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Thursday, 16 July 2009

Low Carbon Transition Plan: Epic Fail

If you want a really depressing perspective of the ineptitude of this govrnment you need go no further than the Low Carbon Transition Plan hub on the DERR website. No comments below please on "Global Warming is a scam", because whether it is or it isn't we have a real problem with future energy supply. North Sea gas is past its peak and you may remembe that we stopped burning coal in our power stations because of the real damage cause by acidic oxide gases in their emissions.

The problem still remains as to how we fund and build the infrastructure to replace our current power stations with new installations powered by other sources, whether they be wind, nuclear, solar, tidal, hydro or biomass. To build a new infrastructue takes time, and in most of these technologies the time scales take longer because they are built in much smaller units than our existing generating infrastructure, so the new but economically less efficient units will have to be built, run and compete with dying but in the short term financially more efficient gas-fired generation. The developers of renewable projects are usually much smaler than th large electricity companies and thus can find it difficult to raise money.

In the rest of the world they know how to handle this - the feed-in tariff. The tariff guarantees a minimum price for electricity and imposes an obligation on an electricty distribution company to connect the renewable project to its network buy the power at that price when offered typically for a term of up to 20 years. depending on the technology and the tariff, this may or may not be a good deal for the electricity company and its customers, but whee it is implemented the cost of wind power in years to come is likely to be the same as the cost of running a power station off Russian gas.

It is a shame that the UK government is unwilling or unable to learn from other countries and persists with its pathetic tradable renewable obligations which don't really work. A project can't secure long term finance if it can only secure short term prices for its exemption certificates, which largely explains the difference between the higher growth of renewable energy in Germany, Italy, France and Spain and the paltry growth in the UK.

But then we have had a Labour government which has often demonstrated its inability to view the facts objectivel. To see how badly they get this wrong we only have to look at Iraqi WMD, the failure of banking regultation, the current budget deficit. Another example was given yesterday when PM Mandelson claimed that thee were 800,000 people working in the low carbon economy, but a quick analysis by The Times showed that this included hundreds of thousands working in the offshoe gas industry. They just don't do obective analysis.

Which is why the White Paper produced yesterday had the feel of something that the Germans wuld have produced fifteen years ago. Except they wouldn't have had the glossy photographs or incorrect or misleading numbers. But the worst aspect of it all is that it is likely to be totally ineffective. It is full of platitudinous statements to the effect that "Britain has the capacity and potential to become a world leader in ...", but of course it won't win the race because the Chinese, the Germans and whoever else you care to name are so far down the track they are over the hill and far away, while the British government is still giving a team talk in the changing room.

For some really thought proviking analysis of where we are and what we need to do to produce sufficient sustainable energy read this. It is written by a Cambridge physics professor and it covers most of the bases regarding what is feasible and what is not. It doesn't discuss global warming much, but starts from the promise that there is undoubtedly an increase in atmospheric CO2 which could have a long term impact on the planet, but moves quickly on to the fact that the fossil fuels that we use for 90% of our energy needs are finite and need to be replaced. It is refreshing to read something as well considered and plainly stated, particlularly when compared with the poorly argued outpourings of eco-nuts and climae change deniers. Well worth reading all of its 383 pages.

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