Tuesday, December 30, 2008

What EDF doesn't want, Npower picks up

Npower has bought the farmland next to Wylfa nuclear power station, which EDF bought in the summer and then hurriedly sold.

While the ignorant local MP, Albert Owen, and the council, equally ignorant, are in favour of a new nuclear power station here, a recent survey found opposition running at 80%.

The fact is, as I have blogged before, marine current turbines would represent a much more sustainable, long-lasting and low impact solution to any perceived energy or jobs crisis on the island of Anglesey.

Such turbines are already being installed by Marine Current Turbines.

There is an opposition campaign to Wylfa-B called, appropriately enough, People Against Wylfa B - PAWB. Go there and sign the petition.

As they point out, the fact that EDF sold the land next to Wylfa A, demonstrates that Wylfa is a weak contender for a second nuclear plant anyway.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Obama puts science and climate change at America's heart

"It's about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted nor obscured by politics nor ideology."

With these words, Barack Obama has drawn a line under the faith-based, oil-industry-biased policies of his predecessor.

He has made the following highly significant appointments which are fantastic news for climate-change campaigners, and which mean the world can now begin to hope that America can lead the way to a speedy about-turn in fossil-fuel dependence, and make up for eight lost years of Bush Presidency:
  • respected climatologist Jane Lubchenco is to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Steven Chu, a Nobel prizewinner, is to be Secretary of the Department of Energy
  • Harvard physicist John Holdren has been made director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Steven Chu believes, rightly, that the best way to reduce greenhouse emissions is to waste less energy, by investing in energy efficiency.

He believes America can reduce its energy use without reducing its wealth, and has worked with the Helios Project, the research initiative Berkeley Lab launched for breakthrough renewable energy and efficiency technology - nanotech photovoltaics, microbial and cellulosic biofuels, and chemical photosynthesis. This despite the fact that his Nobel Prize was for his work in atomic physics.

In this video he explains his philosophy:

Holdren, an entrepreneur-supporting scientist who has worked with Paul Ehrlich and received the Nobel Peace Prize, knows about the new figures that show the rapid acceleration in the loss of Arctic sea ice, as well as dramatic acidification of the ocean.

Lubchenco (the first woman to hold the position of head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has said that even if the world abruptly shifts away from fossil fuels, the oceans will continue to soak up carbon dioxide and become more acidic. She recommends protecting marine life by reducing overfishing, cutting back on nutrient run-off and creating marine reserves to protect marine eco-systems.

Friday, December 19, 2008

New grants for renewable energy

The Government has announced £12 million in funding for industry, businesses and community groups investing in biomass-fuelled heating and combined heat and power systems, including anaerobic digesters, in England.

It's a pittance, a drop in the ocean, but it's better than a kick in the gonads.

Round 5 of the Bio-energy Capital Grants Scheme is now open for applications until at least 30 April 2009.

It will pay 40% of the difference in cost of a biomass boiler and the fossil fuel alternative up to £500,000. “Nearly half of the UK’s carbon emissions come from heating, so it’s essential to change how we heat businesses, hospitals, schools and community buildings,” says Sustainable Development and Energy Innovation Minister, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.

Since the scheme was launched in 2002, £55 million has been used to set up biomass power stations, biomass-fuelled heat and power plants and biomass heating systems.

Schools, hospitals, charities and local authorities can also apply for a slice of £7 million from the Low Carbon Buildings Programme for microgeneration technologies.

Get your hot ROCS off!

Renewable electricity supplier Good Energy has launched HotROCs, the UK's first Renewable Heat Incentive.

It intends to pay domestic solar heat generators for the heat energy they produce.

Over 450 businesses and homes have also signed up to its HomeGen scheme, which pays 10p for every unit of renewable electricity generated - including the units they use at home.

> www.good-energy.co.uk

Health test for new nuclear power stations

A government consultation ending in March is asking whether we regard four designs put forward for new nuclear power stations in the UK meet health criteria, when balanced against their alleged benefits.

The criteria include the health detriment, defined as an estimate of the risk of reduction in length and quality of life occurring in a population following exposure to ionising radiations.

The Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) has put forward the proposals, which are being examined as stage one of a legal process on the road to the potential construction of a new generation of nuclear power stations.

They are being tested under the Justification of Practices Involving Ionising Radiation Regulations 2004, a piece of EU legislation transposed into UK law.

These stipulate that before any new type of practice involving ionising radiation can be introduced in the UK, it must first undergo a high-level, generic assessment to determine whether its overall benefit outweighs any associated health detriment.

The Minister for Energy and Climate Change Mike O'Brien will decide the result of the consultation, which ends in March. It will be followed by a further consultation between September and December 2009 on his draft decision.

The Low Carbon Kid says no health detriment is acceptable. And what about the health of future generations, and those in the nuclear fuel and decommissioning life cycle? But we're not allowed to comment on that, so narrow are the terms of this consultation.

> Consultation on whether new nuclear power stations in the UK meet health criteria

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Poznan and Brussels: Failure

The news from Poznan and from the European Union is deeply depressing.

In Europe what we are seeing is a last ditch attempt by the dinosaurs of the old industrial system to hang on to what they once had.

The transition to a low carbon economy to cope with the pressures of climate change was always going to be either chaotic and disruptive, or managed and planned well. It looks like it is more the first than the last.

Governments pay far too much attention to the demands of the old industries. At the very least they should be giving concessions to them only in exchange for targeted, rapid evolution to reliance on post-carbon technology.

At Poznan it is the developed countries who have blocked the establishment of rigorous targets. At Brussels, it was Germany s trying to protect its heavy industry in a bizarre alliance with Poland and Berlusconi.

Poznan also saw little progress in helping the developing world make the necessary transition -- the developed world is now too caught up in a financial crisis of its own making.

Is this the worst possible outcome? Not quite. There are still more negotiations to come in the post-Kyodo process. But one thing we don't have is time.

Representatives of the Cap and Share group of which the Low Carbon Kid is a member who went to Poznan reported back on the almost futility of their visit. Thousands of campaigners, each with their own particular message actually locked out of the area where the real decision-making was taking place.

Our own strategy will now be to target decision-makers here. Beginning with the policymakers at DECC and the new Climate Change Committee led by Lord Turner who put out their own sadly inadequate report two weeks ago. Why inadequate? Because the climate is changing more rapidly than predicted two years ago by the IPCC.

In case anybody doubts that the hour is not late, do read the evidence amassed in this report by my colleagues at the Public Information Research Centre.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

300 NGOs agree - Keep nuclear power out of climate talks

The Low Carbon Kid is not alone! In only one week, over 300 NGOs representing millions of individuals from 50 countries in every corner of the planet signed on to the public appeal to keep the nuclear power option out of the climate talks.

Three dozen environmental leaders from 16 countries braved icy cold weather yesterday morning in front of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Meeting in Poznan, Poland where they called nuclear power “a Mickey Mouse solution” to climate change.

The activists were carrying banners and posters with lively slogans including “Don’t Nuke the Climate,” “No Nuclear Power in The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)” and “Nuclear Power, No Thanks!”

Most were wearing T-shirts with the familiar “Mickey Mouse ears” emblazoned with the radiation symbol.

The activists, representing non-governmental organizations from European countries, Taiwan, South Korea, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, California and elsewhere, announced the release of a global call for the elimination of proposals to include nuclear power as an approved investment for greenhouse gas mitigation in the 2nd commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol of the UNFCCC.

Spokespeople from the four organizers of today’s action made their case throughout the morning by talking one-on-one to hundreds of government delegates and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as they entered the conference site for morning sessions.

Speaking to the press, Sabine Bock, coordinator of energy and climate protection for Women in Europe for a Common Future (WECF) said: “Nuclear energy has proven in the past that it is a threat not only to our health and the environment, but also to human rights.”

“In our work at WECF with local communities,” Bock continued, “we have encountered severe health problems and human rights abuses of populations due to the harmful effects of nuclear energy and radiation.” Bock added: “We can’t understand why governments still promote this dangerous technology rather than taking the opportunity to develop safe and sustainable new, renewable, and clean energy solutions.”

Jan Van de Putte, Nuclear Campaign Coordinator for Greenpeace described nuclear power as an obstacle to effective climate protection saying that money invested in nuclear power is not nearly as effective as money invested in wind power, for example.”

“Nuclear power is a dangerous and dirty energy source – it provides too little energy for mitigation at too slow a pace and at too great a cost.” Van de Putte continued, “the cost per Kwh of nuclear power is double that of wind energy. It just doesn’t make sense to pursue this outdated energy source.”

Vladimir Slivyak, Co-Chair of Ecodefense Russia called upon his national government as well as other delegations, to stop promoting nuclear power into the Kyoto Protocol via provisions for Joint Implementation and the Clean Development Mechanism. “78 % of Russians are opposed to nuclear power,” Slivyak said. “We demand that the Russian delegation stop any plans to develop new nuclear plants.” “We further call on all governments to stop new nuclear development.”

Claire Greensfelder, Deputy Director of the International Forum on Globalization of San Francisco, California, said: “Despite year after year of rejection by the state parties to the Convention, the nuclear industry (and a small group of states) continues to promote the economic and public health disaster of nuclear power.” Greensfelder continued: “We also have grave concerns about the health and environmental impacts of increased uranium mining, milling and nuclear waste storage, much of which is on indigenous peoples’ lands, many of whom are opposed to continued nuclear development.” “Indigenous peoples’ right to free prior and informed consent of development on their lands, as established by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, (passed in the UN General Assembly in September 2007), must be taken into consideration.”

Holding a colorful homemade banner proclaiming “No Fishy Nukes!,”, Gloria Hsu, Chair, of the Taiwan Environmental Protection Union (TEPU) said: “Using nuclear power for CO2 reduction is the same as drinking some poison to quench your thirst.”

“We have managed thus far to keep nuclear power out of the Kyoto Protocol,” said Peer de Rijk, executive director of World Information Service on Energy (WISE) speaking from Amsterdam. “We will continue to do whatever we can to achieve the same for a much be-needed post Kyoto agreement. Nuclear energy is a deadlock, blocking real solutions. Don’t nuke the climate! »

> the statement on NIRS' website

> A list of the organizational signers on NIRS' website

Monday, December 08, 2008

The undiscussed supply chain

Below is the original, longer version of my latest Guardian Comment is Free piece,
Extracting a disaster

The extraction of uranium is dangerous, leaves a toxic legacy for millions of years in vulnerable parts of the world, and is hardly conducted in an ethical fashion, yet British ministers - while sourcing FSC timber - are complacent about the supply-chain consequences of their enthusiasm for nuclear new build.

The Government is in a hurry to get eight new nuclear plants built around the country. It is even manipulating the planning laws to achieve this end: the Planning Act, Climate Change Act and Energy Act became law this week, all of which pave the way for a new generation of nuclear power stations. Nuclear power is the Government's magic ticket not only to meet its 2020 carbon emission goals and "stop the lights going out" but to export British nuclear know-how around the globe.

One can condemn ministers' gung-ho enthusiasm for this technology from any number of angles: the threat of terrorist attack; nuclear proliferation; global insecurity; the waste legacy, and so on.

I want to discuss one that is rarely raised: the fuel supply chain.

The UK Government has in place guidelines for the ethical and sustainable sourcing of many raw materials. The Government promotes Corporate Social Responsibility, and in this context Tony Blair launched something called the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative [http://eitransparency.org/ ] t the World Summit for Sustainable Business Development in 2001. The Government's Sustainable Procurement Action Plan includes purchasing advice for its departments and agencies in order to reduce waste production, energy and water use, and reduce impact upon biodiversity. The most obvious example is timber; Government departments and agencies are supposed to source timber using the internationally recognised auditing trails.

But you won't find anything about uranium sourcing in that document, because the government itself does not buy uranium: British Energy does that. And yet the increased sourcing of raw uranium that will arise from nuclear new build is directly due to the U-turn in government policy on nuclear power that has come in the last three years.

The World Nuclear Association (WNA), the trade body for the ten companies that make up 90% of the industry, has convinced politicians that "Nuclear energy is one of the very few available large-scale sources of clean energy (CO2 free)" [http://www.iaea.org/OurWork/ST/NE/NEFW/documents/RawMaterials/CD_TM_IBPinUM&P%20200810/02WNA%20pres%20-%20IAEA-WNA%20TM%20-%20u%20mining%20EH&S%20-%2015oct08.pdf].

The WNA admits that in "emerging uranium producing countries" there is frequently no adequate environmental health and safety legislation, let alone monitoring. It is considerately proposing a Charter of Ethics containing Principles of Uranium Stewardship for its members to follow. But this is a self-policing voluntary arrangement. Similarly, the International Atomic Energy Agency's Safety Guide to the Management of Radioactive Waste from the Mining and Milling of Ores are not legally binding on operators.

The problem is that transparency is not a value enshrined in the extractive or the nuclear industries. Put the two together and you have a major quality of information problem. Access to the truth is, to say the least, uncertain. Journalists and others trying to obtain reliable information find themselves blocked. Recently, to tackle this issue, Panos Institute West Africa (IPAO) held a training seminar for journalists in Senegal which highlighted that only persistent investigation - or, in the case of the Tuareg, violent rebellion - has a chance of uncovering the truth.

The co-editor of The Republican in Niger, Ousseini Issa, said that only due to local media campaigns was there a revision of the contract linking Niger to the French company Areva. "We realized then that the country drew little benefit from uranium. As a result of our efforts, the price of a kilogram of uranium increased from 25,000 to 40,000 CFA francs," he said. This means that the local community receives a decent income from the extraction of their resources.

IPAO has plenty of evidence that in Africa the legacy of mining is often terrible health, water contamination and other pollution problems. The health and safety of workers and local communities is frequently a low priority. IPAO would laugh at the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative – an Orwellian creation.

What is the effect of uranium mining specifically? Under current world market conditions, nuclear fuel from fresh uranium is cheaper than from recycled uranium or recycled plutonium (MOX), which is why there is a uranium rush going on worldwide.

To produce enough uranium fuel - about 25 tonnes - to keep your average (1300 MW) reactor going for a year entails the extraction of half a million tonnes of waste rock and over 100,000 tonnes of mill tailings. These are toxic for hundreds of thousands of years. The conversion plant will generate a further 144 tonnes of solid waste and 1343 cubic metres of liquid waste.

Contamination of local water supplies around uranium mines and processing plants has been documented in Brazil, Colorado, Texas, Australia, Namibia and many other sites. To supply the number of power stations worldwide expected to be online in 2020 would mean generating 50 million tonnes of toxic radioactive residue every single year.

The milling process recovers about 95% of the uranium. The residues, or tailings, contain naturally-occurring radioactive elements, including uranium, thorium, radium, polonium, and radon-222 emissions. In countries like the US, the Environmental Protection Agency sets limits of emissions from the dumps and monitors them. This does not happen in many less developed areas.

The current market prices of nuclear fuel do not include all of the costs incurred. For uranium mill tailings, the long-term management cost that is not covered by the uranium price may be as high as the uranium cost itself. The situation for the depleted uranium waste arising during enrichment even may be worse, says the World Information Service on Energy.

No one can convince me that the above process is carbon-free. It takes a lot of – almost certainly fossil-fuelled - energy to move that amount of rock and process the ore. But the carbon cost is often not in the country where the fuel is consumed - certainly in the case of the UK. So that's why it's ‘carbon free’.

And what of the other costs? Over half of the world’s uranium is in Australia and Canada. In Australia the Government is relishing the idea of making money from the nuclear renaissance being predicted, and uranium mining is expanding all over the place. Australian greens are fast losing the optimism they felt when the Labor Party won the last election. The temptation to cash in the expense of the environment and traditional peoples under the pretense of it being 'low carbon' is too much.

Uranium mining has often been a disaster for indigenous peoples. In the Northern Territory plans to expand a nuclear dump at Muckaty station are being pushed forward with no regard for the land's Aboriginal owners. The supposedly greener new Australian government Minister Martin Ferguson has failed to deliver an election promise to overturn the Howard Government's Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act, which earmarks a series of sites for nuclear waste dumps. Senator Ludlam asked him last week at a senate hearing: "How can Martin Ferguson wash his hands of this issue and allow small Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory to cop this waste in a repeat of the worst nuclear colonialism of the past?"

In South Australia, in August the Australian Government approved the expansion of a controversial uranium mine, Beverley ISL. This was dubbed a “blank cheque licence for pollution”. Groundwater specialist Dr Gavin Mudd, a lecturer in environmental engineering at Monash University, has examined the data from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and called for it to be “independently verified by people not subservient to the mining industry” (The Epoch Times Sept. 2, 2008).

Elsewhere in the Northern Territory, on Oct. 31 BHP Billiton said it plans to have the first of five planned stages of expansion at its Olympic Dam mine in production by 2013. This will increase production capacity to 200,000 tonnes of copper, 4500 tonnes of uranium and 120,000 ounces of gold. This is a vast open cast mine, from which the wind can carry away radioactive dust.

Not far away locals are fighting a new uranium mine 25 kilometres south of Alice Springs. Elsewhere, at the Ranger mines, on November 17, Energy Resources of Australia - 68.4% owned by Rio Tinto - said it expects to find 30,000 to 40,000 tonnes of ore in the Ranger 3 Deeps area. In October the company signed an agreement to supply uranium oxide to a Chinese utility. At the same time they signed a safety accord. This is how safe the mine in fact is - and you won't find such records at African mines: almost 15,000 litres of acid uranium solution leaked in a 2002 incident, and since then further leaks ranging from 50 to over 23,000 litres have been reported on the South Australian Government's Primary Industries website. The most recent was on April 22, 2006 when 14,400 litres of solution containing approx. 0.5% uranium leaked out.

The list goes on.

The bottom line is this: UK ministers are blind to the consequences of their pro-nuclear evangelism. Their hypocrisy is breath-taking. Carbon credits under the Kyoto mechanism have to be independently audited by a global body to ensure that new renewable energy is unique, additional and lives up to its claims. At the very least there should be an independent, global body verifying the ethics, health and long-term safety of the nuclear supply chain.

Better, just leave it in the ground.

© David Thorpe

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Energy and Environmental Management - new issue

The latest (Nov/Dec) issue of Energy and Environmental Management is now live to read online at the e-reader here.

There are articles on the credit and nature crunch, the Climate Change Act, and how environmental businesses are faring in the downturn, plus a Focus on emissions and pollution control.

Stop Climate Chaos Recharge the Media

The Low Carbon Kid is taking part in Recharge the Media week.

He's just asked the Prime Minster on the Simon Mayo show why he doesn't institute a green new deal to tackle climate change and the recession.

Register here NOW for the Stop Climate Chaos Recharge the Media action alerts from 1 –7 December. They’ll tell you how climate change is being covered in the media throughout the week and where you can influence the debate in newspapers, online, on the radio and in your local news.

In addition, Stop Climate Chaos is aiming to get 100,000 messages to the government to say ‘no’ to coal’ and ‘yes’ to renewable energy by Spring. To help the Stop Climate Chaos campaign click here.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Top companies' peak oil warning

Leading UK companies have launched a report, The Oil Crunch: Securing the UK’s Energy Future, warning that cheap, easily available oil is likely to end by 2013, posing a grave risk to the UK and world economy.

The UK Industry Taskforce on Peak Oil and Energy Security (ITPOES) includes Arup, FirstGroup, Foster + Partners, Scottish and Southern Energy, Solarcentury, Stagecoach Group, Virgin Group and Yahoo.

It sets out a series of practical recommendations for Government, including action to grasp the significant economic and environmental opportunities from a step-change in investment in renewable energy and sustainable transport. It dismisses nuclear power and carbon capture - at least in the short term - because of the urgency of the situation.

"We need technologies that can be mobilized very quickly, like many of the renewable and efficient-energy technologies," they conclude.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Australia is rubbing its hands due to nuclear new build

Uranium mining is expanding all over Australia. The Government is relishing the idea of making lots of money from the nuclear renaissance being predicted (but not yet proven).

Australian greens are fast losing the optimism they felt when the Labor Party won the last election. It's clear that the temptation to make money at the expense of the environment and traditional peoples under the pretense of it being 'low carbon' is too much for them.

Western Australia

In Western Australia BHP Billiton Ltd is to develop one of Australia's largest untapped uranium deposits, after the state government where the deposit is located lifted a ban on mining the nuclear power feedstock.

The 10-kilometre-long (6 miles) Yeelirrie deposit, located about 1,000 km north of Perth in west Australia, is estimated to contain about 52,000 tonnes of uranium.

Elsewhere in Australia and Canada uranium mining has been a disaster for indigenous peoples (as it is most everywhere in the world, ironically). Over half of the world’s uranium is in Australia and Canada.

South Australia

In South Australia, in August the Australian Government approved the expansion of a controversial uranium mine, Beverley ISL. This was dubbed a “blank cheque licence for pollution”.

“Fundamentally, they have allowed the area of pollution from the Beverly mine to be expanded quite significantly,” ground water specialist Dr Gavin Mudd told The Epoch Times. Dr Mudd, a lecturer in environmental engineering at Monash University, says he has looked at the data from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and it is not convincing.

“Until they have got that data on the public record that has been independently verified by people not subservient to the mining industry I think they really have been given a blank cheque to leave groundwater in a much worse state than before.” (The Epoch Times Sep. 2, 2008)

Elsewhere in the Territory, on Oct. 31 BHP Billiton said it plans to have the first of five planned stages of expansion at its Olympic Dam mine in production by 2013. The first phase of expansion is to optimise the existing underground operation and increase its production capacity to 200,000 tonnes of copper, 4500 tonnes of uranium and 120,000 ounces of gold. This is an open pit.

Northern Territory

At the Ranger mines (Northern Territory), on Nov. 17 Energy Resources of Australia, which is 68.4 per cent-owned by Rio Tinto, announced that it expects to find 30,000 to 40,000 t U3O8 in the Ranger 3 Deeps area east to the current Ranger 3 operating pit. ERA has performed extensive exploration in the area over the last two years.

In October the company signed an agreement to supply uranium oxide to an electric utility in China. They also signed "a safety accord." Here is a record of how safe it is:

Almost 15,000 litres of acid uranium solution leaked in a 2002 incident, and since then a further nine leaks ranging from 50 litres to more than 6,000 have been reported on the South Australian Government's Primary Industries website. Spills of 1000+ litres:

* Apr. 22, 2006: spill of 14,400 litres of solution containing approx. 0.5% uranium
* Oct. 31, 2005: spill of 23,700 litres of mining solution, containing approx. 0.06% uranium
* Aug. 8, 2005: spill of 13,500 litres of extraction fluid containing approx. 0.01% uranium
* Mar. 7, 2005: spill of 50,000 - 60,000 litres of injection fluid
* Dec. 8, 2004: spill of approx. 2,300 litres of mining solution, containing 0.028% uranium
* June 13, 2002: spill of 1,750 litres of brine solution
* June 7, 2002: spill of 1,500 litres of injection fluid in the well field
* May 5, 2002: spill of 14,900 litres of water containing 0.0018% uranium (Australian May 7, 2002)
* May 1, 2002: spill of almost 7,000 litres of brine solution containing some uranium (ABC May 2, 2002)
* January 11, 2002: spill of 60,000 liters of groundwater containing acid and uranium, after pipe rupture (ABC, The Age, Jan. 12, 2002)

Plans to expand a nuclear dump at Muckaty station north of Tennant Creek, are being pushed forward with no regard for the indigenous Aborigines who own the land. The new, supposedly greener, Australian government Minister Martin Ferguson has failed to deliver a Labor election promise to overturn the Howard Government's Commonwealth Radioactive Waste Management Act, which earmarks a series of sites for nuclear waste dumps.

Senator Ludlam asked him on Tuesday at a senate hearing on the matter: "How can Martin Ferguson wash his hands of this issue and allow small Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory to cop this waste in a repeat of the worst nuclear colonialism of the past?"

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ramp it up - investment in low carbon technology

The last issue of the New Scientist contains a one page ad from the Carbon Trust offering £3m to £6m funding for partners in oil-from-algae technology.

The Low Carbon Kid wrote about this concept 17 months ago. He highlighted it because many of the problems present with the traditional oilseeds such as palm & soy, and with ethanol feedstock such as corn and molasses/sugarcane are not present with algae.

In a more recent blog he also suggested the government should take a stake in t he development of promising new low carbon technologies that could then be sold off to benefit the taxpayer when they reach maturity.

The Carbon Trust itself says algae-based biofuels could replace over 70 billion litres of fossil derived fuels used worldwide annually - a market value of over £15 billion.

So why is it being so modest?

We need urgent, fast action. It should invest hundreds of millions.

Instead of a third runway at Heathrow, more roads, or coal-burning power stations, low carbon technology needs to be developed and implemented on a huge scale asap.

Why? The observed impacts of climate change suggest that the climate is more sensitive than we had thought. We may already be past the atmospheric concentration which will ultimately deliver 2°C of temperature rise.

We are preparing for a medium-sized climate problem, based on out-of-date IPCC predictions. The 80% cut by 2050 that's now UK policy may not be enough because of the feedback loops triggered by sea-ice loss, albedo flip, a warmer Arctic, a disintegrating Greenland ice sheet, melting permafrost with huge methane emissions, with their concurrent massively increased greenhouse gas emissions and accelerated global warming.

In Parliament on 18th November (yesterday), in a debate on the Lords amendments to the Energy Bill, Government committed to obtain 14% of heating from renewable heat.

Great. This has been the subject of several previously unsuccessful bills. But progress is far too slow. We'll have to wait till next year, O'Brien (energy minister) said, before we know how they're going to achieve this target... which corresponds to 7% of overall energy use - with feed-in tariffs or an Obligation? And they haven't a clue yet how the feed-in tarriffs will work.

All too slow.

Part of the problem is the Treasury. Today it indicated that it would not ringfence the proceeds from the auctioning of carbon credits under the European Emissions Trading scheme to spend on low-carbon technology.

This is madness. The Treasury is always a brake on helping the environment. If the PM told it to reverse policy prioritise the health of our life-support system - the planet - we'd get where we need to be much faster.

Ramp it up - investment in low carbon technology

The last issue of the New Scientist contains a one page ad from the Carbon Trust offering £3m to £6m funding for partners in oil-from-algae technology.

The Low Carbon Kid wrote about this concept 17 months ago. He highlighted it because many of the problems present with the traditional oilseeds such as palm & soy, and with ethanol feedstock such as corn and molasses/sugarcane are not present with algae.

In a more recent blog he also suggested the government should take a stake in t he development of promising new low carbon technologies that could then be sold off to benefit the taxpayer when they reach maturity.

The Carbon Trust itself says algae-based biofuels could replace over 70 billion litres of fossil derived fuels used worldwide annually - a market value of over £15 billion.

So why is it being so modest?

We need urgent, fast action. It should invest hundreds of millions.

Instead of a third runway at Heathrow, more roads, or coal-burning power stations, low carbon technology needs to be developed and implemented on a huge scale asap.

Why? The observed impacts of climate change suggest that the climate is more sensitive than we had thought. We may already be past the atmospheric concentration which will ultimately deliver 2°C of temperature rise.

We are preparing for a medium-sized climate problem, based on out-of-date IPCC predictions. The 80% cut by 2050 that's now UK policy may not be enough because of the feedback loops triggered by sea-ice loss, albedo flip, a warmer Arctic, a disintegrating Greenland ice sheet, melting permafrost with huge methane emissions, with their concurrent massively increased greenhouse gas emissions and accelerated global warming.

In Parliament on 18th November (yesterday), in a debate on the Lords amendments to the Energy Bill, Government committed to obtain 14% of heating from renewable heat.

Great. This has been the subject of several previously unsuccessful bills. But progress is far too slow. We'll have to wait till next year, O'Brien (energy minister) said, before we know how they're going to achieve this target... which corresponds to 7% of overall energy use - with feed-in tariffs or an Obligation? And they haven't a clue yet how the feed-in tarriffs will work.

All too slow.

Part of the problem is the Treasury. Today it indicated that it would not ringfence the proceeds from the auctioning of carbon credits under the European Emissions Trading scheme to spend on low-carbon technology.

This is madness. The Treasury is always a brake on helping the environment. If the PM told it to reverse policy prioritise the health of our life-support system - the planet - we'd get where we need to be much faster.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Obama's challenge

It is a cause for great celebration that a black man has become the most powerful politician on the planet, and I was overjoyed when I watched the videos on the Guardian newspaper's website of black people voting and celebrating in the US, and Obama's Kenyan relatives watching the results.

I looked into Obama's sources of funding a while ago and while about half is individual donations, and a high proportion from silicon valley - Google, Myspace, Facebook, etc - the usual suspects from the oil industry and the car industry, media magnates and even the religious pressure groups always make sure they back both sides.

Recall the euphoria around the 1997 UK election result - let's not get our hopes up. If he is THAT progressive, be sure there will be forces to temper his radicalism.

The Low Carbon Kid will be pleased to see the US re-entering the post-Kyoto negotiations, and will watch to see if they adopt a cap-and-dividend policy and use the finance raised to pour billions into developing post-carbon energy industries. On this note, read today's blog from Peter Barnes - How Obama can revive the economy and heal the planet.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling have tried to present the picture that the buyout of the banks using public money is an investment by the taxpayer, and, when the banks are making a profit again, these investments will be sold, the taxpayer thereby receiving a benefit. In return, governments want to impose conditions on the way banks perform.

Whatever you want to call it, this is a form of nationalisation and the fact that even the United States has followed suit demonstrates that it can be implemented independent of any ideology. In fact, it could be argued that the government is operating like a capitalist corporation itself.

Given this precedent, then, what is to stop governments investing taxpayers' money in other industries which they believe could in the future generate a profit and be sold off to the benefit of the public purse?

Industries such as the marine renewables sector, which is poised for exponential growth with British companies at the forefront?

The Carbon Trust's investment in innovative low carbon technology companies is indicative of what can be done, only with this model the taxpayer does not stand directly to make a profit at the end of the day.

Why not? Because that will be seen as government interference in the market. Well, surprise surprise, this is no longer off limits.

Boris Johnson has called for continued investment in Crossrail. This right-winger is arguing for public spending on massive infrastructure to help us through the recession.

This is exactly the type of imaginative response which others are now arguing the government and the world needs to take to see us through the double crunch.

One of those calling for such responses is Yvo de Boer, Chief of the Bonn-based U.N. Climate Change Secretariat. He said in October that the global credit crisis could hasten countries' efforts to create "green growth" industries by revamping the financial system behind them.

This however would depend on governments helping poor countries tackle their problems, instead of spending most available money on rescuing the financial world.

“Our actions, largely driven by the capitalist market, are depleting Earth’s resource bank at an unprecedented rate, causing a shrinking supply of Earth’s resource capital. We are in a global environmental credit crunch. The very worst that can happen from the financial crisis is recession but a climate catastrophe could wipe out humankind,” Nick Reeves, Executive Director of CIWEM said in a statement in October.

The two crises, the nature crunch and the credit crunch, have the same cause. as writer George Monbiot has pointed out, "in both cases those who exploit the resources have demanded impossible rates of return and invoked debts that can never be repaid".

This is a massive wake-up call. We have to respond with courage and imagination.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Energy and climate change department's first tasks

The creation of a new Department for Energy and Climate Change is welcomed in all quarters: by environmental campaigners, CBI, oil and gas industry and the renewable energy industry.

Ed Miliband (38) - previously Cabinet Office Minister - is now the 10th minister in 11 years to hold the energy portfolio.

The energy team from BERR and the climate change and energy efficiency teams from Defra are now united.

The fact that the two areas of responsibility have been separated ever since Tony Blair split up John Prescott's humungous organisation the DETR, has resulted in a lack of joined-up thinking for many years, often lamented by commentators such as Andrew Warren of the Association for the Conservation of Energy.

Philip Wolfe of the Renewable Energy Association commented that "This will require Mr Miliband to extend the policy portfolio way beyond the narrow range considered by his predecessors."

This is absolutely right, and the Low Carbon Kid says that there is one relatively inexpensive and relatively easy to introduce a measure which it could champion that would have a highly cost-effective impact on fairly and equitably reducing year-on-year the carbon budget of the whole of the EU, not just the area of pollution covered by the ETS.

This is in addition to auctioning off ALL ETS permits to pollute, championing renewable energy end energy efficiency, stopping new coal burning power stations and nuclear new build.

This Tuesday afternoon, European parliamentarians gathering to finalise their proposals for a climate and energy plan for our continent should also adopt this policy.

We're talking Cap and Share.

Cap and Share is not a variant of personal carbon trading - it is an alternative to personal carbon trading because it is not based on individuals needing to surrender carbon credits upon the purchase of fuel or electricity.

The public is issued year on year with their own individual carbon allowance. They then sell it to the people who import carbon-based fuels into the country - the energy companies -- there must only be around 10 of these.

The public then gets money in their pockets. Year on year the allowances are reduced.

The suppliers of fossil-based energy can only sell the amount of fuel that they have permits to sell. The onus is on them to make the reductions, not on the public to make lots of complicated decisions about how they run their lives based on carbon accounting.

Instead they trust the government and the companies to do this for them and they receive in their pockets the financial benefit of the saving of this carbon. At the moment this benefit is given to the large energy users and accounts for some of the huge profit that oil companies have been making.

So, in Cap and Share it is the fossil fuel suppliers who would have to surrender carbon credits on their SALE (not purchase) of fossil fuels based on the emissions associated with the supplied fuel.

Indirect emissions can be covered by cap and share but not (in a simple way) in personal carbon trading.

Emissions have an indirect character when they are, so to speak, "embedded" in products - i.e. given off during the production of a good or a service that an individual or household purchases. Examples: flying or food. It would be hugely complicated and therefore expensive to calculate the embedded carbon for each purchase and make that part of a downstream system - however, with the Cap and Share upstream arrangement it is possible to design a scheme which covers these embedded carbon costs and compensates the public for them.

Another way of putting this is that Cap and Share could be designed to cover ALL non ETS emissions - not just the emissions associated directly with fuel sales to the public. This is about 50% of UK emissions. This should be compared with most presentations of personal carbon trading which cover 40% of UK emissions.

Cost? According to a report by AEA Energy and Environment the costs of administering an Irish scheme (The Irish government is seriously considering this policy) comes to the equivalent of about 40p a head for each time a permit is issued - probably once a year.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Let's run the banks like e-Bay and Wikipedia

Let’s not despair that human nature always causes ruin just because the banks are collapsing. Individuals can make a fantastic difference, and together, given a leap of imagination, can find a solution to global financial inequality in an unexpected place.

In a week when capitalism's Goliaths have fallen so swiftly, not by the action of many Davids, but because they were made rotten to the core by their own rapacity, I have been gleaning potential solutions to some of the world's most pressing economic problems from a quite different quarter.

I am researching a book on links between individual and communities in Africa and Wales. This means I am travelling around Wales talking to people who are changing the lives of others thousands of miles away, and whose lives themselves are being transformed in the process. Individuals like Angela Gorman, who, just because she saw a BBC documentary in 2005 about women dying in Chad during childbirth for want of a simple and cheap compound, has given up her job to raise money to help them, and as a result slashed the mortality rate from 17% to under 2.5%, exceeding a Millennium Development Goal. These drugs cost just 60p a pop, and a woman would need five to seven of them. Yet they had, until her straightforward intervention, been dying by the hundred. In short she has achieved in a year what the United Nations failed to, so much so that they have asked her to repeat her success in neighbouring Liberia. [http://www.hopeforgracekodindo.org/]

On Wednesday I met Denise Lord from Pen-y-Craig, in the Rhondda, an ex-coal-mining area classed as 'deprived' in the lexicon of EU or government grant-dispersing bodies, and which has had millions poured into it in an attempt to help its children. Although Denise says the kids she runs workshops for are "materially rich, with their mobile phones and Sky boxes" compared to those she has visited in the slums of Cape Town, the problem is that compared to the Cape Town kids they are "spiritually poor, while the Cape Town kids are spiritually rich and materially poor". [http://www.valleyskids.org/news_details-13198.html]

I asked her to explain. "We have so much to learn from these people," she replied, "And I think among the most important is humility. The kids there have to struggle to get to school so they value it. The kids here take it for granted, so they don't. They bunk off and think it's cool to drop out and get into trouble."

'We have so much to learn from these people' is a phrase I've heard from every one of these extraordinary-yet-ordinary individuals I have talked to so far. But Martha Musonza Holman is one apart. She left her two sons, aged 9 and 12, behind when she fled Zimbabwe in 2001 to come to Wales, where she now resides running a fair trade business called, appropriately, I Love Zimbabwe [http://ilovezimbabwe.co.uk]. She and her partner David struggle to import crafts made by people from her community back there to sell here, so she can send the profit back.

It might be easier to trade in hedge funds. To start with she has to contend with officials in Zimbabwe who demand a cut which puts the price up. "You may think they're corrupt," she says, "like some financial traders. But they're just trying to survive themselves in the worst of economic conditions. However we have a consignment of ceramics that has been sitting in a port for three months and we can't bring it here to sell."

The bankers on Wall Street and in the City, who paid themselves billions of dollars in bonuses, don't have the excuse that they were just trying to survive.

"The last consignment we received cost us £1130 to bring here, but I can only sell it for £1200," she complains. Furthermore, sometimes she sits in the Abergavenny market all day and sells nothing. "People in Zimbabwe think it's simple. We are all rich in the West, they believe, so it's easy for me to sell their crafts. But it is not!" The market decides what sells. If no one buys, or if the profit is miserable, her people back home will starve, fair trade or not.

Here is a clear case where the market needs intervention, to help the poorest. That is exactly why the Welsh Assembly Government has commissioned me to write this book and help Martha and all the others to find a bigger market.

Fair Trade is about transparency. Those who pay can see, should they choose, that their money benefits the community where the producers live, and that the producers receive a fair wage. Should not all trade be fair? Should not all banks be transparent? Why do we expect one system to apply to one type of financial transaction, and another, of supposedly far greater import, to be shrouded in secrecy and occluded by hopelessly obscure rules?

The few exceptional people I am meeting are passionate, inspirational, hard-working and often unpaid, as they try in every way they can to help people so far away. Why do they do it? Because their own spirits are enriched and their lives gain meaning by doing so - without the need for religion.

I struggle to understand human nature when I compare their generosity to the insatiable greed of the equally exceptional few bankers who have sucked dry the trough that millions, also far away, are now unable to feed from.

So what is the solution I am advocating, besides transparency, fairness and humility? I believe that it is glaringly obvious. It's a solution dreamed up by ordinary people and millions use it every day. It is a model which others have proselytised for other spheres of human endeavour but few have dared suggest could equally apply to the financial world. When I suggest it you will doubtless laugh. You will snort. But after you've done that, consider it further with me.

We all know that a lack of regulation has brought the crisis upon us. We all know that this has encouraged human greed. I believe that particular aspects of human nature, multifarious as it is, are manifested in different environments purely as a result of what is acceptable in that environment. If you approve excess, excess is what you get. If you reward honesty, then that is what you get.

Every day, millions of people use e-Bay and Amazon and other online marketplaces, buying and selling to other invisible individuals whom they will never meet. They do so with trust and faith because they can clearly see their trading history. Bad deals get bad feedback, and we can all read it. Yes, sometimes scams occur, and sometimes people get ripped off because they don't bother to check the trader's history. But compared to the majority of transactions these are rare.

If, thirty years ago, I had told you that in the future people would trade to this extent with others whom they would never meet and, by and large, have faith that they would not be defrauded, you would have called me hopelessly idealistic. You would have said that such a thing was only possible in a small community where everyone knew everyone else and the high probability of repercussions for bad behaviour would help to curb it. Yet here we are, and, thanks to simple rules, effective monitoring, and modern technology, it happens all the time and millions of dollars change hands every day.

Furthermore, Credit Unions [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Credit_Unions] and community banks trade cash and help individuals and communities bootstrap themselves up without recourse to high interest rates or rapacious moneylenders. In these constituted environments individuals or groups invest money, and other individuals or enterprises borrow it, in a transparent way. They are owned and controlled by their members. The average U.S. credit union has $93 million in assets versus $1.53 billion in assets for the average U.S. bank, so they are commonly smaller - not a bad thing, since if one fails it is not the end of the world.

So here is my horribly naive, simplistic and obvious solution, in outline, to the problem of global financial ineqality and the dark side of capitalism. Here is my mad plan to render these monstrous predatory dinosaurs of banking and insurance extinct once and for all. Here is the route to allow small and medium sized traders - everyone in the world, eventually - access to capital fairly and in confidence: use modern technology, e-Bay type rules and checks and balances, transparency and fairness, to apply a credit union style model to mutual one-to-one exchanges.

Even if those traders be large concerns, they must still follow the same rules of transparency. Everyone's credit history will be visible to all. And if you can see your own history so plainly, would you not be more prudent yourself?

The same rules would apply to everyone, not one set of rules for us and another for the bankers. As with peer-to-peer networking, file-sharing, and indeed Wikipedia-style collaborations of any sort, we would all be bankers, whether lenders or borrowers. If millions of otherwise unconnected people working together can build something as essential and huge as Wikipedia or e-Bay, why can't they build lending institutions, independent of banks? I am not an accountant, or a banker. I can't work out the nitty-gritty of how it would work. i don't need to. I believe in human nature - someone else will, or a crowd of people working together.

If this were done then maybe, just maybe, we might learn some spiritual wealth and humility; by doing things the slightly harder way - and following some simple rules that we collaborate on to make up.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Nuclear safety compromised in US newbuild

US regulators have ignored expert safety advice in an attempt to cut corners and fast track the completion of a $4 billion nuclear fuel facility currently under construction near Aiken, South Carolina.

The accusation is reported in the September issue of The Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE)'s The Chemical Engineer magazine. The technical reviewer said " I’ve never seen such a crazy system.”

Nuclear disarmament treaties have resulted in a large surplus of weapons-grade plutonium. The US government has initiated moves to build and operate a mixed oxide fuel fabrication facility (MOFFF) that will convert recovered plutonium into fuel rods for use in civil nuclear power generation.

However, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has ‘hushed up’ a highly critical assessment of the plant’s engineering by its top independent reviewer according to Adam Duckett, a senior reporter on The Chemical Engineer.

The claims are made by Dan Tedder, Emeritus Professor of Chemical Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology. Tedder, who was hired by the NRC as an independent technical reviewer in April 2007, told The Chemical Engineer that basic chemical process design information was incomplete and presented serious safety implications.

“When they go operational there will be safety problems”, says Tedder. “The documentation provided in the license application is very superficial and lacks the type of technical depth I would expect. It isn’t consistent with reasonable and generally-accepted good engineering practice – I’ve never seen such a crazy system.”

Whilst the NRC has refuted the accusations as “baseless”, it has refused access to the disputed documents on the grounds that they are designated ‘Proprietary or Official Use Only-Security Reacted Information’, a move that does little to allay concerns over the safety of the MOFFF plant.

The issue has highlighted the need for competent professional chemical engineers in the creation of new nuclear facilities, says IChemE’s director of policy, Andrew Furlong: “This unfortunate episode raises some serious questions. Tedder’s claim that basic information – including process flow diagrams and energy balances – is either flawed or incomplete deserves further scrutiny. It is critically important that chemical engineers working to the highest possible technical and professional standards are involved in every stage of the design and construction process.”

The Chemical Engineer

Friday, August 29, 2008

Germany's feed-in tarriffs supporting PV

Germany's recently approved "climate package" is its latest step in securing the country's position as a leading investment location in renewable energies.

What is needed in the UK is a similar package of measures to guarantee a strong future for investors in renewable energies.

"The reforms maintain attractive feed-in tariffs and strengthen the legal framework for energy-efficiency investments, therefore adding to Germany's already inviting investment conditions in photovoltaic (PV) energy," says David Wortmann, Director of the Renewable Energies and Resources team at Invest in Germany.

One of the main drivers of PV investment in Germany is the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG in German). The EEG requires power companies to buy renewable energy from owners of renewable energy installations at a rate that is above the standard retail price.

The "feed-in-tariff" for PV projects beginning in 2008 stands at 35.49 - 51.75 EUR cents/KWh. The rate is guaranteed for 20 years. There is also no limit to the energy that can be sold into the grid at the EEG rates. This legal framework encourages Germans to invest in PV products, creating a long-term and sustainable domestic market.

Germany is turning its renowned scientific expertise into an asset for the solar industry. There are over 80 different academic degree options in solar energy and energy management at German universities, including a new Masters Degree program at Berlin's Technical University (TU).

An "energy university" will soon open in Berlin to offer graduate-level students from all over the world the chance to improve their knowledge of the energy industry. This qualified workforce contributes to Germany's high standard of quality in its PV products and also to its comparatively low product failure rate.

This expertise is found not only in universities, but also in the many research institutions in Germany that cooperate closely with PV investors.

For example, the Fraunhofer ISE is part of the internationally renowned Fraunhofer Society that is one of numerous research institutes and universities doing research on the latest technologies in PV, often in cooperation with the solar industry.

Supportive laws, qualified employees, and access to researchers and suppliers are some of the reasons that leading PV companies such as First Solar, Arise Technologies, Signet Solar, and recent entries like Intico Solar and Masdar PV GmbH have invested in Germany.

More will be revealed at the 23rd European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition (PVSEC), September 1 - 5, 2008 in Valencia, Spain.

If only it could happen in the UK.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Carbon capture and storage is an end-of-pipe dream

The Government is basing its enthusiasm for new coal-burning power stations on the notion of retrofitting CCS (carbon capture and storage) in the future once the technology is developed.

But is this feasible?

"Even the most optimistic proponent of CCS would not envisage any demonstration plant to be operational much before 2015, which would put wide-scale deployment as far away as 2020 or later after lessons from the pilot have been learned and digested," says a submission from The Royal Academy of Engineering to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee (EAC).

In July the EAC published its examination of CCS and found it to be a pipe dream. In fact, an end-of-pipe dream. It estimates that the cost of building the first CCS plant could be anything up to £500m, on top of the £1bn cost of a new coal-fired power station. Retrofitting CCS at a station like Kingsnorth is likely to cost over £1.1bn. This is a huge figure by any standard, and would have a massive impact on energy prices.

The EAC urges: "We cannot emphasise strongly enough that the possibility of CCS should not be used as a fig leaf to give unabated coal-fired power stations an appearance of environmental acceptability." Furthermore, "Replacing old coal-fired power stations with new ones, rather than using alternative energy sources, locks Britain in to a high level of emissions for many years to come."

Hutton has said that a high carbon price under the EU-ETS will mean that CCS-retrofitting so-called 'CCS-ready' new power stations becomes economical. The EAC slams this notion on three counts:

1. Lack of knowledge of the technology: since the eventual nature of CCS technology is currently unknown, how can a plant built now be designed to have the technology retro-fitted on?

2. Carbon emissions: "The EU ETS is a mechanism designed to reduce emissions; using it as a cover for choosing high emissions technology goes against the purpose of the scheme."

3. The price per tonne of CO2 for retrofitting CCS required to make it commercially viable is unfeasibly high: estimates of this vary from the rather optimistic €40 (E.ON UK) to €90-155 per tonne (Climate Change Capital) and €70-100 per tonne (UK Energy Research Centre). How much it will really be is anybody's guess, but the Government cites an EU estimate of a forward price of carbon of €39 for 2013-2020 (EU-ETS Phase 3). The UK Energy Research Centre predicts around €30. The EAC concludes from this: "the gap between the carbon price and the cost of CCS is enormous".

The EAC concludes: "Coal should be seen as the last resort, even with the promise of CCS."

[Sources available in the EAC report on CCS].

Friday, August 08, 2008

King Coal returns to the battleground

24 years after the miners strike, coal is at the centre of a new battle.

This weekend activists are attempting to close down Kingsnorth power station, protesting against government plans to build a new coal-fired power station at the site in Kent.

This is just one of many anti-coal protests around the country, as public feeling against coal mining and coal burning is mounting. Simultaneously, the industry has plans to open many new mines, and the government is deciding whether to give the go-ahead to seven or eight new coal-fired power stations, the first for 30 years.

Yet concerned climate scientists argue that leaving coal in the ground is the best form of carbon capture and storage - the planet just cannot survive that much more CO2 put into the atmosphere. The burning of coal for electricity and heating, the logic goes, is far easier to halt and to replace than is the use of oil for transportation.

Coal is primarily used for electricity generation, which is the largest source of UK greenhouse gas emissions. Of all power stations, coal-fired ones are most CO2 intensive.

Today, globally, burning coal is responsible for around one quarter of our global CO2 emissions. And currently, approximately 1,000 tonnes of CO2 are released into the Earth's atmosphere every second due to human activity. But around half of all the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now, due to us, is from burning coal. The majority of this came from Western developed nations who industrialised before China and other emerging indistrialised powers.

This is why developing economies like China and India argue, in the current round of climate control talks, that as today's climate change is due to our historical emissions, developed countries should curb their emissions before they do. Climate campaigners argue that if we want these countries to stop building new coal-fired power stations (China is opening two a week), we must set a good example.

James Hansen

James Hansen is described by many as the world's leading climate scientist. He first alerted Washington politicians to the dangers of climate change in June 1988 and has been an outspoken advocate of action to stop it ever since. He is the director of the Goddard Institute of Space Studies at NASA and adjunct professor at earth and environmental sciences at Columbia University. He has called for a moratorium on building coal-fired power plants and for a 350ppm target for the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. (Currently it is 385ppm.)

"It's very difficult to see how we can prevent the oil from being used and the carbon getting in to the atmosphere because it comes from vehicles, but in the case of coal if we're going to use that, we could restrict it to power-plants and we should say it can only be used there if you capture the CO2," he says. He argues that it's easier to make electricity and heat buildings with other sources of energy than coal, than it is to find alternatives to the fossil fuels which power our vehicles. Therefore we should do this first. "I think it's a better way than saying let's reduce CO2 80% or 90% or 60% or any particular number because we really can't let 40% or 20% of the coal to continue to be used; that's the one source that we really need to cut off."

Hansen has written to Gordon Brown requesting that the Government doesn't build any new coal fired power plants without carbon capture and storage. "Coal is the largest contributor to the human-made increase of CO2 in the air," he wrote. "Saving the planet and creation surely requires phase-out of coal use." We don't know if Brown replied. Source.

In June Hansen on Monday told listeners on Capitol Hill, Washington, that the heads of oil and coal companies who knowingly delayed action on curbing greenhouse gas emissions were committing a crime. “These CEO’s, these captains of industry,” he said in the briefing, “if they don’t change their tactics they’re guilty of crimes against humanity and nature.” He compared cordons of coal cars heading to power plants to the death trains of the Holocaust (because of the mass extinctions foreseen by many biologists should warming go unabated).

Hansen said in an interview in March: "I would say within a decade or so, that these coal plants are simply not compatible with keeping a planet resembling the one in which civilisation developed. And I think there is going to be eventually pressure to in effect bulldoze those plants, so economically they just don't make sense. You are not going to be able to leave them there 50 years."

Hanen argues that we will have to "restore the point of energy balance because as it stands now we will lose the Arctic sea ice without any more greenhouse gases, as there is additional warming in the pipeline. That means we would have to reduce the amount of CO2 at least to the 350ppm level, and we are already at 385. So, we've actually got to go backwards and it's really too bad that we didn't realise this earlier."

Does Hansen believe it's possible to reverse the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere?

"Yes, yes, it's still possible. If we get on the stick very promptly, it's still practical to do that in ways that are quite natural. The most important thing is to have a moratorium on new coal fired power plants that don't capture CO2 and then to phase out the dirty coal use over the next 2-3 decades.

If we do that, you know that the system does still take up CO2, the ocean and the soils and things, so that other things being equal, CO2 would only go up to a bit more than 400 if we phase out coal use. But then we have got to take at least 50ppm out of the atmosphere, and that is possible with improved agricultural and forestry practices, things that we have not being paying much attention to."

Britain's coal resources

The coal industry estimates there are 45 billion tonnes of recoverable UK coal reserves, which at current rates would last us 300 years. This represents around 150 billion tonnes of CO2. The industry says new mines are in development because it is becoming more cost-effective to mine rather than import, which currently costs Britain around £3 billion a year.

But just-released government energy statistics show that coal consumption fell by just under 7% in 2007, with an 8.5% decrease in consumption by the major power producers (consumers of 81% of total coal demand). Electricity supplied  from coal in 2007, actually fell from 37% in 2006 to 34% in 2007. Burning coal at home only uses 1% of coal.

The only reason the government wants to burn more coal is to reduce the demand for imported gas and replace currently offline or closing nuclear power stations. But it should invest in renewables, the power of the future, instead.

The government's BERR and coal supporters talk about using ‘Carbon Capture and Storage’ (CCS) at coal-fired power stations as a solution to climate change. This technology does not yet exist and the industry itself says it won't be ready for at least 10 years. It is also likely to be highly expensive. In America the Bush administration withdrew its support for the FutureGen CCS project in February for this reason. Despite this, the government is now deciding whether to allow seven or eight new coal fired power stations.

Opencast coal mining

Where will the coal come from? There are 17 opencast mines in the UK now, with a staggering 25 in planning or proposed (see table below).

Opencast coal mining recovers over 90% of the coal deposit, more than deep mining but leaves a huge scar on the landscape. Soil and rock are first broken up by drilling and blasting with explosives then removed by draglines or by power shovels and trucks. With the coal seam exposed, it is also drilled and blasted. Large trucks or conveyors then take it to where it will be used. These activities have the following effects on local communities, notwithstanding the climate damage:
  • Noise, such as blasting and vehicle movements
  • Dust and dirt
  • Health problems: respiratory, eye and skin conditions
  • Traffic congestion
  • Adverse visual impact and change to local landscape
  • Long term environmental damage
  • Reduced investment and lowering of property values
  • Loss of local countryside for recreation.
For example, Ffos-y-Fran is one of the biggest opencast coal mines in Europe, on the outskirts of Merthyr Tydfil. Merthyr residents have opposed the scheme for many years as the mine comes within 36 metres of the nearest homes. In England and Scotland, the scheme would have been rejected because the law requires a 500 metre buffer zone between opencast mines and residential areas.

Elsewhere, protestors have occupied Prospect Farm off Bell Lane, Smalley, Derbyshire, site of a proposed open cast mine and occupied by activists since June 2008. They were evicted on August 7.

If Britain is serious about climate change, it cannot sanction new coal mines and power stations.

Opencast coal mining sites in England and Wales: Currently producing:

Licensee Name Location
Celtic Energy Ltd Margam Opencast Bridgend, S Wales
Celtic Energy Ltd Nant Helen Extension Powys
Celtic Energy Ltd Selar Neath, Port Talbot, S wales
Dynant Fach Colliery Company Dynant Fawr Carmarthenshire
Energybuild Ltd Nant-y-Mynydd Neath, Port Talbot, S wales
H J Banks Developments Delhi Site Northumberland
H J Banks Developments Shotton Surface Mine Northumberland
UK Coal Mining Ltd Cutacre Bolton
UK Coal Mining Ltd Lodge House Derbyshire
UK Coal Mining Ltd Long Moor Leicestershire
UK Coal Mining Ltd Maidens Hall Extension Northumberland
UK Coal Mining Ltd Oxcroft Derbyshire
UK Coal Mining Ltd Sharlston West Yorkshire
UK Coal Mining Ltd Stobswood Northumberland
Minerals (UK) Ltd Bwlch Ffos Neath, Port Talbot
Ward Brothers Prestwick Pit Northumberland
Miller Argent Ffos-y-Fran Mid-Glamorgan, Wales

Opencast sites proposed/in planning process in England and Wales

Licensee Name Location Status
Bryn Bach Coal Ltd Cwn Yr Onen Colliery Reclamation Carmarthenshire  
Celtic Energy Ltd East Pit East revised Neath, Port Talbot, S wales  
Celtic Energy Ltd Margam Extension Bridgend, S Wales Planning applied for Oct 2007
Draeth Mining Pentre Mawr Carmarthenshire  
H J Banks Developments Alcan Farms Northumberland planning put in Oct 2007
H J Banks Developments Brenkley Northumberland  
H J Banks Developments Cavil Head Northumberland planning put in Oct 2007
H J Banks Developments Houndalee, nr Widdrington Northumberland Planning put in Oct 2007
H J Banks Developments Newton Lane Surface Mine Leeds  
H J Banks Developments The Cockles, nr Ulgham Northumberland Planning put in Oct 2007
Hall Construction Services Ltd Skons Park, Burnopfield Gateshead, Newcastle Planning rejected 2007. New submission expected
Parkhill Estates Ltd Caughley Quarry Shropshire  
Shires Development Ltd Corporal Lane Quarry Calderdale, yorks  
UK Coal Mining Ltd Bradley County Durham Planning expected April 2008
UK Coal Mining Ltd Butterwell, nr Ulgham Northumberland Planning expected 2008
UK Coal Mining Ltd Chesterfield Canal Derbyshire Planning expected 2008
UK Coal Mining Ltd Highthorn, nr Widdrington Northumberland planning submitted Oct 07
UK Coal Mining Ltd Huntington Lane Telford,Shropshire Planning expected 2008
UK Coal Mining Ltd Minorca Leicestershire Planning expected 2008
UK Coal Mining Ltd Park Wall North County Durham  
UK Coal Mining Ltd Potland Burn Northumberland  
UK Coal Mining Ltd Steadsburn Northumberland  
UK Coal Mining Ltd Whittonstall, nr Consett Northumberland planning submitted Oct 07
UK Coal PLC Temple Quarry Kirklees, yorks  
Unknown Whittle Colliery Northumberland


Wednesday, August 06, 2008

French nuclear cock-ups: not coming soon to a reactor near you

The collapse of the EdF takeover of British Energy is the right decision for the wrong reasons.

The private shareholders in British Energy, Invesco and M&G Investments who own 22%, greedily holding out for a higher share price, have shocked the pro-nuclear, pro-business BERR with their decision to reject EdF's £12 billion offer. The French state-owned EdF wasn't too pleased either. That sort of thing wouldn't happen in France.

The government sold all but 35% of its stake in British Energy last year. They probably rue the day now because they would love to have the £4bn in the Treasury coffers and the nuclear newbuild to go ahead. Conservative MP Peter Luff said the collapse was not necessarily a bad thing - if it had gone through, EdF would have "owned over a quarter of all electricity generation in the UK and the competition effect would've been very serious." I quite agree.

Business Secretary John Hutton has put a brave face on it: "We thought it was a good deal and were ready to accept." Like a pathetic salesman he tried to tout the land still available for anybody who wants to build a new nuclear power station: "Our commitment to nuclear power is clear.... BE still has potential sites and sites are available from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority."

Meanwhile, British Energy is not exactly performing well. It announced in July that its Heysham and Hartlepool reactors, currently off-line due to faults, will now cost at least twice as much to repair - over £100m. Its chairman confessed that "output from our nuclear stations last year was disappointing." No kidding. And they say windfarms don't deliver.

French nuclear headaches to be exported to Britain

For those who think that new nuclear power is not a solution to either high energy prices, energy security or climate change, the EdF/BE news was positive, especially in view of the scandal rocking the French nuclear industry at the moment.

On July 7, Areva accidentally poured at least 18 cubic meters of liquid containing at least 75 kilograms of uranium onto the ground and into the river at the Tricastin nuclear site, prompting local authorities to launch an official enquiry and local people to be banned from drinking their own water. Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo has ordered an overhaul of France's nuclear supervision as well as groundwater checks around all nuclear plants.

President Sarkozy is keen to export French nuclear know-how around the world. Since his election, he has signed cooperation agreements on civilian nuclear energy with Algeria, America, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates, among others.

France has 59 reactors supplying 80% of its electricity. The Tricastin site is a major part of the French nuclear industry, with over 5,000 employees and many sub-contracting companies. It includes the military research facility of Pierrelatte, the EDF power plant, a factory for converting natural uranium (Comurhex), and a uranium enrichment factory (Eurodiff). The latter two are subsidiaries of Areva, which wants to build new nuclear power stations in Britain.

In June a consortium led by Areva won a 17 year contract to clean up Sellafield, worth at least £50m a year. Malcolm Wicks said in a parliamentary answer just before the summer recess that the contract specified no limit on the risk to the taxpayer in the event of an accident like that at Tricastin.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) has given Areva indemnity if there were to be an incident, provided that it is insured against the first £140m of the damage costs.

NDA slammed for management failure as clean-up costs rise

We could have funded two London Olympics just from the rises in the estimated costs of cleaning up our nuclear waste over the past two years. The estimate is now around £73bn, according to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

An audit of the NDA, published also in July, says there are "inherent risks" in the way the body operates, pointing out that half of its income is dependent on unreliable sources such as fuel reprocessing at Sellafield's Thorp plant (closed since a leak was discovered in 2005). It also highlights management and accounting failures; simple things like not taking notes at minutes has led to budgetary confusion.

The audit is by the government's Select Committee on Business and Enterprise. The NDA is funded by Government funding and from commercial income. The commercial slice is "volatile and over time will decline as sites progressively close and move into the decommissioning phase," says the report. "The grant-in-aid portion of the NDA's income already represents a very sizeable proportion of BERR's annual budget - 42% of the original total Departmental Expenditure Limit (DEL) for the 2007-08 financial year."

The nuclear dilemma

It is said that your position on nuclear power comes down in part to your response to this dilemma: which is worse, the local damage caused by nuclear leaks and processed fuel lying around for 4.5 billion years (which Is the half life of depleted uranium), or the global catastrophes caused by runaway climate change?

However Britain doesn’t need to build major new power stations to keep the lights on and maintain security, according to a report just released by independent consultants Pöyry.

It says that if the UK government can meet its EU renewable energy targets and its own action plan to reduce demand through energy efficiency, then major new power stations (either coal, nuclear or gas) would not be needed to meet the country's electricity requirements up to at least 2020.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Energy and Environmental Management magazine now independent, online and free

Energy and Environmental ManagementEnergy and Environmental Management is the name of one of the magazines I work on.

It actually covers a lot more than that, the whole of the sustainable development field in this country. There is a Focus Supplement on energy efficiency and another on waste.

You can now read Energy and Environmental Management online as a free online edition - and subscribe. It has very cool embedded video in the technology, this time used to illustrate the think08 conference which I was at.

The magazine used to be sponsored by Defra and is now independent -- so we are free to be more critical (although we were before -- Defra and BERR don't exactly see eye to eye on energy policy, particularly on the issue of energy efficiency)!

These are the full contents:


Combating fuel poverty . . .6
EU ETS kept emissions down . .  . . 7
Carbon Trust “could do better” . . .8
Tougher penalties on waste crime . . .9
WRAP’s new business plan . .  . . 10
UK battery regulations . .  . . 11
Think 08 review . .  . . 12
Personal carbon trading . .  . . 14
Health warning on car adverts . . .16

Focus on waste management and recycling

The true cost of waste, by David Moon . . .p1
WEEE Regulations, by Adrian Harding . . .p3
Industrial Symbiosis - an effective way of reducing industrial waste, by Maggie Morrisey . . .p4
Space of Waste, by Dan McTiernan and Geoff Stow . . .p5
Reducing reliance on landfill, by Barry Sheppard . .  . . p6
Waste not, want not, by Matthew Rowland-Jones  . . .p7

Focus on energy management and renewable energy

European Energy Management Standards, by Martin Fry . . .p1
Real efficiency, by Alan Aldridge . . .p3
Increasing popularity of solar, by Kathy Wyatt . . .p5
Regulating non-domestic buildings, by Melody Stokes . . .p8


Climate change champions, by Steve Waller . . .18
UK award winners . .  . . 21


Society for the Environment column . . .17
Resources/Events . .  . . 24/25
Products & Services . .  . . 26
Contacts  . .  . . 27

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Tidal vs Nuclear

Even as Gordon Brown gives support for more nuclear newbuild, tidal stream energy makes big strides forwards while nuclear costs rise and problems continue

Decommissioning costs rising

The cost of cleaning up the UK's nuclear facilities - some of which date back to the 1950s - will rise above £73bn, even as Gordon Brown is rushing to build new ones. Jim Morse, a senior director at the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) told the BBC this week that the costs of dismantling 19 sites will rise by billions of pounds. The National Audit Office upgraded the figure to £73bn. it just keeps going up.

Morse said: "I think it's a high probability that in the short term it will undoubtedly go up. We've still a lot to discover. We haven't started waste retrieval in those parts of the estate where the degradation and radioactive decay has been at its greatest. No-one's done this before."

Nuclear shutdowns

In other nuclear developments this week, two of British Energy's ageing nuclear reactors - the Hunterston B7 reactor at Largs, Ayrshire, and the Sizewell B reactor in Leiston, Suffolk - also shut down unexpectedly triggering blackouts.

Robin Oakley, head of Greenpeace's climate and energy campaign, said: "The nuclear industry has had a woeful 24 hours that must be shaking confidence in this outdated technology. Sizewell B shut down unexpectedly, clean-up costs are soaring and the reactor that France wants to sell us has had construction halted for safety reasons."

EDF's not to be trusted

On Tuesday, the French nuclear safety authority (ASN) ordered EDF Energy to partly suspend the construction of its new-generation nuclear reactor in Flamanville after concerns about the quality of the construction work. This is the same company that has recently been buying up farmland adjacent to Wylfa nuclear power station on Anglesey, expecting to be given the green light to build a new nuclear power station there.

The local council is in favour of the project, because it is fearful that a nearby steel plant, dependent on the energy from the power plants, will have to close down when the power station is decommissioned after 2012. But the Welsh Assembly government has not given its view.

Marine current turbine world first

A Friends of the Earth Wales report has said a marine tidal farm could generate the equivalent energy to Wylfa rendering a new nuclear power station unnecessarily. The marine currents just alongside the power station are amongst the strongest around Britain's coast. Construction is to begin on a 10.5MW project, expected to be commissioned around 2011/2012.

The pioneering project is a joint initiative with Marine Current Turbines and npower. Marine Current Turbines has successfully installed the world's first megawatt-scale tidal turbine, a 1.2MW SeaGen tidal energy system, in Strangford Narrows, Northern Ireland in May. It should start regularly feeding power into the Northern Ireland grid in August.

Marine Current Turbines tidal turbine, a 1.2MW SeaGen , in Strangford Narrows, Northern Ireland

Martin Wright, Managing Director of Marine Current Turbines said: "This has been a ground-breaking operation, the like of which has never been attempted before and it has attracted interest from around the world. SeaGen's installation has been filmed by TV crews from North America, Germany and France as well as from Ireland and the UK." When fully operational the tidal system's 16m diameter, twin rotors will operate for up to 18-20 hours per day.

These turbines are modular, so if these installations are successful more may be added later, spreading the cost, unlike with tidal barrages or nuclear power stations.

Monday, June 02, 2008

UK and Irish governments told to implement personal carbon trading

The British government should reconsider its decision to put on the backburner the idea of personal carbon trading, especially since the Irish government has now been advised to roll out a pilot for the transport sector.

Britain should consider giving individuals a personal carbon emissions allowance that they can use or trade, in order to help the country meet its CO2 emissions target, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) told the government last week. The government had earlier in the month dismissed the idea.

Hilary Benn, the environment minister, told me at a climate change conference (Think 08) that the scheme was too early (meaning that people weren't ready for it), too expensive and too complicated to explain and to administer. Additionally, he argued that there was a danger of inequity in the system, disproportionately affecting the elderly, rural and poor who would have to be compensated.

However, the Irish government has just received a recommendation to trial a form of Cap & Share in the transport sector.

The Defra report deliberately underplayed the carbon benefits and admitted to a low level of research quality citing a "reduction in personal emissions of 0-10% - although these figures have been drawn from research on metering and energy displays rather than trials of personal carbon trading... a low range of 0-5% reduction is assumed. Though [even] a 10% reduction would still not be sufficient to balance the cost-benefit assessment more favourably."

The Environmental Audit Committee disagreed. "Existing initiatives are unlikely to bring about behavioural change on the scale required, with many individuals choosing to disregard the connection between their own emissions and the larger challenge," the EAC said. "Personal carbon trading might be the kind of radical measure needed to bring about behavioural change." It would be more effective and fairer than bringing in "green" taxes.

Hilary Benn said the cost of introducing PCAs would be between £700m and £2bn.

However, Tim Yeo, the Conservative EAC chairman, strongly disagreed, saying difficulties of implementing the scheme could be overcome and calling for more feasibility work. He said that if the private sector were to administer it, it could be done a lot cheaper, along the lines of supermarket loyalty cards. "It engages people at all levels in their decisions, about whether they heat their house to a slightly lower temperature, whether they really need to put air conditioning in their flat, whether they really need to take that flight," he said.

Meanwhile, Ireland forges ahead

But PCAs are not the only such scheme on the table. At the end of May, British consultants AEA Energy and Environment released their interim final report, commissioned by Comhar, the Irish national sustainable development council, into Cap & Share, which the coalition government is seriously considering. Their conclusion was that Cap & Share is much fairer, cheaper, and more cost-effective.

Under Cap & Share, permits for the right to emit carbon are given to the population, who can then choose whether or not to sell them to companies introducing fossil fuels to the national economy. (Currently of course permits are given away under the EU emissions trading scheme, which boosts the energy companies’ profits at consumers’ expense.) As only a small number of firms are importing or producing energy, this makes C&S easy to administer. Each fuel company is required to purchase permits to match the eventual emissions from the fossil fuels they extract or import, with the total number being reduced year on year to promote the transition to a low carbon society.

Of course companies have to add the cost of the permits to their prices and this puts up the cost of everything sold because all goods and services have an energy content. But the Irish environment organization Feasta comments: "it's just as fair as any other scheme. Under the proposal lower income households, on average, would benefit since they have lower than average energy consumption and would receive emissions certificates worth more than the increased fuel costs they incur. "

How much would it cost?

AEA compares 10 different ways of rationing carbon currently being considered around the world, including carbon taxes. Their report is far more detailed than that produced by Hillary Benn’s department.
This AEA table compares the various carbon reducing schemes on offer. The green colour symbolizes the most benefit and the redder shade the least benefit.

The AEA report compares the various carbon reducing schemes on offer. The green colour symbolizes the most benefit and the redder shade the least benefit.

They say the cost of "the Cap and Share scheme... would be lower than the more complex personal carbon allocation options but higher than introducing a carbon tax. For the Cap and Share scheme the cost of administering the fuel suppliers is likely to be secondary to the costs associated with issuing certificates to the general public. Our simple bottom up estimate... puts the transaction costs for a system where certificates are cashed in remotely in the range 8-11% of the value of the certificates. This range depends on income and assumes an allowance price of €20/tCO2 and a bank direct transaction charge of 5%. At higher carbon prices the cost effectiveness would be better, with transaction costs around 6-7% for a price of €50/tCO2."

AEA therefore recommends the system to be introduced on a trial basis first of all in the transport sector in the Republic of Ireland "with subsequent consideration to sectoral and geographical expansion" in the North. This would also combat the fuel tourism which currently goes on, as fuel is cheaper south of the border – which I witnessed first hand recently. Measures would be needed to shield the vulnerable from increased costs. AEA suggests not allocating to children, "although again consideration will be needed for increasing support to families".

AEA concludes its comparison thus: "Cap and Share and the Sky Trust currently appear the most favourable [schemes]. The schemes that treat individuals as an emitting entity (Tradable Energy Quotas, Personal Carbon Rationing, Rate All Products and Services and the Ayres Scheme) look the least appealing, because of their complexity and the resulting costs. Furthermore, the lack of public engagement, uncertainty over environmental outcome and no direct compensation for individuals mean non-traded options such as a carbon tax and direct regulation score less well in our analysis than Cap and Share and Sky Trust."

[The Sky Trust is an American idea whereby permits to pollute are auctioned and the revenue generated given to households in order to "lock in public support for emission reductions, no matter how high fuel prices would rise." The dividends could be used by residents to subsidize the price of energy-efficient appliances and/or renewable energy generation.]

The Irish Environmental Protection Agency is currently considering the recommendations. If the Irish government goes ahead it will be another case of the Republic courageously going first where its neighbours in the British Isles later follow – as with banning plastic bags and smoking in pubs. The ‘Celtic Tiger’ can certainly teach us a thing or two about looking after our health and the environment. How surprising is that?

Further illustrations of how the different schemes work:

The AEA explanation of Cap and Share.

The AEA explanation of Domestic Tradeable Quotas.

The AEA explanation of carbon taxes.