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Renew your energy: July 2012 Archives

Bashing wind

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A new report from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) says on-land wind projects can threaten the 'beauty and tranquility of much-loved landscapes.' CPRE Chief executive Shaun Spiers, said 'CPRE accepts onshore wind in the right places as part of the mix required to meet the UK's carbon reduction targets, but we are seeing more and more giant turbines sited in inappropriate locations. Communities feel increasingly powerless in the face of speculative applications from big, well-funded developers, and this risks undermining public support for the measures needed to tackle climate change.' He reiterated they were not against all wind turbines: 'it is right that the countryside should play its part in supplying the renewable energy the country needs'. But he stressed that businesses and policymakers, 'must find a way of reconciling climate change mitigation and landscape protection'.

The CPREs report 'Generating light on landscape impacts: How to accommodate onshore wind while protecting the countryside', calls on the government to provide more clarity on the total number of onshore wind turbines it expects will be installed, and wants the capacity of the landscape to accommodate wind turbines 'without unacceptable damage' to be formally taken into account in planning decisions. It also says the wind industry should be made responsible for decommissioning turbines and restoring the landscape once they stop working or when they reach the end of their useful life.

This seems very reasonable, although most planning consents include a site clean up requirement and CPRE also seem a bit confused about numbers, at one point evidently talking of 4,100 or even 12,000 turbines. The wind industry said that actually only 1,826 turbines were planned for England at present, as part of a total of 8,581 for the entire UK and, according to Business Green, suggested that CPRE might have been scaremongering by including offshore turbines.

RenewableUK's Dr Gordon Edge, said: 'Striking a balance between our need for renewable energy to help combat climate change, while also protecting the landscape we all cherish, is the role of our planning system'. But 'the biggest threat to our valued landscapes is climate change. Onshore wind is the cheapest source of low-carbon power, and restricting its development would jeopardise our firm commitment to offer value for money to the consumer, as well as green energy. It's clear that only some locations are suitable for wind- but the way to identify those is by assessing each wind farm on its own merits, not the top-down approach the CPRE is proposing.'

RenewableUK quoted a recent Ipsos MORI poll that found 68% of rural residents backed the use of wind power, compared to 66% of urban residents. 62% of people living in the countryside found the visual impact of wind turbines acceptable, compared to 57% of people in urban areas.

Nevertheless, opposition has continued, with the Treasury evidently also worried about costs. DECC responded by making cuts (of 10%) in the Renewables Obligation support level for on-land wind, but also by trying to talk down the number of new turbines that would be likely. Energy Minister Charles Hendry explained that, although the target was to move from the current installed on land wind capacity of 5 GW to around 13 GW, 'as turbine sizes and efficiency have increased, we could see - if planners are willing to consent these larger sizes - that around half the numbers of turbines we need to meet that 2020 scenario are already in place. It means that the onshore turbines that have been built, consented or are in planning can deliver most of that picture, though we must and do recognise that not everything that is consented will be built, and not everything in the planning system deserves to be consented.'

On the cost issue, some of the media have been getting increasingly shrill: 'Subsidies paid to windpower companies are forcing up to 50,000 households a year into fuel poverty', claimed the Sunday Times in June, using figures from a House of Commons Library paper. Any price increase will of course push some more people into fuel poverty, defined as having to spend more than 10% of income on fuel. But it was quickly pointed out (by the Guardian and the Carbon Brief Blog) that the total amount added to an electricity bill by payments to support renewables (mostly via the RO) was £18.20 in 2010- of which about half went to wind. Between 2004 and 2010, dual fuel bills rose by £455, of which £382 was due to soaring gas prices. That's what has led to fuel poverty, not the ~£3 RO increase since 2009, or the £9 p.a or so total for wind, including offshore.

Tony Juniper, of Action for Renewables, added 'The vast majority of the people in this country, and especially those in rural areas, understand the need for sensibly-sited wind turbines to build the home-grown energy systems that will create jobs, attract investments, generate power and ultimately saves us money. I don't believe that an unrepresentative minority using exaggerated statistics should be allowed to stop the country reaping these benefits.'

Some opponents of on land wind have argued for offshore wind as a less invasive alternative. Certainly the resource is much larger, but it's more expensive. Confronting backbenchers in his own party who wanted big cuts in on land wind, Tim Yeo, Tory chair of the all-party energy and climate change select committee, commented 'The way to deal with this - and realise the savings the Treasury wants to achieve - is to have more onshore renewable energy, which requires lower levels of subsidy, and less offshore, which requires more. We need to change the balance. If we shut down all the onshore wind in the country, families would save just £6 a year.'

The battle over wind came to a head with the recent ROC allocation exercise, but although it did impose a cut, DECC resisted larger cuts, and, as I will be describing in my next Blog, despite its somewhat odd, parallel (and, arguably, incompatible) commitment to high-cost nuclear, and pressures from the Treasury, it seems to be trying hard to keep the renewables show on the road. However there is still a way to go. At the opening of the annual All Energy conference in Aberdeen in May, Charles Hendry commented that 'It is shameful that with some of the strongest winds and highest tidal reaches in Europe, the UK is currently third from bottom in the whole of the EU in its use of renewables', although, perhaps unsurprisingly, these words did not get included in the final version of his speech as rendered on the DECC website.

Fukushima impact

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Japan is still dealing with the costs, and the uncertainties, following the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has commented 'whether it be decontamination, managing people's health, ensuring food safety and peace of mind, the reopening of schools and hospitals, or other matters, the responses to the issues facing Fukushima's disaster areas are still only midway to completion'.

It certainly had a major social impact, in part as a consequence of the poor handling of the accident. Breakdowns in communication caused extra confusion and contributed to the distress of residents evacuated from their homes, according to a survey by the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission for the Japanese Diet. Over 10,000 responded to it, some very bitterly.

A total of 146,520 residents were evacuated as a result of the government's evacuation Orders, although others self evacuated. However, the Commission's report notes, many residents in the plant's vicinity evacuated without accurate information. 'Unaware of the severity of the accident, they planned to be away only for a few days and evacuated with only the barest necessities. Evacuation orders were repeatedly revised as the evacuation zones expanded from the original 3-kilometer radius to 10 kilometers and later, 20 kilometers, all in one day. Each time the evacuation zone expanded, the residents were required to relocate. Some evacuees were unaware that they had been relocated to sites with high levels of radiation. Hospitals and nursing homes in the 20-kilometer zone struggled to secure evacuation transportation and find accommodations; 60 patients died in March from complications related to the evacuation.'

The survey found that delays in passing on information meant that awareness of the accident was initially very low amongst residents. Some residents did not realise they were being evacuated from their homes because of a nuclear accident and might not be able to return for a long time. Many reported fleeing in just the clothes they had on, without taking time to gather valuables, medical records or even to lock their homes, with some thinking they were being evacuated because of the risk of a further tsunami. Due to the confusion, some then ended up having to move several (4-6) times. This was particularly hard for older people, especially those with medical conditions, some of whom succumbed.

In its report on the 'Lessons of Fukushima', Greenpeace painted an even more tragic picture. It said that some hospitals in Fukushima Prefecture 'had to suspend services because hundreds of doctors and nurses in the area resigned to avoid radiation. Patients from one hospital and a nearby home for the elderly were sent to shelters: 45 of 440 patients died after staff fled. In another incident, more than 90 elderly people were left without caregivers'. It reported that, according to a survey by an association of Fukushima Prefecture hospitals conducted in late July, 125 full-time doctors had resigned from 24 hospitals in the prefecture, or 12% of all doctors working at those institutions. Tragically, it also reported delays in administering iodine tablets. Campaign-reports/Nuclear-reports/Lessons-from-Fukushima/

The Fukushima disaster clearly left may people distrustful. Many respondents referred to TV reports that there were no immediate health risks. So now evacuees didn't trust the media or assurances that they could return home. Residents said they had often been assured of the safety of nuclear power, and thought that an accident could never occur. Now they knew better, so it is hardly surprising that opposition is so high in Japan.

Events since the accident may not have done much to regain their trust, with the complex and long drawn our compensation process raising further hackles. Moreover there is the ever present worry about the potential impacts of radiation exposure

In May this year TEPCO almost quadrupled its initial estimates of total Iodine-131 releases from Fukushima - from 130 Peta Bq to 511PBq. Iodine-131's half-life is 8 days, so it is so not worrying as the releases of Caesium 137, which has a 30 year half life. TEPCOs estimates for releases of Caesium 137 were raised from 6.1 to 13.6 PBq .

An interim UN-World Health Organisation study said that in the most affected areas of Fukushima prefecture, thyroid doses from iodine-131 were estimated as between 10 and 100 mSv apart from one area which was lower, at 1 to 10 mSv, and one that was higher for infants at 100-200 mSv. In the rest of Fukushima, adults received 1 to 10 mSv to their thyroids while children and infants received 10 to 100 mSv, the study estimated. For comparison, it said young people in the vicinity of the Chernobyl accident received on average doses of 300 to 1400 mSv to their thyroids.

So what might be the impact of this exposure? In a paper on the Energy & Environmental Science web site (17/7/12), meteorologist John Ten Hoeve and environmental engineer Mark Jacobson, both at Stanford University in California have calculated that, based on estimates of the radioactive nuclides released at Fukuhima, a three-dimensional global atmospheric model for radioactive fallout patterns and the linear no-threshold (LNT) model for resultant cancers, there would be between 15 and 1100 linked cancer deaths, with their best estimate being 130 deaths. In addition, there would be 24 to 1800 non-lethal cancers, with 180 being their best estimate, almost all, in both cases, being in Japan. This was on top of the 600 or so deaths that had, they claim, resulted from the stress and dislocation of the mass evacuation programme, mostly amongst the elderly and infirm.

Given that and uncertainties about the location/exposure of evacuees and also the reliability of the LNT model at low doses, they say that upper bound mortalities and morbidities could be increased to 1300 and 2500, respectively. They add that 'radiation exposure to workers at the plant is projected to result in 2 to 12 morbidities'. and

Recriminations and proper compensation aside, the focus now must be on ensuring that this never happens again, which for many people implies that we must move away from nuclear power. That certainly is the overwhelming feeling in Japan, and it hasn't reduced since the accident. In June and July, there were mass protests, of up to 170,000 people, when the Japanese government decided to restart two nuclear plants - so far all the rest remain shut down. Up to 45,000 people are turning up to weekly vigils outside the Prime Minster's official residence calling for a rethink. As I reported in my last blog, there are good prospects for alterative approaches, and a new national energy plan is due out soon.

Earlier this year I completed a book on the impact and implications of Fukushima, stressing the alternative energy options available in Japan and elsewhere, which will be out in the autumn as part of Palgrave Macmillan's new Pivot e-book initiative.

As part of its policy of moving away from nuclear power, the Japanese government is pushing ahead with renewables and improved energy efficiency. Given the urgent need to cut energy demand, following the shut down of all its nuclear plants in May, it encouraged voluntary energy saving initiatives, with some success. Although, despite major protest, two nuclear plants have now been started up again, the summer air conditioning load may still present problems, and the energy savings programme is being expanded. The government has called for 15% cuts. It has also requested retailers and home appliance makers to voluntarily halt production and sale of inefficient incandescent lightbulbs. Under Japans existing basic energy plan, all lighting products were already meant to be replaced by LED or other low energy lights by 2020. Japan's Institute of Energy Economics says that, if all incandescent bulbs/fluorescent lamps currently used were replaced by LED lights, the total annual power saved would be 9%, the equivalent output of 13 nuclear reactors.

Understandably, given that Japan is a series of relatively crowded Island with constraints on land use, the renewables programme is focused heavily on offshore resources. The government is supporting the development of a range of marine power technologies with plans for a series of trials next year. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Environment and others have earmarked a total of 10 billion yen for promoting marine renewable energies in the fiscal 2012 budget. Most of the funds are for projects related to floating wind turbines.

Four different designs for offshore wind floating platforms will be installed off the coast of Fukushima in 2013 and 2014, as part of a demonstration project funded by $300m the Japanese government Ministry of Trade, Economic and Industry. Eleven companies and organisations will collaborate on 'FORWARD', the Fukushima floating Offshore Wind farm Demonstration project, with Japanese conglomerate Marubeni leading. Companies contributing innovative floating platform designs include IHI Marine United, Mitsubishi and Mitsui. The port of Onahama, near the city of Iwaki, will serve the Forward project. The government hopes that the Forward project will result in the emergence of one or more commercially-viable designs for offshore wind floating platforms.

A second demonstration project, funded by Japan's environment ministry, in the Goto islands, off the coast west of Nagasaki, is already underway, with a small 110kW turbine on a floating platform. It's planned to replace it with a 2MW turbine next year. In parallel there's a long planned 2.4MW fixed offshore wind project off the coast from Choshi, east of Tokyo, backed by NEDO, which should start up in January.

Windpower Monthly reported that the first stage of the more ambitious FORWARD project, in 2013, will involve installation of a floating 2MW downwind turbine, on a compact semi-submersible base. In 2014, two further turbines, 7MW designs by Mitsubishi, will be installed, one to be carried by a v-shape semi-sub and the other by an advanced spar-float, possibly like the Norwegian Sway /Hywind designs.

Given that the area, about 20km off the Fukushima coast, has suffered radioactive contamination, the future of fishing there is uncertain so there may be no conflict; indeed offshore wind could provide alternative employment for former fishermen, if this proves necessary. Certainly this industry could expand. According to early reports, Japan could have up to 1GW of offshore wind capacity in place by 2020,

In addition, Japan is following up other offshore options. The marine energy programme will be expanded in 2013 to include tidal and wave energy, along with OTEC ocean thermal gradient technologies. Tests are likely to be carried out off the Tohoku & Kyushu regions, in co-operation with the private sector and universities. In parallel, the Ocean Energy Association of Japan (OEAJ), is to set up a Japanese Marine Energy Centre (JMEC), with help from EMEC in Scotland. It's a two-way exercise: Kawasaki Heavy Industries is to test a newly developed tidal energy system at EMEC on the Orkneys.

Some of the more developed renewables are also being pushed hard. PV solar is already in quite widespread use, and being mostly on rooftops, is not land-using. To accelerate consumer uptake, in June the government approved Feed-In Tariff (FiT) subsidies under which utilities will pay 42yen (53 U.S. cents) per kWh for solar-generated electricity, double the tariff offered in Germany and more than three times that paid in China. Despite the land use constraints, there is also some potential for on-land wind and wind power will get at least 23.1 yen/ kWh in the new FiT system, compared with as low as 4.87 euro cents (6 U.S. cents) in Germany. The new wind tariff converts to about 18p/kWh, which compares to 5p/kWh (10p/kWh offshore) available for wind projects under the Renewables Obligation in the UK. So they are really pushing it. Geothermal energy is also being backed. It is already widely used for heating. So is solar thermal- there is over 3.7GW(th) installed on rooftops. We can expect to see much more.

However there is still a long way to go: renewables, apart from large hydro, account for only 1% of power supply in Japan. But the government estimates that, on current plans, capacity from renewables will rise to 22 GW by March 2013, up from 19.5 GW now, with 2GW of that from solar panels. And CLSA Asia-Pacific say solar capacity will jump to about 19GW by 2016 from about 5 GW or less now, while wind may reach 7.6 GW.

Looking further ahead, the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation (JREF) and the German based Desertec Foundation have teamed up to promote an Asia Supergrid to connect the national grids of Japan, Korea, China, Mongolia and Russia. This they say could open up opportunities for renewable energy development, with the power produced being moved to where it's needed most. So Japan, with fewer areas on land in which to build renewable energy projects, could benefit from on-land wind power produced in places like Inner Mongolia, where potential capacity far exceeds demand, and possibly also from CSP solar projects in the Gobi desert.

Supergrid links to other countries in the region would clearly help Japan and will be necessary for grid balancing if it is to expand its indigenous renewables significantly. That is certainly what the JREF wants. It says that 'stronger renewable energy targets for Japan are essential. The current provisional target of a 10% share of energy by 2020 is not enough'. The government is about to produce a new long-term energy plan. Offshore wind is an obvious option. There had already been calls for 25 GW on shore and 25 GW offshore and the Japanese Wind Power Association has put the longer-term wind potential at over 200 GW, on and offshore, even taking account of locational constraints. That is similar to Japans total present energy generating capacity. It will be interesting to see what the government decides to do in it new plan. According to Reuters, an early draft said that the aim would be to create a 50 trillion yen ($628 billion) green energy market by 2020 through deregulation and subsidies to promote development of renewable energy and low-emission cars.

Can technology rescue us, or do we need to change ourselves, and our society, radically? An innovative new Palgrave book 'Living in a low-carbon society', edited by Horace Herring, argues the latter case, although it says that really we need to do both.

It looks at what a low carbon society might look like, approaching this partly through traditional analysis (with leading academics like Prof. Tim Jackson from Surrey Universities RESOLVE group) and cases studies (with some good examples of domestic projects from Prof. Robin Roy's OU research), but also through a series of short fictional stories to try to catch some of the subjective reality and the human qualities of what life might be like in the future. That's quite fun - and is currently popular with some novelists. See for example the excellent 'Carbon Diaries 2015' by Sci Lloyd (Hodder), which, like Fay Weldon's 'Chalcot Crescent', uses a grim low carbon ration-imposed future as its backdrop.

Some of the stories in Herring's book are inspiring (like Prof. Catherine Mitchell's account of how she upgraded her house in Falmouth), but some of the scenarios in this book seemed very bleak - assuming that technology couldn't really help much, and that the imposed carbon constraints hit hard. Is that inevitable?

Over the last couple of years scenarios have emerged which have renewables supplying 95-100% of all electricity and most energy by 2050 (for the EU and maybe globally), earlier in some cases (e.g. Scotland is now aiming for 100% of electricity by 2020!).

Obviously this may not happen and certainly we ought to try to cut demand anyway- that makes meeting it from renewables easier. This book assumes some serious energy saving through technical upgrades, to houses, etc, as well as a lot of new green energy transmission and storage infrastructure for grid balancing nationally. But its main focus is on what can be done by individuals and in houses, for energy, plus bits on transport and food. That context of course makes it easier to sustain the 'lifestyle must change radically' view, since, with some exceptions, small scale technology is, arguably, the most constrained/constraining green option - it is hard to get major national-level savings that way. Indeed, attempting to attain personal energy self-sufficiency, just with small-scale independent technology, could in some cases (e.g. micro wind) be counter-productive environmentally, since it is not very efficient, and also socially: we don't all have access to the same resources, and need to share /trade.

Overall, there is the risk of pandering to the view that we can only deal with climate change, if we adopt a frugal lifestyle. The opposite 'renewables as technical fix' view is also risky - we do need to make lifestyle changes.

The big issue though is growth - can technology sustain that indefinitely? Obviously, on a planet with finite resources, it can't forever. But we don't really know how long it can. Australian green Ted Trainer is convinced we can't even start out....US energy guru Amory Lovins disagrees...and so the debate goes on. This book gives a good sense of what changes might be required and how they might feel in reality, but the questions however remain, how much change is needed and how soon?

Though this book does swing between optimism and pessimism regularly, it does have some interesting new insights and some of the stories are fascinating. Well worth the read - along with the Carbon Diaries 2015 and its follow up to 2017, even if both the latter are aimed at teenagers!

Definitely not (just) for teenagers and not fiction, the report from the German governments 'Ethics Commission on a Safe Energy Supply', set up to look at what should be done after Fukushima, tries to lay out some ideas for the 'collective effort for the future' it thinks is necessary, given the decision to exit from nuclear. It's 'Energy Turnaround' report was certainly unequivocal: Germany should and could phase out nuclear within a decade and Germany should commit to a collective effort to develop a new energy future.

Why? Well, it says perceptions of nuclear risk had now changed, due to the spectacle of an advanced industrial country facing a major crisis and being unable to bring it under control-with 'long helplessness' in the face of a disaster triggered by forces that had not been planned for, revealing the weakness of assumptions that proved to be wrong. The risks now outweighed the benefits, making the alternatives much more attractive.

Nevertheless, it recognises that there will be major problems making the change - and the potential for policy conflicts. For example, was it morally acceptable for the German government to support the export of German nuclear technology when it was closing down its own industry? A more pragmatic issue is whether German industry would be financially strong enough to build nuclear power stations in the UK, given that they would have more than enough to sort out at home, as a result of the phase out decision. That issue has now in fact been resolved: E.ON and RWE have withdrawn from the UK nuclear programme.

On the energy alternatives, the report notes that the Federal Association of Energy and Water Industry's claim that, in any case, on current plans, up 30GW of new plant will be built by 2019, including wind, biomass and water projects solar, but also conventional plants. However the Ethics report is more cautious and says that, although renewables like wind and solar, can and should be ramped up rapidly, Germany also needed an extra 10GW to replace the nuclear plants. Fortunately that seems possible. It says that, in addition to wind and solar, 12GW can come from new and some already planned Combined Heat and Power projects by 2020 or perhaps earlier, 2.5 GW from biomass projects and 2.5 GW from conventional plant, plus 4GW from 'additional energy efficiency measures': it backs a serious domestic and industrial energy efficiency programme and the development of smart metering. In addition, emissions from new fossil plants would be offset using credits bought in via the EU Emission Trading System, so, overall, Germany would stay on course for it emission reduction targets.

However, it's not a detailed technical plan: that has emerged separately (see my earlier blogs: and

Instead it focuses more on the social and institutional changes that it says will need to be made. That may be wise: Germany has plenty of technical resources, but as Herring et al argue, the social changes will be harder. That is also an issue in Japan, where a new report has claimed that Fukushima was not just the result of a natural disaster, it was also caused by Japanese cultural and social norms- which had to change. Maybe so, but one thing is clear, like Germany, they are now addressing their energy problems vigorously with new green energy technology, as I will explore my next blog.