Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘EU’ Category

Wind. Great stuff. It blows around here and there (especially around the British Isles) and just waits for someone to come along and make electricity out of it. Brilliant.

But in the recent past we haven’t really been that bothered. Hans-Josef Fell (a German MP who was a driving force behind Germany’s Renewable Energy Sources Law) has a great little graph that he likes to show British audiences, which compares wind power in the UK and Germany from 1990-2003. Here it is………..

snapshot-2008-01-30-22-09-17.jpg

Of course, the British audience being British, usually respond by laughing loudly and exclaiming things like ‘Ha ha! – aren’t we crap! Oh we’re SO crap.’ Or ‘Well those sensible Germans would have done that wouldn’t they.’
And they’d be right. We are pretty bad at wind power. In fact, we’re pretty bad at all renewable sources of power here in Britain – only 5% of our electricity comes from renewable sources(1).

The EU has recently been telling its members what is required of them in terms of carbon emission cuts and renewable energy increases, as part of its plans to tackle climate change (2). So what does this mean for us in the UK? Well, we have to increase the percentage of total energy demand (including transport and heating) coming from renewables to 15% (we are currently at 1.3% according to The Independent (1)). It is likely that electricity generation will have to come up with a large proportion of this percentage, and therefore we will require around 40% of electricity to come from renewables. And remember, at the moment we are at 5%. We’ve got 12 years and counting.

According to the British Wind Energy Association these requirements will mean we have to build 7,350 new offshore, and 3,000 new land based wind farms(1). We’d better get going then. As a result there is going to be a huge number of arguments between planners and local environmentalists, as there have already been in several areas (3,4). A lot of very careful planning is required to ensure that the best solution is found, providing the maximum power generation with the minimum of immediate environmental cost.

However, if even this approach results in a direct decision between local ecology and turbine construction, the decision should surely be in favour of the turbine. Unfortunately some sacrifices will need to be made locally in order for the global environment to ultimately benefit. Keep this in mind if someone plans to build a turbine in your area. If it’s the local bird species you are worried about then don’t worry – climate change that is already in the pipeline will probably cause them to migrate north anyway. So either way it’s bye bye birdies.

It would logically follow that the best plan might be to build all the new turbines offshore so that these problems don’t arise – but I am sure there are corresponding problems at sea, and as always it will be a trade-off with other issues, such as cost.

But the real issue here shouldn’t be the windmills. It should be the target. Although the EU is rightly being commended internationally for discussing, and now enforcing, these targets, the world still needs to realise that a 20% reduction is too small. Much too small. And as I have said previously about the UK Government’s targeted reductions, they are easy to set, but a lot harder to meet – assuming that you want to meet them in the first place(5). These targets are a very significant step, but they are only the start of a very long and difficult process.

The UK MEP Graham Watson said as much in his response to the proposals – “….the Commission’s proposals while a welcome – and, by today’s standards, radical – departure from short term economic thinking are still only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to tackling climate change”(2). The tip of the iceberg indeed. A slightly unfortunate choice of metaphor.

But even these little targets are already too much for some people. I find it incredibly frustrating when spokespersons and people in positions of huge responsibility start to add to the resistance instead of logically attacking the problem we face. The latest on this list is Richard Lambert, director-general of the CBI (Confederation of British industry), who said this week “It can be done but it will cost a hell of a lot of money,” – “I think it is not realistic.” (6).

Cost hell of a lot of money??!?!! Of course it is Mr.Lambert! Not realistic?!? As leader of the CBI it’s partly your job to make it realistic. Now are you going to help us deal with it or are you going to continue adding to the problem?

References
1. Britain will need 12,500 wind farms to satisfy EU targets – Michael McCarthy, 24th January 2008.
2. MEPs give first reactions to climate change and energy package – 23RD Jan 2008. European Parliament Online.
3. How Whinash saw off the turbines – The Independent Online, Emily Dugan, 26th January 2008.
4. Wind farm plan is blown off course – The Independent Online, Michael McCarthy and Mark Hughes, 26th January 2008.
5. See ‘Targets’ on this site from September 2007.
6. CBI director says emissions target unrealistic and not cost-effective – Guardian Online, Ian Traynor, 30th Jan 2008.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Recently the Environmental Audit Committee group of MPs, led by the Conservative MP Tim Yeo, produced their report ‘Are Biofuels Sustainable?’ in which they tried to find out the answer to the title (1). Their conclusion? That there should be a moratorium on biofuels until “technology improves, robust mechanisms to prevent damaging land use change are developed, and international sustainability standards are agreed”(1).

Regular worshippers at the church of George Monbiot – activist and sensible person generally – will know that he suggested this should be the answer to the problem of biofuels nearly a year ago (2) and this was also suggested more recently by the UN special rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, who got a lot of press for saying that biofuels were “a crime against humanity”(3)

The word biofuel is a broad term used for a renewable fuel produced through biological reactions using the suns energy and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They include fuels that are designed for use in conventional combustion engines such as ‘bioethanol’ and ‘biodiesel’ (this is the main appeal of biofuels – it gives Governments an apparent ‘get out of jail free card’ meaning they can appear to be combating climate change while causing minimal annoyance to the general public) as well as things like normal firewood.

Carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere when biofuels are burnt is offset by the carbon dioxide taken in to produce the fuel, and this is the basis for excitement about them.

So far so good, but clearly that is only half the story. There are two main problems with biofuels at the moment, each of which makes them potentially disastrous for the globe.

Firstly, the processes involved in much of biofuel production are large net producers of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases due to pesticides, harvesting and processing requirements – all of which requires more energy, which at the moment comes from burning fossil fuels. Overall many biofuels may actually cause more harm to the environment than fossil fuels do(4).

Secondly there is the link to food prices. As more and more farmers across the world begin to produce biofuels instead of basic food crops, the price of food will escalate and the global poor will suffer as a result (5), especially as the farmers likely to be paid to convert to these crops are in lesser developed countries.

There is also the problem of energy density. A very large amount of a biofuel crop (and therefore a large land area to grow it) is required to produce a relatively small amount of usable energy compared to the fossil fuels we are used to using. In a study by LMC International on biofuels and agriculture in 2006 (widely referenced since) it was found that in order to make 5% of fuel worldwide biofuels by 2015, we would need 15% more land for agriculture worldwide (6). That means saying goodbye to forests and rainforests (closely averted recently in Uganda (7)) as well as inevitable switching from food to fuel production. That would mean game over for trying to restrict climate change – and that’s just for 5%!

In 2007 the EU agreed to a target of 10% of transport fuel in Europe to come from biofuels by 2020(8). Less than a year later the EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas admitted that they had not foreseen the problems that this target would present(9) and that it would be reviewed, but as far as I am aware at the time of writing the target still stands.

So if biofuels are so bad why are there calls for a 5-year moratorium and not an all-out ban? The thinking behind this is that so-called ‘second-generation’ biofuels (which would demand another entire piece like this one to explain), with carefully controlled production, may still be able to provide renewable and ethical sources of energy in the future (although these are not likely to be viable according to the campaign group Biofuelwatch (www.biofuelwatch.org.uk)(10). Also, calculations on land requirements for biofuel production in the UK may not always take into account that many biofuel crops grown are dual purpose, and may simultaneously produce animal feed, possibly reducing required imports presently (according to the NFU – ref.11).

It remains to be seen whether these ‘second generation’ promises materialise, but whatever happens one thing is for sure – we can’t rely on biofuels to solve the problem of climate change.

The consequences of pursuing the use of the presently available biofuels are obvious and are already starting to take effect. Governments and International bodies need to discard their biofuel targets before they make the problem any worse. Pleading unfortunate ignorance of the consequences is not acceptable.

References
1. Are Biofuels Sustainable? – Environmental Audit Committee, First Report of Session 2007–08. Available from http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmenvaud.htm#reports.
2. A Lethal Solution – George Monbiot, 27th March 2007.
3. UN independent rights expert calls for five-year freeze on biofuel production – UN News Centre, 26 October 2007.
4. How Green Are Biofuels? – Jörn Scharlemann and William Laurance, Science Vol. 319. no. 5859, pp. 43 – 44.
5. IMF concerned by impact of biofuels on food prices – AFP, October 17, 2007.
6. A Strategic Assessment of the Impact of Biofuel Demand for Agricultural Commodities – LMC International (2006).
7. Uganda ‘averts tragedy’ with reversal of decision to clear virgin forest for biofuel – Xan Rice, The Guardian, October 29, 2007.
8. EU ministers agree biofuel target – bbc.co.uk, 15th February 2007.
9. EU rethinks biofuels guidelines – Roger Harrabin, bbc.co.uk, 14 January 2008.
10. ‘Second Generation Biofuels: An Unproven Future Technology with Unknown Risks’ – Helena Paul and Almuth Ernsting, biofuelwatch.org.uk. Click here to download.
11. ‘UK biofuels – land required to meet RTFO 2010’ – National Farmers’ Union Online, 10 August 2006.

Read Full Post »