Cold weather means Scotland misses greenhouse gas target

July 18, 2012 at 10:21 am

Scotland failed to meet its own target for greenhouse gas emissions in 2010. Compared to emissions for 2009, the total emissions for the year rose by 1.9%, leading to dismay from environmental groups.

However, the climate change minister, Stewart Stevenson, said that the incredibly cold winter during that year was to blame for the failure to meet the targets.

The Scottish government has set its own targets for carbon reduction, which are some of the most ambitious of any country (a reduction of 42% by 2020).

Stevenson claimed that the “coldest winter temperatures in almost a century” led to people turning up their heating, but that the government remained “fully committed to delivering ambitious and world-leading climate change targets”.

He also confirmed that progress has been made since 2010, stating that:

  • 62% of Scottish households had homes with a good energy efficiency rating in 2010, up from 55% in 2009.
  • Tree planting went up nearly 50% in 2010/11 compared to the previous year.
  • 2011 was a record year for output from renewables, with 35% of all electricity production coming from green sources.

However, many environmentalists and opposition politicians said the failure is not acceptable and that it threatens Scotland’s role as a world leader in fighting back against climate change.

Patrick Harvie from the Scottish Green Party said that the government “can’t get away” with using the fact that Scotland suffers from occasional cold winters as an excuse, especially when they have failed to implement proper insulation in the country’s homes.

However, the country is still on track to meet targets. It has seen a drop in emissions of 24.3% between 1990 and 2010, and its target of a reduction of 42% by 2020 is still within reach.

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Huge growth in green energy seen over last year

July 10, 2012 at 10:28 am

Green energy production rose by a third in the last year, with wind power, solar power and wave power leading the way.

Renewable energy made up 11% of total electricity production in the UK for the first three months of 2012, compared to 7.7% in the same period last year, according to figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Onshore wind farms saw large increases in energy production, as did bio-energy plants and hydroelectric plants.

It now seems that Britain is looking good to hit its target of generating 15% of its power from green energy by 2020, which is a legally binding target.

Gas is now accounting for just 27% of electricity production, the lowest it has been for 14 years, and high prices are being blamed for this. Coal was responsible for producing 42% of electricity, which has actually gone up. But energy from nuclear power has gone down from 19% to 17%.

Compare this to wind power which has gone up 50%, hydroelectricity (up 43%) and thermal renewables (up 20%) and it is clear to see that the green energy sector is experiencing something of a boom.

Joss Garman from Greenpeace welcomed the news, saying that Britain is “now in prime position to become the Saudi Arabia of the global offshore wind industry”.

However, it is not all good news. There is currently a lot of debate over planned cuts to green energy production in the government which could affect the growth of the industry.

Ed Davey, the Energy and Climate Change secretary, is planning to reduce subsidies for onshore wind by 10%. However, George Osborne wants to cut the subsidies by up to 25%, which could have a serious effect on the amount of green energy produced over the coming years.

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Offshore wind to become cheaper

June 22, 2012 at 10:34 am

By the end of the decade the cost of electricity produced from offshore wind farms could drop by 30%, according to the results of a couple of reports which have just come out.

If the building of offshore wind farms does go down so dramatically then this will mean that it can compete with other cheaper sources of power, such as onshore wind.

The problem with offshore wind is the high costs involved in building wind farms out at sea. Electricity from offshore sources currently costs between £149 and £191 per megawatt-hour, compared to £76 to £79 for power from gas power stations.

Last year an industry group, the Cost Reduction Task Force (CRTF), was set up to find out how to reduce this figure to £100 per megawatt-hour by 2020, and the new report has now suggested that this is possible.

The UK has invested heavily in this form of energy production in order to meet its carbon reduction targets set by the EU, but offshore wind farms are still proving to be very expensive.

By 2020, the UK government has set a target of generating 18GW of power from offshore wind farms. At the moment it is only generating 2GW of power, so it is still a long way off target. However, these latest findings will only serve to boost confidence that this form of power could be a lot more widespread in the future.

In addition to the CRTF report, another report published by the Crown Estate also came out saying the same thing, and suggested that the best way to bring the costs down with offshore wind is to produce turbines that are more efficient which could bring the price for building wind farms down by 39%.

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EDF wants to extend life of nuclear power stations in the UK

May 30, 2012 at 10:24 am

EDF has been in talks with the nuclear regulator in the UK about extending the life of its existing nuclear power stations. The talks with the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) concern the possibilities of keeping seven out of EDF’s eight nuclear power stations running beyond the dates when they are set to be decommissioned.

The reactors of some of the nuclear power stations will start to decommission in 2016, and by 2023 seven of these stations will have come to the end of their lives.

This is going to leave a gap in the energy market, and there is now real concern that action needs to be taken to keep the lights on.

EDF wants to make a final decision on investment in the reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset at the end of 2012, and it is quoted in The Guardian as saying that it “makes absolute sense” to extend the lives of the power stations, and that it fills the “short-term energy need”.

The plan is to keep the plants open for an average period of seven more years, which has already gone up from five years, and this could go up even further. If EDF wants to continue to operate the reactors, it has to ensure strict safety standards set by the ONR, and these typically become more expensive as the plants age.

It could help the government to fill a short-term need whilst it focuses more on investing in low-carbon power, and many see this as a better option than building new reactors. However, EDF still says that it is committed to building new reactors as well.

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UK wants the EU to focus more on CO2 cuts

May 23, 2012 at 10:37 am

The energy and climate chief in the UK, Edward Davey, has stated that the UK would prefer that Europe puts more focus on reducing carbon emissions rather than on repeating the same green targets when the current targets come to an end at the end of the decade.

Speaking to an energy summit on May 14, he confirmed that Britain thinks that “carbon emissions should be the key target”.

The EU has a current goal of increasing the percentage of green energy used across the continent to 20%. Asked whether the UK would support further similar targets after this, Mr Davey said that we need to think carefully about what we are trying to achieve with further targets.

However, he confirmed that it was still a suitable target for 2020, and that the government should meet it by increasing investment in renewable energy and focusing on techniques such as carbon capture and storage technology (CCS).

Indeed, the UK has set its own target of increasing the amount of energy produced by renewables to 34% by 2020 as compared to 1990 levels. By 2050 it wants to increase this figure to 80% or more.

This issue is set to receive more attention as we approach the 2020 targets and we will find out which countries in Europe are going to hit or miss the 20% target. There are strong views on both sides of the argument with an issue of such importance so you are certain to hear a lot more about this issue over the coming years.

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Japanese solar power boom

May 3, 2012 at 10:30 am

With preserving the environment high on the global political agenda, it comes as no surprise that the renewable energy business seems to be booming worldwide. The most recent country to support the cause is Japan, who announced last Wednesday (25th April) that they would be introducing feed-in tariffs (FIT) for renewable energy from July 2012. The predicted outcome is said by energy finance experts to be extremely positive.

After the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan has turned to renewable energy as an alternative to nuclear power. The public response to this is predicted to be positive with the proposed FIT rates bringing equity returns of as high as 44% for solar power projects. An estimate by Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that over 10GW will be produced by solar installations by 2014, which will make Japan the third largest solar market in the world.

This comes at a time of global solar power boom, the UK being no exception to this. A study in February 2012 showed that over the 22 months that the UK had had FITs in place, the UK had surpassed the 1000MW mark. This breakthrough was made even more resonant by the announcement that between 2009/10 and 2010/11, the renewable market had increased its value by 11%, outstripping economic growth eightfold. Additionally, new research published last month (April) by Renewable Energy Association and Innovas revealed that the renewable industry currently supports 110,000 jobs in the UK. With the rate of growth as it is, it seems that the industry could be supporting around 400,000 jobs by 2020 – positive news for the labour market.

This really shows a positive outlook in a time of such economic crisis. Where industries seem to be falling at every hurdle, it is a morale booster to see such growth in one area of the economy. The question remains, however, as to whether the boom will help to drive governments to adopt a multi-faceted approach to the current crisis, using what REA is calling the “single most important economic opportunity of this generation.”

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Could the UK be powered by Iceland’s volcanoes?

April 26, 2012 at 4:11 pm

As the UK government makes plans to hit its green energy targets set by the European Union, one idea which looks likely to go ahead is harvesting the geothermal energy stored by Iceland’s volcanoes.

The Guardian recently reported that the energy minister, Charles Hendry, is planning to visit Iceland in May 2012 to discuss the plan, which he has already claimed is very popular with the Icelandic government.

The Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajoekull caused travel chaos across Europe in 2010 when its ash cloud grounded flights for a week, so now it could be payback time for the UK.

The talks in May will focus on connecting the UK to the abundant green energy sources underneath the ground in Iceland, and although the idea sounds very ambitious it could well come to fruition.

If it did go ahead then it would involve the laying of thousands of miles of cable along the ocean floor. The cable would stretch from between 1,000 to 1,500 kilometres, which would make it the longest such cable in the world.

It is all part of a plan to link the UK to the European grid over the next decade. This will mean that the UK can sell its wind power to Europe at times of peak demand, and then purchase green energy produced in other countries when it needs to.

Currently there are two cables connecting the UK to Europe, but nine more are either in the planning or construction stage. These should all lead to increased energy security for the UK.

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New electric car centre opens in Glasgow

March 9, 2012 at 4:13 pm

If you have yet to be convinced by the new craze for electric vehicles then you might want to take a trip to Glasgow where a new energy centre has just been opened in the city centre which is providing rentals, free parking and free electric car charging.

In what is claimed to be the first place in the UK to provide free charging for electric vehicles, curious visitors can now visit the new permanent exhibition centre to find out everything they ever wanted to know about electric cars and other forms of renewable energy technology.

Many people are still wary about the benefits of electric vehicles, and the centre was established by energy firm SSE in a bid to combat some of the prevalent myths about electric vehicles and to highlight the fact that they are a very convenient way to get around the city, and are actually fun to use.

Visitors can get a hands-on experience, and people arriving in Glasgow on the train will find the centre conveniently located nearby should they wish to try out an electric car for the day to get around the city.

There is also a free parking facility for anyone who owns an electric vehicle and needs a place to park it, and visitors can also rent electric scooters should they prefer to get around in this way.

The exhibition centre is located in Waterloo Street, and has been named ‘Power of Now’. It is set to demonstrate the potential of renewable energy in Scotland, and the chief executive of SSE, Ian Marchant, said that the investment “will bring environmental, economic and social benefits for generations to come”.

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A lower school in Central Bedfordshire shows initiative by going green

February 22, 2012 at 4:09 pm

As renewable energy technologies are finally becoming cost effective, not to mention cleaner than the traditional counterparts, solar powered buildings have been popping up everywhere across the country.

Kingsmoore Lower School in Bedfordshire has become the first educational facility in the area to embrace renewable energy sources by installing high-performance solar panels on its roofs. The reasoning behind investing in solar energy is not only to generate considerable financial savings, nor to cut up to 172 tonnes in CO2 emissions, but also to make the school’s energy supply completely self-sustainable.

The obvious benefits of utilising solar power have not gone unnoticed elsewhere in the UK either as two primary schools and a children’s care centre in the borough of Reading have also opted for solar panels over their roofs, as part of the city council’s wider scale plans to invest in sustainable energy solutions for schools and public buildings.

Even Winchester College, an educational institution dating back to the 14th century, has recently installed no fewer than 500 solar panels over the many buildings on its campus. The company behind the work, Freewatt Ltd, expects to generate 103MWh per year for the campus, an equivalent of powering approximately 35 homes.

While the government has recently announced its plans to use solar energy to power around 4 million households in the UK by 2020, its solar power tariff scheme has come under public scrutiny. As of April 2012, each household which installs solar panels will receive 21p per kW/hour of generation, down from the original 43p promised by the government.

The Ministry of Energy says it simply cannot afford the rates as the take up rate for solar powered panels has been phenomenally high and Greg Barker, the energy minister, has cited research showing that the cost of solar panels has dropped by 45 per cent since 2009.

The high take up rate might mean further reductions to the tariffs in the future, with the Department of Energy and Climate Change estimating that the subsidy will fall to 13.6p per kW/hour, a 68% decrease since December 2011.

With a still considerable investment of £10,000 needed to install solar panels over a typical household’s roof and the likelihood of further reductions in tariffs, the future of solar power as the leading renewable energy source in the UK is questionable.

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Warning over wind power CO2 levels

January 17, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Wind power has never been far from controversy, with many people unhappy about the government’s investment in this form of green energy for a number of reasons.

These include the impact on the countryside and the argument that it is not efficient enough because of the inconsistency of the wind.

However, now the think tank Civitas has raised another startling claim by suggesting that wind power may actually be responsible for producing more CO2 than modern gas power stations.

On top of that, Civitas also said that reliance on wind power could increase energy bills.

The study was carried out in the Netherlands, and the main criticism Civitas has raised is that turning wind power stations on and off to deal with the fall in wind leads to greater production of CO2 than if an efficient gas power station produced a steady supply of energy.

Other criticisms of wind power in the report were that the construction of wind farms emits a lot of CO2, and that the farms don’t last very long compared to other types of power station.

This will not be good news for the government which is set to invest heavily in wind power over the next two decades, both onshore and offshore.

However, the report has been heavily criticised by proponents of wind power.

Dr Gordon Edge, who is the director of policy at RenewableUK, was quoted in The Telegraph as saying that the report was based on work carried out by “anti-wind cranks” and is “based on outdated and inaccurate information”.

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