On Tuesday Tony Blair announced his support for a major international clean energy project. Hurrah, I say - roll out the renewables. But, wait. The focus is not on established carbon-free technologies such as those set out in the Energy Revolution report. Mr Blair's focus is on a solution not yet perfected and fraught with high costs and high risks: carbon capture and storage.
Although the goals of the project have not yet been finalised, Mr Blair is pushing for international agreement for the investment in the research and technology needed to perfect the capture of carbon dioxide produced from burning coal and store it under the ground or the seabed to prevent the release into the atmosphere. 'Clean' coal, it seems, its Mr Blair's answer to all our energy problems - bury the dirt and then it miraculously becomes clean. It begs the question Mr Blair: why are you not backing true clean technology - technology that does not release carbon dioxide in the first place?
The Energy Revolution Report has established that it can be done, with considerable reduction in carbon emissions. Is there any other plan out there that can better a result of 50% reduction of energy CO2 reductions by 2050?
Extensive gas infrastructure projects are well underway in the UK, such as the 196km pipeline connecting new gas import terminals at Milford Haven to the national transmission system. The pipeline will run from Felindre near Swansea, across the Brecon Beacons to Tirley in Gloucestershire. Similar pipelines are being put in place to enable the UK to adjust to being a net importer of gas. An industry boosted by strong long term governmental support and generous subsidies, has just announced this morning that gas prices are due to drop soon thus boosting further demand from imports. Whilst this is good news for the price conscious consumer, this does not bode well for our long-term clean energy needs.
Production and consumption of conventional energy use creates enormous environmental problems: alongside acceleration of climate change there are the additional problems of pollution to land, water and air, as well as to humans. There is an inverted logic to the solution presented: "lets dig up more fossil fuels from our planet, bag the bad gases and hide them safely out of sight and mind. Fingers crossed they do not come back to haunt someone else." We will never really know whether or not it would work, but hopefully we are not going to be around to find out. As a business venture, I for one would not give it my financial backing, and not when there are safer options out there.
Energy is essential to our everyday living and working. It provides us with fundamental services: lighting, heating and cooling and mobility all require energy use. It is difficult to visualise our lifestyles without it. Society as we know it would grind to a halt - essential services such as heath, education and welfare would break down rapidly.
Such an energy crisis did take place. In 1990, following the Soviet collapse, Cuba's massive subsidies of oil were halted. Their GDP dropped by nearly a third, transportation came close to standstill and food became scarce. The impact on individuals was most clearly demonstrated in terms of weight: the average Cuban lost 20 pounds in the first year. Remarkably, Cuba not only survived, but successfully managed to make the emergency transition by turning to local organic agriculture (called oganoponico), renewable energy, and large-scale mass transit.
Our challenge is to make the transition to clean energy whilst still meeting energy demands. Whilst Cuba was forced by dint of unanticipated circumstance, we are forced by knowledge of future circumstance - of the need for drastic greenhouse gas cuts and the pending peaking of oil.
This can be done. We are not in the same position as Cuba, but we can draw important lessons from their experience. We are not in an emergency situation - yet. We have the luxury of a little time, which allows us to be proactive rather than reactive. Stern tells us to act now rather than later is the cheaper route. It can also be the equitable route. Incorporation of renewable energies such as Concentrating Solar Power can greatly assist developing nation economies as well as sustain our energy needs. We have a short window of opportunity to put in place appropriate plans, global solutions to benefit us all to move forward into what will indeed be a new energy revolution. Decisions that will be made over the next few months have the capacity to determine our future energy needs and our future environmental impact.
Mr Blair, I ask you, read the report and act on it.
Energy Revolution Report
How Cuba Survived Peak Oil
Katherine Hamnett: Kept in the dark
Concentrated Solar Power is the secure energy supply of the future, so why haven't we been told about it?
[pictures credit: Energy Institute, Treehugger]