, dubbed 'Dancing Ladies,' make the island self-sufficient in electricity - and then some: a quarter of the power is sold to the mainland. It will create a profit of £159,000 in its first year.

Andy Clements, chairman of Gigha Renewable Energy, set up to build and manage the windfarm, said: "There have been no major faults. Our windfarm has generally run itself and made us a profit which we are ploughing back into vital projects such as refurbished housing for our community."

Fantastic. We need to see more of this type of initiative, much more. This should be communicated to Malcolm Wicks as part of the current Energy Review and the Microgeneration review.

This is not the only such UK project. The wheeler-dealing Low Carbon Kid has shares in the smaller Bro Dyfi Community Renewables, in mid-Wales. But sadly, such projects can be counted on one hand in the UK.

More on Gigha

This community owned wind farm in Scotland, on an island which is itself community owned, began generating power in January 2005, immediately supplying a profit of over £75,000 a year for community projects such as housing improvement.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise has established a Community Energy Company to replicate the Gigha model of community ownership in communities throughout Scotland.

Willie McSporran MBE, [this name kills me, I'm sorry!] chair of the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust and a director of Gigha Renewable Energy Company, explained; "The solution we have developed in Gigha works by combining grant funding with loan and equity finance secured at commercial rates. The company simply pays back the loan and buys back the equity within five years. What's more by year eight we will have built up a capital re-investment fund sufficient to replace the machines without recourse to further financing." If the wind farm were privately owned there would just be £2,000 a year for the community.

Green Energy UK, the sole purchaser for the energy, won an open tender because it pledged to give away half its company in shares to its customers; the Trust will also receive shares as will any local resident who buys their electricity from Green Energy UK.

Three 225kW turbines will supply over two thirds of the island's needs, and have already won the Ernst and Young / Euromoney UK Renewable Energy Award for best community project for their innovative use of second hand machines.

As of the 14 December it had generated 1,938,895.5 kWh.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Another radioactive security breach

Following from yesterday's news of the Chechen nightmare, Venezuala has seen highwaymen steal a nuclear shipment.

Feature film rights, anyone?

"We have a state of emergency at a national and regional level and are looking for the capsule everywhere," said civil defense director Col. Antonio Rivero, after the truck was hijacked.

The material is Iridium-192, which emits powerful gamma radiation and is used for industrial radiography.

In Brazil in 1987, scrap-metal scavengers took a container with Cesium-137 from an abandoned radiation therapy clinic without knowing itl was radioactive and opened it. Children smeared the material on their faces and bodies because it glowed. Five people died and 249 suffered from radiation contamination.

Renewable energy? Yes, please.

Full story here.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Malcolm Wicks launches the energy review

Malcolm Wicks has launched the opening salvo in the energy review.

Although the consultation document won't be out till January, he used his speech today to the Social Market Foundation to lay out his stall.
He said there will be a series of seminars around the country so that everyone has an opportunity to examine the facts and give their views.

The context

  • by 2020 only around 7% of our electricity might come from nuclear, down from 19%
  • 16% will come from coal generation, down from 16%
  • So 30% of current generating capacity will be decommissioned during these 15 years
  • we will be a net importer of oil by 2010, as well as of gas
  • fossil fuel prices are rising fast.

If we carried on as now, by 2020 we may be importing over 80% of our gas and be reliant on oil to fuel our transport, and will miss all our climate change commitments.

What about renewables?

"We have ambitious climate change targets to meet," said Wicks. "But alternative energy sources take time to develop. At the present rate many of them are unlikely to be able to make a significant contribution to our longer-term energy needs."
"Renewables – at present, predominantly wind turbines - will play a key role going forward as the Renewables Obligation delivers an increasing level of new generation capacity - but it cannot provide the whole answer either to generation capacity issues or to our carbon goals.
"Other renewables will emerge over time as significant players, such as microgeneration, wave and tidal. But currently only wind can provide meaningful levels of low carbon capacity at a cost comparable to existing non-renewable technologies such as gas, coal and nuclear."

Looking afresh at the evidence

He tried to dispel "false assumptions" about the review.
  • It's not about finding one solution to all these challenges
  • carbon capture and storage is part of the picture
  • Campaigning for further liberalisation of the european energy market is too.
He concluded:
"One lesson personally learnt so far from this winter is that any discussion of long-term energy policy can cause more knee jerk reactions than a production of River Dance!
"I am not interested in spending the next few months responding to those people who have written off this review as a forgone [sic] conclusion - or who believe that there is only one answer to the challenges we’re facing.
"Some are more interested in advancing the superiority of their own position than considering afresh the evidence. That is why we are sticking to the facts and looking to engage with people who are ready to have a serious debate."

Well, The Low Carbon Kid won't take this snipe personally. I always believe in being open, transparent and objective.
Facts: bring on the superglue and I'll stick to them. Serious? Are you joking?

Nuclear waste found in Grozny is a warning

The discovery of a batch of cobalt-90 in the ruins of a factory in Grozny, Chechnya, should serve as a warning to those cavalier types who want to press ahead with more nuclear plant-building.

The material had been there for a decade and has raised radiation levels to 58,000 times above normal.

No one can say where it came from.

If Britain and other European countries opt for more nuclear power in the future, it will inevitably mean other countries besides China - already constructing 30 new plants - wanting to be copycats.

Not all countries have the same level of security, as this episode demonstrates.

Nor should the UK smugly think it couldn't happen here. A few years ago Japan sent back a shipment of waste from BNFL because the paperwork was incorrect.

Grozny's scene sounds like one from a 1980s dystopian movie: once a mighty industrial centre, its factories are now a wasteland of twisted steel -- many of them dotted with machine gun nests.

Almost all the city was destroyed by Russian bombing in 1999-2000 trying to reassert central control over separatist rebels, who still attack troops and police daily from within their radioactive cloud.

A taste of the future? Please, no. Even though it may be "better than global warming".

Friday, December 16, 2005

Good news for electricity customers

Customers will soon be receiving statements from their electricity supplier telling them where their electricity comes from. This means they will have the evidence to become more choosy about its origins.

Ofgem has published the final draft of its guidelines today on this subject.

The statement will show how much of your electricity comes from coal, natural gas, nuclear, renewable and other sources. For some customers, it may be surprise!

The guidelines say:
  • The first year in which the relevant information must be supplied to customers is from 1 October 2005 to 30 September 2006, referring to electricity supplied from 1 April 2004 to 31 March 2005.
  • Suppliers are required to publish fuel mix information at least annually to each customer that receives a bill or a statement, provided that the licensee has supplied electricity for a full disclosure period.
  • The DTI will publish a Fuel Mix Disclosure Data Table every 1 August.
  • Suppliers should tell you the amounts of CO2 emissions, and radioactive waste generated from each source.
The Low Carbon Kid hopes this will wake a lot of people up to the impact of their lifestyles, and get them to change to renewable tarriffs.

In combination with the requirement for homes to have Energy Labels from June 2007, it may also encourage them to be more energy efficient.

The $42 billion a year renewables industry

The total global investment in clean energy (renewable energy plus low-carbon technologies) in 2005 will be around $42.2 billion, according to estimates from New Energy Finance.

Sounds a lot. But it must be put in context.

It is equivalent to just 6.7 percent of the $630 billion estimated by the International Energy Agency (IEA) last year as the total worldwide annual demand for investment in the energy industry through to 2030 ($568 billion in 2000 dollars expressed in 2005 dollars).

Contrast this to the latest forecast from the US Department of Energy which said consumption of renewable energy in the United States will increase by just 1.8% a year over the next quarter-century.

This itself wouldn't even keep up with rising energy demand. Instead it's an excuse to keep burning coal and gas, and shows the lack of vision in the current administration.

[DoE also admits that this forecast implies an annual increase of 1.2% in CO2 emissions to 8,115 Mt by 2030 from 5,815 Mt in 2004. Just what we need.]

Back in the real world we see renewables have at least arrived: "At over $42 billion in annual investment volume, the clean energy industry worldwide has achieved a meaningful scale," said Michael Liebreich, Founder and CEO of New Energy Finance.

"However, it is clear that for there to be a truly meaningful switch in the current energy mix away from fossil sources -- without the need for a massive build-out in nuclear capacity around the world -- levels of investment in clean energy will have to go up by a factor of at least five over the next decade," said Liebreich, "which translates into a sustained growth rate of nearly 20 percent per annum."

20% a year. That's not feasible is it? Do we have the capacity, even with China?

UK Energy Policy Review - ask no questions

Malcolm Wicks, MP, Energy Minister,is giving a speech to the Social Market Foundation on the Review of UK Energy Policy, next Monday 19th December 11-12 noon.

The Low Carbon Kid got an invitation. It said: "Mr Wicks will use the event, his first since the announcement and in advance of publication of a consultation document early in the New Year, to set out his thoughts to a specially invited audience of stakeholders and industry experts. The Review is intended to bring forward policy proposals during 2006."

I replied asking if it would be possible to ask questions.

I was told, no. He will just be giving a speech. Then he'll be leaving.

Some consultation.

Is this what the Review is going to be like?

They couldn't possibly have made up their minds already could they?

Microgeneration: the way forward

By 2050, we could be seeing 30-40% of our power coming from tiny turbines and roof-top PV and thermal solar panels, says a report commissioned by the DTI, and there could be a significant uptake within just ten years.

But this won't happen given the derisory support currently given by the DTI to this type of technology.

The recently-announced £30m over 3 years for its Low Carbon Buildings Programme is LESS than the previous / current grants they replace, like the Clear Skies.

Think how little this will buy.

Parliament needs to unblock The Management of Energy in Buildings Bill, promoted by Alan Whitehead MP. It proposes to increase the energy efficiency and use of renewables in buildings, and to reduce fuel poverty.

The Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill should also be passed.

Potential for Microgeneration

The report, Potential for Microgeneration - study and analysis, has been published by the Energy Saving Trust and was carried out to feed into the DTI's Low Carbon Building programme.

EST chief executive Philip Sellwood said: "Over the next ten to 40 years a large proportion of homes in the UK could be generating their own energy."

Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks said: "I would like more micro wind turbines, solar panels and other technologies on schools, homes and businesses as they can make a real difference in reducing the UK's carbon emissions, as well as helping people to understand better where our energy comes from and increase their energy efficiency. "

So pass these bills, stupid.

But more likely they are waiting for the Government's Microgeneration Strategy, due in April.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Most people don't want new nukes

A survey conducted in 18 countries showed 62 percent of around 18,000 respondents [makes a change from the usual survey sample base of 500] said existing nuclear facilities should continue to be used but 59 percent were opposed to building new plants.

It was commissioned by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is charged with promoting nuclear energy.

The countries surveyed included the world's richest nations, such as the United States, Britain, France, and Japan, and less developed states like Cameroon, Jordan, Morocco and Indonesia.

It did not, however, include Austria, a staunch opponent of nuclear power. The IAEA is based there. Funny that they don't have friends in their home area.

Greenpeace said the survey's results showed people thought nuclear energy dangerous.

"It shows that no matter how much money the industry tries to throw at this, the majority still believe that nuclear is dirty, decrepit and dangerous," Greenpeace nuclear analyst William Peden told Reuters.

The Low Carbon Kid thinks this is a cheap shot. Decrepit - shurely shome mishtake?

Clinton admits Iraq war was about oil

Yesterday, Hilary Clinton unveiled the Democrats' plan to make the US self-sufficient in energy by 2020.

Such an effort would be on the level of Kennedy's plan to put a man on the moon by the end of the '60s in 1961. Achievable - just.

And it is to be widely welcomed, if it means a big push to greater efficiency and renewables. Although it also means the Alaskan natural gas pipeline.

When she announced the initiative she made a neat slip of the tongue that revealed her opinion that the Iraq war was about grabbing oil for the US.

She said that the US spends $50 billion a year to deploy its heavy mob in the Mid-East Gulf area and to supply weapons, bully-boy tactics and despotism-for-dummies training to countries to keep that oil flowing to the United States [well, not in so many words]. "And that does not include the lives and dollars we are spending in Iraq" she added, in tell-tale fashion.

The Democrats would face formidable enemies at home rather than abroad if they pursued the line their 'Energy Independence 2020' plan calls for.

Robert Ebel, the head the energy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, responded by saying the huge number of service stations and vehicles in the US [read: pushers and users] make the goal "dubious".

"We have to recognize that oil producers and consumers need each other" Like junkies and dealers. "What we need is more energy interdependence, not energy independence." Whatever that means.

He said the money the United States sends abroad to secure oil "is an expense that the US bears to keep the world going ahead in ... economic terms."

But why should ordinary Americans pay for this? US oil addiction makes up a third of its trade deficit. It swallows about a quarter of the 80 million barrels of oil the world uses every day.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Wales waves hello to sea power

The UK’s first commercial-scale wave power station is to be installed off the Welsh coast.

The first stage of the development (cost: £12 million and part funded by the Welsh European Funding Office) will see the deployment of a 7MW ‘Wave Dragon’ off the coast of West Wales, near Milford Haven by Spring 2007.

Eventually (subject to regulatory consents) the project will have a total capacity of 77MW.

The first stage is a 7MW Wave Dragon unit off the coast of West Wales, near Milford Haven, by spring 2006.

A Wave Dragon unit is an offshore floating device that works by channeling waves into a reservoir which is above sea level. The water is then released through a number of turbines and generates electricity in the same way as hydro power plants.

The technology has been developed and tested over the past eight years in tanks in Denmark and Ireland. The Danish prototype is believed to be the first offshore device in the world to deliver power to a national electricity grid.

The London-based developers are KP Renewables plc, an AIM-quoted, renewable energy project developer, and Danish Wave Dragon Ltd.

The directors of KPR believe that development of the Wave Dragon wave energy project has the potential to generate new jobs in a wide range of industries across Wales and beyond, including maritime services, engineering, construction, and via extensive collaboration with Welsh universities.

In 2003 the total electricity consumption for Wales was 15,158Gwh. So we would need about 15 plants like this to supply all of Wales.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Buncefield fuel depot explosion doesn't matter

Accidents will happen.

Sure it's awful. All those carcinogens in the air and water supply. All that pollution, damage and disruption.

But hey, it's fine. We won't grumble. We can manage. The plant managers did their best.

That's been the general reaction to the explosion from locals and government.

"I didn't give the plant a moment's thought - anyway, one accident in 30 years isn't too bad", said one man living half a mile away who'd been sent to hospital with glass in his eye.

Now, just do a little thought experiment. If this explosion had been due to a terrorist attack, what would the reaction have been like?

"We need more security!" "New laws!" "They tried to completely destroy our way of life!" "Striking at the heart of the British infrastructure and economy!"

So it's gratifying to hear a more objective voice of reason.

Step forward Professor Rob Thring, head of the University's Department of Aeronautical and Automotive Engineering. Professor Thring said the explosion and reactions to it: "have shown that we are like drug addicts, hooked on petroleum".

Which is exactly what the Low Carbon Kid thinks.

Addicts are always in denial about the negative aspects of their addiction.

I knew one once who carried on injecting even when he had to have his leg amputated. I know a cancer sufferer who keeps smoking; she's already lost one breast.

Vast clouds of noxious smoke burning for days? Square miles of devastation? Bring it all on! We can take it.

By the way, Prof Thring wants us to develop fuel cells rapidly if we want to continue using motor vehicles. His Proton Exchange Membrane fuel cells use hydrogen fuel and oxygen from the air to produce electricity.

He believes petrol prices should be increased and the extra revenue ploughed into fuel cell research.

Professor Thring said: "If we can all use motor vehicles so freely, without any thought for cost, then clearly fuel is too cheap and there is no incentive for us to consider alternative energy sources."

Dream on, professor. It'll never be too expensive until it runs out. £5 litre? Never mind I'll just sell my body -- and the kids.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Miracle at Montreal

Beyond expectations, the Montreal climate change talks have pulled a rabbit out of the hat and succeeded in shaming the US negotiators back to the discussion table.

They are now prepared to enter talks on what will happen after 2012, when Kyoto expires, as long as they are "open-ended", i.e. do not appear to commit themselves to binding targets.

The Montreal negotiations have followed two tracks: one to advance the current Kyoto processes; and a broader one, under the 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, to sketch out a way beyond Kyoto.

Beyond Kyoto

Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth has said that these are the toughest negotiations ever faced by humanity. He's not wrong.

To get all the nations on earth even to admit the cause and scale of the problem is an achievement.

Then to get them to agree on how to tackle the issue is another incredible achievement.

There is, amazingly, some cause for optimism that the world can sometimes see sense.

We reached global agreements over other mutual threats in the past: with the ozone layer, and with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Now we are doing it with climate change.

[Perhaps it's because in every case we're listening to scientists rather than religious nutcases.]

In these negotiations, the self-styled "leader of the free world" abandoned its role, and tried to walk away. What an example for everyone else.

But after walking away two nights ago it was shamed back to the table by not only the vast majority of the other countries, but by many of its own people, its own media, and Bill Clinton.

They recognise that the puppet-masters that pull the Bush administration's strings - the oil junky pushers - are in danger of steering America, and the world with it, over the edge.

Let's just look at the current American position for a second.

The Low Carbon Kid likes to take the view that the stories a country tells itself say a lot about it.

America churns out sci-fi stories about galactic empires or federations where they all speak American English. It sees itself bucking all frontiers and reaching to the stars.

This has as much chance of happening as George Bush becoming Superman, but it won't even make it to Mars unless it faces up to the reality of its own behaviour.

Like the spoilt child at the party who won't play unless everyone uses his rules, America threw a tantrum.

It is a sign of maturity when that child stops wailing and begins to see himself as others see him and accept responsibility for its own actions.

America has a very long way to go to do this [check Harold Pinter's Nobel Prize speech this week], but maybe it has just started to do so.

Kyoto enshrined

Yes, we're going the right way. The negotiators agreed that the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) will last beyond 2012 and nations have pledged to increase its finance from $6 million to $18 million for 2006-07.

This will give it more staff and resources to process projects faster, which is urgently needed.

If successful, this could channel as much as $100 billion in low carbon investments to the developing world.

"This puts the CDM process on a much more professional basis," said Andrei Marcu, president of the International Emissions Trading Association. "This represents progress and a basis to work on."

They've also agreed the rules for policing the Kyoto Protocol.

Any country that overshoots its targets will have to make up the shortfall, PLUS an extra 30 percent in the next period.

That's community service for offenders and then some.

Countries can also lose the right to trade emissions of greenhouse gases. You have to play ball or lose out.

These are big penalties.

According to the Financial Tiimes, businesses and poorer nations will gain more than €10bn by 2012 as a result.

The Low Carbon Kid reckons this is a very serious underestimate.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The first climate change refugees

Rising seas have forced 100 people in Lateu, Tegua, a Pacific island, to move to higher ground.

It could be the first example of a village formally displaced because of modern global warming, a UNEP report said on Monday.

With coconut palms on the coast already in water, inhabitants started dismantling their wooden homes in August and moved about 600 yards (meters) inland.

Many other coastal communities are vulnerable to rising seas, such as New Orleans, Venice.

We care about these. But who cares about a bunch of Pacific islanders?

Blair has taken leadership on climate change.

It's always a good tactic that if you want little to happen about something, you take charge of it. Then you can block any really good ideas.

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Brown, a Nero for our times

Nero fiddled while Rome burnt, but Gordon Brown is doing a different kind of fiddling while the earth warms - with his figures.

Yesterday's Pre-Budget Report confirmed the snail's pace at which this government is determined to take its self-avowed leadership role on climate change.

So he went, as the Low Carbon Kid hoped, for a windfall tax on those record oil company profits, scooping an extra £2.3bn a year for the government coffers.

But will he spend this on energy efficiency? What, spend money to save money? In your dreams.

Instead, he's plugging his own public spending holes, giving another £580 million for the war in Iraq ("the special reserve in 2005-06") and "the UK’s other international obligations", and an extra £85 million for the "war on terror" - or as Brown put it, "to advance the ongoing expansion of the security and intelligence agencies, and extending the availability of the £50 million Counter-Terrorism Pool beyond 2005-06". It's about oil, stupid.

He is also reducing the tax on oil used to generate electricity from 1 January 2006. This is due to EU pressure, as the Climate Change Levy means it is currently being taxed twice.

Duty is also charged at a reduced rate on oils where they are put to certain uses. These exemptions are due to expire at the end of 2006.

But the Chancellor said he wants to apply for an extension of the derogations for fuel used in - wait for it - private air and pleasure craft navigation.

These are used by rich people only, and for fun - the Low Carbon Kid demands to know what on earth is the case for not hitting these sqaundering rich bastards with quadruple tax increases to stop them heating the planet for fun!

The other exemptions to be applied for make more sense: liquified petroleum gas (LPG) and natural gas (NG) used as motor fuel, and waste oils reused as fuel.

Finally, the Government published its draft Code for Sustainable Homes for consultation, available at

The code is based extensively on the excellent EcoHomes system developed by the Building Research Establishment (BRE). But WWF has already heavily criticised other aspects of the Code, and so has the Construction Products Association, complaining that with its reliance on the planning system it could actually result in fewer homes being built.

So here is the schedule for future action.

Action: Date

Energy Efficiency Innovation Review (EEIR) evidence published: December
UK Energy Research Partnership (UKERP) launched: January
Seminar with business on developing energy services markets: January
Revised Climate Change Programme : January/February
Dialogue opened with business on improving energy efficiency investment: January/February
Air Quality Strategy consultation: ?
Government response to the Biomass Taskforce: April
DTI microgeneration strategy: April
Result of Energy Review (inc. response to EEIR): Summer
Stern Review on economics of climate change: Autumn
Comprehensive Spending Review (inc. response to EEIR): 2007
Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO).: April 2008.

All of this is just policymaking.

So can any one tell me why the Stern Review on economics of climate change, which you would have thought should have been made available urgently, won't publish its conclusions until after the Energy Review, for which you'd have thought it would be providing the figures?

It's a bit like investing in new plant, without finding out first if it's worth it.

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Friday, December 02, 2005

Iraq: the oil-powered light at the end of the tunnel

Mission nearly accomplished. That's the feeling we're getting, as hints are increasing from both the US and UK administrations that troops will withdraw next year.

And not a moment too soon, we all cry. Enough body bags!

But why then?

Is anything changing? Are the "insurgent" atttacks decreasing?


Is security and life any better for ordinary Iraqis?


Are fewer bodybags coming home?

'Fraid not.

So what's the reason?

Because by then, a deal to get the US' and UK's hands on Iraqi oil will have been signed.

When it is: mission accomplished. Apart from the 18 US bases that have been established there, we'll be outta there, and good riddance.

The oil deal is a Production Sharing Agreement (PSA) being arranged with Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraq Energy Council, whom the US neocons had originally wanted to be Iraq's top dog.

He's the one who assured the world that Iraq had WMDs, providing Bush with the pretext for the war.

He recently visited Washington, for a moment of togetherness with Vice President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Secretary of State Condi Rice. And the Low Carbon Kid doesn't think they were discussing the Kyoto Protocol.

According to a November 22 report, backed by charities and thinktanks including War on Want, the Global Policy Forum and Institute for Policy Studies, the PSA being discussed will deprive Iraq of ol revenue worth $2,800 to $7,400 per Iraqi adult over the likely 30-year lifespan.

By comparison, Iraqi gross domestic product is now only $2,100 per person.

It will enable oil companies to safely invest the $20 billion needed to expand current production capacity towards a six million barrels per day (bpd) target.

Repeated sabotage has prevented Iraq meeting its immediate aim of three million bpd, last seen in 1990.

We get the guaranteed cheap oil.

Iraq gets a police state.

We've been here before. A PSA was set up after World War 1. (WW1 was partly begun to prevent Germany from finishing a rail link to Iraq that would have secured the oil for that country alone.)

Read the full story here.

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New research blows away wind power myths

The most extensive study yet of the UK's wind resource, blows away many myths about wind power.

The research, conducted by Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute for the DTI, analysed hourly wind speed records collected by the Met Office at 66 locations across the UK since 1970.

The key findings are:
• The UK has the best wind resource in Europe. The recorded capacity factor for onshore wind energy in the UK is 27%, greater even than in Germany (15%) and Denmark (20%) where wind farms are currently most widespread.
• Availability of wind power in the UK is greater at precisely the times that we need it - during peak daytime periods and during the winter.
• The UK wind resource is dependable. The likelihood of low wind speeds affecting 90% of the country would only occur for one hour every five years.
• The chance of wind turbines shutting down due to very high wind speeds is exceedingly rare - high winds affecting 40% or more of the UK would occur in around one hour every 10 years and never affect the whole country.

Graham Sinden, author of the report from the Environmental Change Institute research team said:

"The UK wind resource offers a reliable source of electricity that is not only low carbon, but reduces the UK's reliance on imported fuels.

"By examining such extensive wind records from throughout the UK, we can be very confident that the study identified both long term trends and the most extreme wind conditions the UK will experience."

Many anti-wind farm campaigners persist in saying wind turbines are useless, don't work when needed, and inefficient. This evidence will hopefully finish the argument once and for all (who am I kidding?!).

More: Wind Power and the UK Wind Resource from the Environmental Change Institute

North East has worst carbon emissions record

Defra has published trial statistics on levels of carbon emissions by local authority areas for 2003.

They show that in almost half of local authority areas the domestic sector generates more emissions than industry, commerce and the public sector.

The North East has the worst per capita emissions, followed by Wales, with N. Ireland coming off best.

The figures will hopefully allow local authorities to develop a strategy to reduce them.

Equally, more needs to be done to sell the energy efficiency message to residents in these areas.

See: Defra site

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WWF resigns "in despair" over Government unsustainability

The WWF has resigned "in despair" from the Government's Senior Steering Group on building design, accusing the Government of backsliding on key environmental issues.

After working closely with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in developing the Code for Sustainable Buildings, for "18 months of agonisingly slow progress", the ODPM is due to issue a draft code which seems to be weaker than existing building regulations.

Robert Napier, Chief Executive of WWF-UK, said "It appears that the recommendations and advice of the Senior Steering Group has been ignored and, in a final demonstration of disregard, the members of the Senior Steering Group have not even been given the opportunity to comment on the draft."

The Code will be a requirement for the public sector in all building projects.

It was meant to address such issues as energy efficiency, as well as ensuring new developments have good public transport links and have ecological assessments as part of the planning process.

But Napier says the draft code drops these. "WWF seeks to work constructively with progressive government agencies, but on this occasion we regret we can no longer sanction what Mr Prescott's department is producing. The Government must now take the public consultation extremely seriously if it stands any chance of delivering what is so urgently needed," Napier said.

The draft Code for Sustainable Buildings is to be announced next week as part of Gordon Brown's pre-budget report.

WWF is the latest in a string of environmental bodies to be tearing their hair out over Government green policies.

The Low Carbon Kid has been closely watching developments for the last ten years and it is plain that this goverment has been stringing along environmentalists with a lot of fine talk and little action.

It should not be surprised this behaviour triggers a return to the days of Earth First! and direct action. It seems to be the only type of community involvement the government responds to.

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Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Gulf Stream is weakening

Measurements of ocean currents in the North Atlantic reveal that they have weakened by about 30 per cent since 1992.

The findings, published in the journal Nature, fit computer predictions of what would happen when Greenland glaciers begin to melt because of global warming.

The models suggest that extra freshwater released into the North Atlantic could weaken ocean currents and even shut down the Gulf Stream.

The Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research has calculated that if the current stopped, temperatures in northern Europe could drop by up to six degrees centigrade in 20 years.

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If scientists ruled the world...

Is it a shame the world isn't run by scientists?

What would it be like?

One thing's for sure, by the time the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Montreal ends on Dec. 9, we would have global agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 or 30 per cent in the follow-on period to the Kyoto agreement, which expires in 2012.

And Lord May, former Chief Scientist to the Government, president of the Royal Society, would be in the Senate.

In his retirement address to the RS, today, he is to criticise the creationist President George Bush for failing to follow through on the climate change commitments made by his father when he was president.

The current President Bush failed even to mention climate change, global warming or greenhouse gases in a 2,700-word speech on energy he made right after the Gleneagles G8 communiqué, Lord May will say.

"In short, we have here a classic example of the problem or paradox of co-operation ... the science tells us clearly we need to act now to reduce inputs of greenhouse gases, but unless all countries act in equitable proportions, the virtuous will be economically disadvantaged while all suffer the consequences of the sinners' inaction. In this sense, the climate-change disaster which looms this century is an appallingly large-scale experiment in the social sciences."

"If this experiment is to end in success for humankind, then it is essential that progress be made at the Montreal meeting."

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"The Kyoto Protocol is now fully operational"

Delegates at the Montreal conference on climate change have adopted the rules for limiting emissions of greenhouse gases under the U.N.'s Kyoto Protocol

All but one of the 22 sections of the rules were agreed, but Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, tried to put a spanner in the works by arguing that it wanted rules on compliance to be approved by an amendment to be ratified by all nations.

This would take years.

Jennifer Morgan, climate policy expert at the WWF environmental group, said Saudi Arabia was an ally of the United States and opposes talk about what to do after 2012.

Nevertheless, "This is an historic step," said Canadian Environment Minister Stephane Dion, host of the November 28-December 9 talks involving 190 nations.

"The Kyoto Protocol is now fully operational," he said. Kyoto obliges about 40 rich nations to curb their emissions of heat-trapping gases, mainly from burning fossil fuels in factories, cars and power plants, by 2012.

The big rule book includes details of accounting for greenhouse gases, how to encourage investments in developing countries, rules for trade in greenhouse gas emissions and piles of other operational details.

"I'm absolutely confident that we'll have agreements on the compliance system," said Richard Kinley, acting head of the secretariat of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change which oversees Kyoto.

"This gives the Kyoto Protocol the most innovative rule book we have in multilateral environmental agreements," said Artur Runge-Metzger, head of the European Commission delegation.

Sounds good. But in fact it is highly modest in the face of the challenge facing us.

Kyoto obliges about 40 developed nations to cut their emissions by 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-12.

The process to reach this agreement began in 1992. Did someone say that thirteen years is a short time in politics?

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China pities the US stance on climate change

China, one of the world's major polluters, urged another big carbon dumper, the United States, to join the Kyoto treaty yesterday.

China is also a member, with the US, of the Pacific-Asian group of countries, which the US formed this year as a means of subverting Kyoto by creating an alternative bloc of countries who don't believe targets are necessary to defeat Global Enemy No. 1.

China's Sun Guoshunis rejected arguments that the pact is flawed because it fails to restrict emissions by developing countries.

"We really feel pity that the U.S. has not yet and is not going to join the Kyoto Protocol, not only because of the size of its total emissions, but also because of its higher per-capita emissions," Sun, director of the Department of Treaty and Law at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in an interview.

He said his country was already cutting the polluting emissions, adding that it was unfair to expect China and India -- with the world's largest populations -- to ask their impoverished people to cut back on energy consumption.

Harlan Watson, the senior oil companies' pimp for the State Department, said Washington would not be party to any agreement with legally binding targets.

The Bush cartel's hatred of agreed emission limits is largely ideological.

It insists that they would destroy the American economy, but in fact the US has a (relatively) energy-efficient economy whose greenhouse gas emissions only grew 13.3 per cent between 1990 and 2003.

It would have much less trouble complying with Kyoto targets than Canada, whose emissions grew by 24.4 per cent in the same period and which (the coming elections notwithstanding) has been in favour.

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Only people power will tackle climate change

Tony Blair doesn't believe that making a serious effort to tackle environmental problems such as climate change is a vote winner.

But new evidence disputes this. Despite the lack of media coverage, described in the previous blog entry, 7 out of 10 people surveyed in a major British city said they'd be willing to take a personal pledge to take action on climate change.

8 out of 10 felt that their actions - at home and at work - could make a real difference.

The town was Manchester, home of Northern Soul and former 24-hour party people who, when asked if they'd like to see Greater Manchester taking the lead ahead of other cities, 8 out 10 replied 'Yes'.

A 'climate change pledge' campaign has already seen 12,000 people commit to help reduce the city's greenhouse gas emissions by 20% before 2010.

More: Manchester is my Planet

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