Comment on: There is no rhyme or reason to energy policy
In response to Bernard Ingham’s article above, it is important to get some facts straight. Firstly, to his statement that “the evidence is weak” for global warming, this is incorrect. The concensus around global warming being real, and it being man-made is very strong. It does not need repeating here.
Mr Ingham goes on to say that renewables are not low carbon because ”when fossil fuelled power sources have to be on tap to fill the gap when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun sets”. This is a simplistic view of the world, stated here to serve his purpose. The truth is that geographic diversity of wind infrastructure means that the wind is always blowing somewhere. International interconnection is also a legitimate mitigation for intermittent sources, still to be exploited at scale, and demand management is a further sensible and necessary option as deployment of renewables increases. Demand management is also sensible to ease the burden on the transmission system, and will prove very cost-effective as an investment strategy. Other renewables available to the UK market have very high levels of predictability, specifically tidal stream and tidal barrages. Anyway, at the present time, the carbon cost of the so called ‘spinning reserve’ is minimal, and it is typically provided by relatively low-carbon gas powered generation that can be brought online in a matter of minutes.
Mr Ingham states that no wind turbine would stand if it were not for the “massive subsidies paid by the consumer”. In the future, no coal fired power station would exist if the true cost of the climate change impacts were charged to the generator. There has never been a level playing field in this regard, historically because for generations we were oblivious to climate change, but we no longer have that excuse. Now we that we know, the subsidies for renewables are certainly justified, and the taxes on carbon generation must be increased (or we must apply a cap on carbon emissions).
The Renewables Obligation paid to wind projects in the UK amounts to just 3.2 pence per household per day at the present time, or about £12 per annum. Given that this is making us the world leader in offshore wind, has created one of the fastest growing industries in the UK, and is providing us with low carbon power, it sounds like good value to me.
Mr Ingham has got one thing right, however. He says of electricity that “the cheaper you make it (the) more of it (we use)”. The rebound effects around energy efficiency are well documented, and this is a real issue when the energy we use has a carbon cost. The solution to this is to implement a cap on our national, and on global carbon emissions. A national cap will work only if imported carbon is accounted for at the border, otherwise our real emissions continue to rise as apparent emissions fall. [Actually, this is going on at present, as UK emissions have been falling within our borders, but our imported goods actually turn that decline into a significant rise in the period since the Kyoto agreement, in the order of 20%].
A global cap on carbon is the most likely solution to keeping global warming down to 2 degrees. It will drive investment in to renewables, into nuclear and into carbon capture and storage. This last point is important as it provides a mechanism for the oil and gas lobby to mitigate the damage to their businesses in a legitimate fashion, investing in CCS and then using it to help ease the transition to a low carbon economy. Mr Ingham would be well served by doing a bit more homework before writing such negative comment about renewables. There is not only space but a necessity for all the low-carbon technologies to co-exist as we undergo a global scale transformation. Bring on the carbon cap please!