Brown's green revolution?

Posted by jossc — 26 June 2008 at 5:23pm - Comments

Offshore wind - at the heart of MR Brown's energy revolution?

Offshore wind - 3,500 new turbines by 2020?

Although the PM has taken a few verbal pastings from us over the past few months on key climate issues like airport expansion and new coal-fired power stations, in a new speech today he did much to redeem himself by announcing an ambitious plan to ensure Britain generates 15 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

To be sure, the government has promised as much in the past and failed to deliver, but there seemed to be something different about today's Renewable Energy Strategy Consultation - some meat on the bones which indicated that the plan might just be more than empty rhetoric. The government is consulting on ambitious plans designed to allow the UK to meet its share of an overall EU target to generate 20 per cent of energy (electricity, heat and transport) from renewables within 12 years.

The new plan proposes 3,500 wind turbines built onshore and thousands more offshore, up to 7 million roofs covered in thermal solar panels and a huge uptake of electric cars. If implemented it would be a transformation in the way Britain generates and uses energy and would touch all our lives.

Responding to the announcement, Greenpeace Director John Sauven pointed out that "If the government actually means it this time then Britain will become a better, safer and more prosperous country. We could create jobs, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and use less gas, and in the long run our power bills will come down. But it won’t happen without real government action."

"Although this is a consultation to discuss options, it’s already clear what ministers need to do. For a start they have to get serious about cutting out energy waste with smarter and better appliances, buildings and cars, and put a proper support policy in place to guarantee a good price for green electricity. Key to making this vision a reality is helping UK industry positioned itself to secure investment, profits and jobs from supplying the parts and expertise to build it all."

The plan anticipates that fuel bills may rise slightly before falling as the transition to renewables is made. Implementing the plan would reduce dependency on oil by 6-7 percent by making the transport system more diverse, encouraging electric and hybrid cars and using some sustainably-sourced biofuels. Gas dependence could fall by 5 per cent and coal-burning by between 13 and 18 per cent. Hitting the target would create 160,000 new 'green collar' jobs in Britain, with the offshore wind industry alone worth £2bn a year.

So far, so good then. Of course there are always a few flies in the ointment: the new proposals reportedly don't deal with the problem of emissions from the aviation sector because no viable alternative aviation fuels are expected to exist for decades. The strategy document states that by 2020 11 per cent of the UK's energy use will be taken up by aviation alone, illustrating how airport expansion could undermine all other efforts to save carbon.

Nevertheless the proposals are both ambitious and achievable, and represent Mr Brown's most positive engagement with genuinely sensible climate change energy policies to date. But they are only likely to become reality if:

  • We use less energy, more effectively. For the renewable energy strategy to be successful an aggressive energy demand reduction strategy is needed with a tough approach to energy efficiency regulating for smarter design of products, buildings and vehicles to ensure they minimise waste.
  • We make the planning system work for renewables, not get in their way. We need to take a positive approach to planning, setting out binding local targets and developing local 'green light zones' for renewables using spatial planning. Planners and councilors should be given more resources and training to help them make quicker and better decisions.
  • Renewable development can bring hundreds of thousands of jobs and economic benefits to the UK, but only if manufacturing and supply industries which make the parts are effectively supported.
  • We put a proper support policy in place to guarantee a good price for green electricity and that properly meets the varied levels of support required so that technologies at the innovation stage, such as wave and tidal power, are given more support to help them become commercially viable sooner. In Germany this has been successfully achieved by a so-called 'feed-in tariff’'.
  • Bioenergy (which includes biofuels, biomass and biogas) and the land that produces it are precious resources. They have a crucial role to play in the renewable energy mix, but must be used sensibly and sustainably for this to be achieved. First government should establish a sustainable bioenergy policy that prioritises the use of bioenergy in highly efficient so-called 'combined heat and power' stations and sets sustainability criteria for biomass and biofuel that guarantees that they deliver real greenhouse gas emissions reductions and never come from sources linked to the destruction of forests.

how many years does it take to offset the carbon cost of building a wind turbine against the income from the electricity generated

- the concrete, the transport, the steel, etc from resource to final product? and of course the recycling when they are redundant and have to be demolished - ie the whole product cycle - ashes to ashes and dust to dust - include everything including the energy used to harness the electricity and feed it into the grid - the computers etc - does anyone know? and then of course there is the environmental impact on the plants and animals around the sites - Im not against them just wondered about these things

one thing that I have not seen mentioned is how disturbing they are to drive past when they are all turning at different speeds at at different angles to the line of sight when you are driving - i noticed this particularly in Germany where there are thousands of them and one's eye very easily is caught by them - there its not so important as there isnt much traffic but not so in the UK - also has anyone any idea if the movement could cause an epileptic fit as can long lines of trees with the rapid movement as you drive past??

"how many years does it take to offset the carbon cost of building a wind turbine against the income from the electricity generated"

There is no straight answer to this - the amount of energy and carbon that wind turbines save depends on several things including size, location, wind speed, nearby buildings and the local landscape.

You have to look at the whole system cost and effects. Every traditional power plant uses turbines - whether coal, geothermal, nuclear, etc. So this isn't a unique cost of wind power. Same goes for the concrete - the amount of concrete poured per MW capacity used for coal, gas, oil, or nuclear plants will vary depending on the facility, but is unlikely to compare favourably with offshore wind farms in most cases - even if it does, remember that once constructed, wind energy is CO2-free (nuclear can make a similar claim, of course, but only at the cost of tonnes of high and low level radioactive waste that we don't know what to do with...)

"and then of course there is the environmental impact on the plants and animals!"

Again this is all a question of perspective. If you want to assess relative cost look at the aftermath of a mountain turned into a pit from coal mining, or the estimates of how many birds are killed by vehicles each year in the US (figures range as high as 100,000,000).

Ultimately everything we do has an impact. Overall, renewable energy combined with energy efficiency and using power locally seems to be the best answer to minimising both CO2 emissions and environmental damage.

I suggest you look at the Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) documents for various types of generating plant. These identify the amount of material that needs to be used; and the amount of pollution created; for each unit of electricity (kWh) produced.

For example here is one for a wind farm.
Here is one for a nuclear power station.
Here is a summary from Vattenfall that compares the EPDs for many different forms of generation.

Google will yield lots of others.

In general coal power produces about 900g of CO2 per kWh of output.
Gas power produces about 350g.
Wind, hydro and nuclear generally produce less than 20g through their whole lifecycle. The wind farm example in my link above produces 16g per kWh. In the case of the best Swedish nuclear powerstation above it is below 3g; Torness in the UK is about 5g.

The best EPD’s also include more subjective assessments of impact on biodiversity etc

But in answer to your question: it depends what the wind power is replacing. If it replaces coal then it pays back its carbon cost within a few months. If, on the other hand, it replaces nuclear then it never pays back because wind generally necessitates slightly more CO2 emissions than nuclear.

Hello,

I have been a Greenpeace supporter for some time.. I recently came across http://www.withouthotair.com/ - it is a draft e-book written by David J.C. MacKay, Professor of Natural Philosophy, Department of Physics, University of Cambridge.

In the book - he attempts to break down the options for our 'carbon-free' energy future, based on the assumptions that:

"We have an addiction to fossil fuels, and it’s not sustainable. The developed world gets 80% of its energy from fossil fuels; Britain, 90%."

And it goes on to present a number of 'mixes' as possible options for overcoming our addiction to oil:

"The mixes represent different political complexions, including plan G, the Green plan, which forgoes both “clean coal” and nuclear power; plan N, the NIMBY plan, which makes especially heavy use of other countries’ renewables; and plan E, the Economist’s plan, which focuses on the most economical carbon-free choices: onshore wind farms, nuclear power, and a handful of tidal lagoons."

In previous version - Plan G was referred to as the 'Greenpeace plan' because 'we' love wind turbines... I wonder if Greenpeace has had any thoughts on this book and the plans outlined?

I am particularly interested in understanding whether the 'EfficienCity' model is actually aligned to his Plan G - and whether Greenpeace has done any number crunching that contradicts the proposals put forward by MacKay?

I personally feel that we shouldn't be aiming to build our energy future based on the same consumption figures (125 kWh/d per person), as I am hoping some of the £100bn investment proposed by Mr Brown would be going on reducing that figure. However, a switch to electric vehicles would increase consumption...

I can't be relying on hunches any more - in my 'evangelical' efforts on other blogs and forums etc - people are now wanting cold hard data. It is no longer effective to just recommend switching domestic supply to green electricity companies like Ecotricity and to use energy saving lightbulbs... or to check out EfficienCity for ideas and support Greenpeace. Greenwash and 'Ecochic' is making the job much harder these days, as it just makes the already 'climate change skeptical' even more suspicious.

Help?!

"Biofuels ... have a crucial role to play in the renewable energy mix"; crucial to maintaining a facade of greenwash over continued destruction of the world environment.
There is a global market for Biofuels (fuels made from agricultural crops). The more you buy them, the more the price increases, the more land is used to make them.
Rape, an important agrofuel, produced using nitrogen fertiliser, causes bacteria in the ground to emit nitrous dioxide; it is cleaner to burn oil.
Rainforrests are being felled and communities evicted to produce them.
The radical drop in energy use required to avert ongoing and accelerating environmental catastrophe can only be achieved by a just transition to 100% renewable energy. Governments can't do it; the levers of industry are in the hands of the workers.

Nommo, I read Mackay’s book with interest and was immensely impressed with the work.

Mackay’s plan-G goes a lot further than Greenpeace’s “efficiencity” model, and takes a completely different direction. Efficiencity depends heavily upon using gas-fired CHP (combined heat and power) to provide electricity and heat; whereas all of the plans in Mackay’s book avoid fossil fuel unless they include carbon capture. In fact MacKay dismisses CHP in favour of using heat pumps for domestic heating. I agree with him. CHP is an unnecessary lock-in to using gas. If housing is properly insulated, space heating is hardly required, and heat pumps can provide it more efficiently anyway.

Another difference is that Mackay’s plans cover all energy use, including transport. Hence they are a more complete solution. In all, MacKay’s plans are more comprehensive than the GreenPeace models, but the raw figures also highlight the difficulties. As Mackay says: “Stop saying we have huge renewables and do the sums!”. He certainly does the sums.

While his plans illustrate that it is feasible to do without fossil fuel, he also makes it clear that the 100% renewable solution is extraordinarily demanding. It involves building windfarms covering 15% of the UK land area; converting 35% of our agricultural land to growing biofuel/biomass; redeveloping every lake and loch into a pumped-hydro system; and incinerating all waste for energy (not exactly an environmentally friendly option). It also depends to certain extent on new technology such as tidal stream and wave power – along with a significant amount of imported solar from the Sahara.

The solutions incorporating nuclear powerstations are very much cheaper and ultimately, looking at the cold figures, more plausible. Notably, in Plan-E (the Economist’s model) nuclear dominates as the cheapest low-carbon energy source. In my opinion a combination of nuclear with renewables and some fossil fuel with CCS seems most likely to succeed.

I don't believe that wind energy is the solution to our problems, it's simply too expensive.

I like to forward thinking nature of these plans, but would be surprised if they get anywhere

Hi All,
I too greatly enjoyed David Mackay Sustainable Energy book, so much so I created a free online tool to enable people to create their own energy plans based on the calculations in his book. It is available at:

www.energyplanmaker.com

The idea is that you can create, save and share your own plan - as long as it adds up the consumption with production. You can also name it and comment on it. Hopefully it will help the debate focus on the numbers.

Many Thanks

how many years does it take to offset the carbon cost of building a wind turbine against the income from the electricity generated - the concrete, the transport, the steel, etc from resource to final product? and of course the recycling when they are redundant and have to be demolished - ie the whole product cycle - ashes to ashes and dust to dust - include everything including the energy used to harness the electricity and feed it into the grid - the computers etc - does anyone know? and then of course there is the environmental impact on the plants and animals around the sites - Im not against them just wondered about these things one thing that I have not seen mentioned is how disturbing they are to drive past when they are all turning at different speeds at at different angles to the line of sight when you are driving - i noticed this particularly in Germany where there are thousands of them and one's eye very easily is caught by them - there its not so important as there isnt much traffic but not so in the UK - also has anyone any idea if the movement could cause an epileptic fit as can long lines of trees with the rapid movement as you drive past??

"how many years does it take to offset the carbon cost of building a wind turbine against the income from the electricity generated" There is no straight answer to this - the amount of energy and carbon that wind turbines save depends on several things including size, location, wind speed, nearby buildings and the local landscape. You have to look at the whole system cost and effects. Every traditional power plant uses turbines - whether coal, geothermal, nuclear, etc. So this isn't a unique cost of wind power. Same goes for the concrete - the amount of concrete poured per MW capacity used for coal, gas, oil, or nuclear plants will vary depending on the facility, but is unlikely to compare favourably with offshore wind farms in most cases - even if it does, remember that once constructed, wind energy is CO2-free (nuclear can make a similar claim, of course, but only at the cost of tonnes of high and low level radioactive waste that we don't know what to do with...) "and then of course there is the environmental impact on the plants and animals!" Again this is all a question of perspective. If you want to assess relative cost look at the aftermath of a mountain turned into a pit from coal mining, or the estimates of how many birds are killed by vehicles each year in the US (figures range as high as 100,000,000). Ultimately everything we do has an impact. Overall, renewable energy combined with energy efficiency and using power locally seems to be the best answer to minimising both CO2 emissions and environmental damage.

I suggest you look at the Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) documents for various types of generating plant. These identify the amount of material that needs to be used; and the amount of pollution created; for each unit of electricity (kWh) produced. For example here is one for a wind farm. Here is one for a nuclear power station. Here is a summary from Vattenfall that compares the EPDs for many different forms of generation. Google will yield lots of others. In general coal power produces about 900g of CO2 per kWh of output. Gas power produces about 350g. Wind, hydro and nuclear generally produce less than 20g through their whole lifecycle. The wind farm example in my link above produces 16g per kWh. In the case of the best Swedish nuclear powerstation above it is below 3g; Torness in the UK is about 5g. The best EPD’s also include more subjective assessments of impact on biodiversity etc But in answer to your question: it depends what the wind power is replacing. If it replaces coal then it pays back its carbon cost within a few months. If, on the other hand, it replaces nuclear then it never pays back because wind generally necessitates slightly more CO2 emissions than nuclear.

Hello, I have been a Greenpeace supporter for some time.. I recently came across http://www.withouthotair.com/ - it is a draft e-book written by David J.C. MacKay, Professor of Natural Philosophy, Department of Physics, University of Cambridge. In the book - he attempts to break down the options for our 'carbon-free' energy future, based on the assumptions that: "We have an addiction to fossil fuels, and it’s not sustainable. The developed world gets 80% of its energy from fossil fuels; Britain, 90%." And it goes on to present a number of 'mixes' as possible options for overcoming our addiction to oil: "The mixes represent different political complexions, including plan G, the Green plan, which forgoes both “clean coal” and nuclear power; plan N, the NIMBY plan, which makes especially heavy use of other countries’ renewables; and plan E, the Economist’s plan, which focuses on the most economical carbon-free choices: onshore wind farms, nuclear power, and a handful of tidal lagoons." In previous version - Plan G was referred to as the 'Greenpeace plan' because 'we' love wind turbines... I wonder if Greenpeace has had any thoughts on this book and the plans outlined? I am particularly interested in understanding whether the 'EfficienCity' model is actually aligned to his Plan G - and whether Greenpeace has done any number crunching that contradicts the proposals put forward by MacKay? I personally feel that we shouldn't be aiming to build our energy future based on the same consumption figures (125 kWh/d per person), as I am hoping some of the £100bn investment proposed by Mr Brown would be going on reducing that figure. However, a switch to electric vehicles would increase consumption... I can't be relying on hunches any more - in my 'evangelical' efforts on other blogs and forums etc - people are now wanting cold hard data. It is no longer effective to just recommend switching domestic supply to green electricity companies like Ecotricity and to use energy saving lightbulbs... or to check out EfficienCity for ideas and support Greenpeace. Greenwash and 'Ecochic' is making the job much harder these days, as it just makes the already 'climate change skeptical' even more suspicious. Help?!

"Biofuels ... have a crucial role to play in the renewable energy mix"; crucial to maintaining a facade of greenwash over continued destruction of the world environment. There is a global market for Biofuels (fuels made from agricultural crops). The more you buy them, the more the price increases, the more land is used to make them. Rape, an important agrofuel, produced using nitrogen fertiliser, causes bacteria in the ground to emit nitrous dioxide; it is cleaner to burn oil. Rainforrests are being felled and communities evicted to produce them. The radical drop in energy use required to avert ongoing and accelerating environmental catastrophe can only be achieved by a just transition to 100% renewable energy. Governments can't do it; the levers of industry are in the hands of the workers.

Nommo, I read Mackay’s book with interest and was immensely impressed with the work. Mackay’s plan-G goes a lot further than Greenpeace’s “efficiencity” model, and takes a completely different direction. Efficiencity depends heavily upon using gas-fired CHP (combined heat and power) to provide electricity and heat; whereas all of the plans in Mackay’s book avoid fossil fuel unless they include carbon capture. In fact MacKay dismisses CHP in favour of using heat pumps for domestic heating. I agree with him. CHP is an unnecessary lock-in to using gas. If housing is properly insulated, space heating is hardly required, and heat pumps can provide it more efficiently anyway. Another difference is that Mackay’s plans cover all energy use, including transport. Hence they are a more complete solution. In all, MacKay’s plans are more comprehensive than the GreenPeace models, but the raw figures also highlight the difficulties. As Mackay says: “Stop saying we have huge renewables and do the sums!”. He certainly does the sums. While his plans illustrate that it is feasible to do without fossil fuel, he also makes it clear that the 100% renewable solution is extraordinarily demanding. It involves building windfarms covering 15% of the UK land area; converting 35% of our agricultural land to growing biofuel/biomass; redeveloping every lake and loch into a pumped-hydro system; and incinerating all waste for energy (not exactly an environmentally friendly option). It also depends to certain extent on new technology such as tidal stream and wave power – along with a significant amount of imported solar from the Sahara. The solutions incorporating nuclear powerstations are very much cheaper and ultimately, looking at the cold figures, more plausible. Notably, in Plan-E (the Economist’s model) nuclear dominates as the cheapest low-carbon energy source. In my opinion a combination of nuclear with renewables and some fossil fuel with CCS seems most likely to succeed.

I don't believe that wind energy is the solution to our problems, it's simply too expensive. I like to forward thinking nature of these plans, but would be surprised if they get anywhere

Hi All, I too greatly enjoyed David Mackay Sustainable Energy book, so much so I created a free online tool to enable people to create their own energy plans based on the calculations in his book. It is available at: www.energyplanmaker.com The idea is that you can create, save and share your own plan - as long as it adds up the consumption with production. You can also name it and comment on it. Hopefully it will help the debate focus on the numbers. Many Thanks

This post is pretty interesting to understand the subject matter, the plan which have been introduced here are quite helpful for the development, really these green revolutions are dedicated to presenting pertinent information on the clean energy economy and developed the countries current suitation.

http://www.fatlossfactorreviewed.org/

 

Do you know why renewable energy is best. Do you have any figures or facts.

About Joss

Bass player and backing vox in the four piece beat combo that is the UK Greenpeace Web Experience. In my 6 years here I've worked on almost every campaign and been fascinated by them all to varying degrees. Just now I'm working on Peace and Oceans - which means getting rid of our Trident nuclear weapons system and creating large marine reserves so that marine life can get some protection from overfishing.

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