Friday, July 20, 2007

Switching to Renewables - the easy, equitable and cheapest option.

Major polluting energy plants and heavy CO2 emitters such as this one could soon be a thing of the past

Two new reports have recently been published, both addressing energy needs and capacities for the near future. Both point to the same premise: committing to renewable energy is both feasible and financially prudent. Good for the planet, good for the people, good for the pocket.

The first report examines our domestic potential to to reduce our carbon emissions to zero within 20 years.
Named Zerocarbonbritain, the report is a result of over a year's consolidated research by the Centre for Alternative Technology. It sets out the policy drivers required to achieve zero carbon Britain by 2027, and presents the scenario for using only proven (renewable) technology. Quite simply, the technology already exists to make the UK carbon neutral (without the need to resort to nuclear), but what is required is political determination and changes in the way we, as a society, view energy.

An ambitious, bold plan, but most importantly, it can be done.
Here and now. Here's how:
3 steps are needed to achieve zero carbon Britain by 2027 -
1. policy implementation of Contraction & Convergence and the use of Tradable Energy Quotas (carbon credit cards)
2. powering down our fossil fuel use, and
3. powering up our use of renewable energy generation

Moreover, it's an equitable solution to climate change, energy security and global equity.

The essential policy driver needed is the implementation of Contraction and Convergence (viewed by Lloyds of London as "the best hope we have"), a co-ordinated plan to reduce carbon emissions by allocating a equal share per capita basis from a limited budget, as proposed by the Global Commons Institute.

C&C In a nutshell:
An international cap on emissions is set for the next 20 years, the amount allocated annually reduced year on year until it reaches zero in 2027.
Convergence: Each nation receives receives a national share allocation which is then divided equally per person. Over the 20 years, the allocations are reduced to a point that everyone on the planet has an equal share.

These share allocations, called Tradable Energy Quotas’ (TEQs) can be traded, bought and sold between individuals and businesses. Each year the cap on TEQs is reduced, so there are fewer to share, in line with the national budget. Gradually, individuals and companies would have to learn to make low and zero-carbon choices, due to the cost or inconvenience of doing otherwise. TEQs are tradable, and represent a source of income for cash poor households. Essentially carbon credits become a kind of parallel currency. Very quickly we would be scrapping the petrol engine, improving building standards, changing the way we produce and consume food and investing heavily in renewable energy. All it needs now is political backbone to make this a reality.

In the future you might need more than your credit card when you go to pay for your petrol, your carbon card would also have to be handy
[photo credit:

Nuclear v's Renewables. Still wonder which offers the best energy return on energy investment? Here's a well presented argument from Zerocarbonbritain Chapter 8:

Today’s approach to fossil-fuelled energy provision follows the pay-as-you-go principle. Like renting a house, each day’s use is paid for, but with no lasting accrual from those payments. It represents an ongoing cost.

Pursuing the housing analogy, building new nuclear power stations is like paying to build a house, paying rent to live in it (the cost of fuel and maintenance), and finally being evicted after 30 years, with the obligation to pay for the dismantling of the house and then passing to future generations the obligation to continue paying indefinite further rent. It is an ongoing, open ended liability.

Renewables present the opportunity to build and own a home outright. This home will require a significant initial investment and take time to complete. But once built, the benefit of the infrastructure is free excepting maintenance costs. Investment of this sort provides society with an enduring asset.

The second report examines the global economics of worldwide adoption of renewable technology. In the first global analysis of its kind, Future Investment - A Sustainable Investment Plan for the Power Sector to Save the Climate, the report demonstrates a powerful economic argument for a shift in global investments toward renewable energy (including solar, wind, hydro, geothermal and bio energy) within the next 23 years, and away from fossil fuel, coal and nuclear power. Savings of US $180 billion per year are predicted from switching investment to renewables from fossil fuels.

According to this joint report by Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council (EREC), investing in renewable energy as the source for electricity in our future will save 10 times the fuel costs of a "business as usual" scenario, saving US$180 billion annually and cutting CO2 emissions in half by 2030.

The report, which stresses the urgent need for decisive action now, gives the financial rationale for Greenpeace's earlier report Energy [R]evolution.

Number crunching:
  • An extra global annual investment of $22 billion in clean and renewable power plants is needed on top of current expenditure. This equates to less than a tenth of the annual subsidies currently received by the coal and gas industry.
  • Fuel cost savings: > $202 billion per year. This means the up front investment will pay for itself ten times over.
  • The global market for wind turbines was worth €18 billion in 2006, the total renewable industry $50 billion. Under an energy revolution scenario, the renewable energy would be worth a massive annual market volume of $288 billion by 2030.


  • Future Investment - A Sustainable Investment Plan for the Power Sector to Save the Climate
  • Energy [R]evolution
  • Zerocarbonbritain
  • Centre for Alternative Technology
  • Contraction and Convergence
  • Global Commons Institute
  • Tradable Energy Quotas’ (TEQs)