A better future
In Sept, Dr Paul Hatchwell, a consultant with ENDS, wrote a useful overview of UK energy options in an article for The Independent supported by Shell: www.independent.co.uk/life-style/ newenergyfuture/britains-energy-challenge-meeting-energy-generation-and-carbon-emission-targets-2068598.html
It laid out the problems as he saw them - chiefly, on the supply side, that nuclear was likely to be limited, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) was unsure, and renewables were not expanding fast enough, and set this against the governments evident belief that all was basicially well, with, for example, renewables on target to reach 30% of electricity by 2020.
He didn’t however say what could be done to make sure this happened- or to do better than 30%, as many feel we must and could, although he did mention the supergrid idea.
But the recent ‘Declaration of Support for an efficient renewable energy future’, signed by several leading international academics, laid out a basic framework:
‘We need to plan, optimize, and implement the renewable and efficiency revolution with all deliberate speed. We must improve the efficiency of our existing processes. This includes reducing waste and taking advantage of thermodynamic efficiencies through cogeneration, district heating and cooling, and heat pumps.
Renewable electrification means we must intelligently integrate and optimize decentralized and distributed energy resources, linking them over long distances with energy storage on a continental and even intercontinental scale if needed. Whatever we do must be subject to analysis of triple bottom line consequences—economic, ecological, and social, as subject to democratic control.
We must adopt, as needed, new market rules and regulations, such as proper utility and manufacturer incentives for efficiency and distributed generation, feed-in tariffs, high renewable portfolio standards, provision of sufficient loan and investment capital, and varied opportunities for investment.
We might use natural gas as a diminishing transition fuel for district heating and cooling, cogeneration, and transport applications while renewable electrification and fuels are not yet fully available.
We need to be cognizant of the security aspects and consider all possible advantages of the use and decentralized control of modern end-use devices, renewable generators, and cogenerators’.
To fill the gaps, in terms of specific policies, here are some suggestions for the UK context that have emerged recently focussing of electricity:
Impose a ‘wind-fall’ tax on oil companies to fund major energy efficiency programmes across the board.
Impose a ‘wind-fall’ tax on electricity supply companies to fund the rapid upgrade of the power grid, including more interconnections with the rest of the EU- the supergrid
Introduce a Cross-Feed Tariff to support the flow of green power between the UK and the rest of the EU on the supergrid.
Introduce a Feed-in Tariff (FiT) to support wave power and tidal stream turbine projects.
Expand the existing FiT to cover larger community projects and local biomass-waste fired Combined Heat and Power (CHP), and push ahead with the RHI.
Re-direct the various nuclear subsidies and R&D programmes to support rapid development of new offshore wind technologies, like floating wind turbines.
A new White Paper on Energy is due out next year, following the revised National Policy Statement on Energy. Much of this will focus on nuclear. But there may also be opportunities for more progressive commitments as outlined above- e.g. a revised FiT.
Similar lists are emerging for ‘green heat’ options- some looking to solar and biomass/biogas fed micro-CHP at the domestic level, but others suggesting a new focus on local district heating grids fed increasingly by medium/large biogas fired CHP or even large solar collector arrays and heat stores, as is being done widely on the continent- see my earlier Blog http://environmentalresearchweb.org/blog/2010/10/solar-power-brightens-up.html.
Some of the proposals above are contentious, and most would increase energy costs to consumers, at least in the short term. But then so would just about any measure to deal with climate change, and the proposals above are all targeted to meet specific technological and/or sectors goals, with there being good prospects for costs to fall as the technology develops.
Another approach is an across-the-board carbon tax of the type attempted unsuccessfully earlier this year by France. That relied on market mechanism to steer the choice of technology, in response to the revised costs of energy- a short-term market approach, focusing on the currently cheapest low carbon options.
The UK government’s proposals for providing a guaranteed ‘floor price’ for carbon to boost the EU Emission Trading System, would make renewables and/or nuclear look more attractive economically. But otherwise it’s untargeted, with, again, a short term focus. Moreover, if it worked to raise the (currently very low) value of carbon, consumer costs would rise and taxpayers money might also have be provided to maintain the high carbon price, if there was a market down turn..
It might be easier, although still untargeted, just to tighten the carbon cap set for the next round of EU ETS. But as happened last time, that would lead to conflicts with, and special pleading from, countries with currently high levels of fossil emissions. They might for example ask for continuation of the system where some carbon permits are offered free rather than being auctioned.
We certainly need to push harder to get green energy technology deployed, but as can be seen, there are disagreements about how bet to do this. While market led approaches have been adopted so far, and are still promoted, a more targeted approach, using Feed-In Tariffs coupled with hypothecated special taxes, might be a more effective way to raise and direct the money that will be needed.
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