UK feed-in tariffs: buy your hectare of woodland now

Today's UK government announcement on incentives for small scale renewables has three unexpected features: a) The payments for renewable heat, such as the home burning of wood to replace gas or rooftop solar hot water, are much higher than predicted.

b) The figures for wind have risen since the autumn consultation document. This means that well-located wind turbines of the 6-15kW size are likely to produce returns above 13% per year.

c) The figures for solar PV have been increased slightly, but do not offer returns as good as wind. Importantly, the government has also signalled that it will allow PV installed at any time over the next 28 months to capture the full feed-in tariff. Previously, the tariff declined for installations made after March 2011.

An earlier article on this topic which looks in more detail on the incentives to take up the new 'feed-in tariffs' is here.

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Using woodlands to cut emissions

The UK is one of the least forested countries in Europe. Although the amount of woodland cover has increased substantially since its nadir after the First World War, growth has slackened in recent years. The growing maturity of UK woodlands means that carbon sequestration is falling rapidly. An independent assessment commissioned by the Forestry Commission has proposed one way forward: a million new hectares devoted to woodland, generating a reduction of up to 15% of the UK emissions in 2050.

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Two good software tools for calculating emissions

Tools for carefully estimating carbon footprints have tended to be difficult to use and clunky in appearance. Two recently introduced calculators make real improvements and allow individuals and companies to carry out effective analysis of carbon emissions.

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Light-bulb Libraries

UK supermarkets and DIY chains stock up to twenty different types of energy efficient light bulbs but most households have some light fittings that cannot use any of these bulbs. There are several hundred different combinations of fitting, shape and power. Some internet sites, such as or offer a very wide range of low-energy-use bulbs including many unusual types you cannot find in shops. One problem remains: it is not always possible to tell whether the bulb you see on a webpage will actually fit your lamp holder or whether it will be the correct brightness. Light-bulb Libaries may be the answer.

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Coal - fuel of the future?

Two pieces of news provide evidence of a fightback by coal. American Electric Power's Mountaineer plant in West Virginia is reporting significant success for its small scale carbon capture project. And the UK has just licensed exploratory boreholes for offshore Underground Coal Gasification (UCG), a woefully under-researched technology that may make CO2 sequestration easier. The scale of the challenge facing the globe's coal users is enormous but with determined research and development, the fuel may remain usable for power generation in a low-carbon world.

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Ten ways to start reducing your carbon footprint

If you buy just one new appliance in 2010, make it a really efficient fridge-freezer. The improvements in the energy use of the best fridge-freezers have been really impressive in the last few years. If you have an old refrigerator, it may be responsible for as much as a sixth of your electricity bill. A good new machine might use less than a half as much power, particularly if it is not too large. A second benefit is that by choosing to buy a really efficient refrigerator you will be sending a clear signal to the manufacturers that energy consumption matters. An impressive new web site – – allows you to compare the electricity used by almost all the appliances currently in UK shops. You can make well-informed choices from your computer.

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Is energy efficiency really cheaper than switching to renewable energy sources as a way of cutting carbon emissions?

Let’s face it: energy efficiency is boring when compared to the (relative) excitement of developing new sources of low-carbon electricity or heat. The popular science magazines are full of articles on new forms of solar panel and the latest designs for wind turbines. Improving the insulation of ordinary homes, shifting to LED lighting or increasing the take-up of heat pumps rarely command the attention of editors.

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Maldives announces windfarm plan to provide 40% of island's electricity

Windfarm would provide the island state with the largest percentage of renewable electricity of any country in the world.

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A database of electric power consumption for all home appliances

Wittingly or unwittingly, many manufacturers make it difficult to compare the electricity consumption of home appliances such as TVs and refrigerators. Although many appliances have been through standard EU tests and then been awarded a letter grade for energy efficiency, these grades are increasingly unhelpful in distinguishing between the excellent and the merely satisfactory. As in British school exams, an A grade doesn’t mean much because it covers such as wide range of performance.

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The Guardian's 10:10 campaign

10:10, a campaign to get individuals and organisations to reduce their emissions by 10% in 2010 is launched today, 1 September. The idea is simple and has proved surprisingly easy to communicate so far. Of course it has helped that the human tornado Franny Armstrong has been pushing it.

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Are the proposed UK feed-in tariffs high enough to stimulate investment in small-scale generation?

After months of deliberation, the UK government has announced a range of illustrative figures for feed-in tariffs (FiTs). FiTs are fixed payments made to the owners of small generating stations for the electricity that they export to the grid. Micro-generators need high payments to justify their expensive investment in buying and installing green generation.

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Domestic heat pumps: enthusiasm needs to be tempered

(The information in this article has been updated by a more optimistic article that looks at the before and after experience of a ASHP installation in Oxford, Please go to Small heat pumps are increasingly used to provide space and water heating in UK homes. This trend is strongly encouraged by policy-makers and the government’s proposed Renewable Heat Incentive will add further financial support. The enthusiasm for this expensive technology should be moderated: for a home on the mains gas network, the savings in money will be small. Carbon benefits are probable but far from guaranteed. Moreover, air source heat pumps are unlikely to be able to heat many older homes effectively. Government, manufacturers, and installers need to be very much more cautious in encouraging the use of heat pumps and should use far more conservative payback assumptions. Heat pumps will eventually be a good investment for homeowners but probably not yet.

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The human brain is made for environmental complacency

Most governments in the developed world were elected on platforms that promised aggressive policies on greenhouse gas emissions. The reality has not matched the commitments made. The reasons for this are multitudinous and no one should ever underestimate the difficulties of weaning advanced societies off the use of cheap and convenient access to fossil fuels. But in addition to the standard reasons for slow progress we can see a large number of obstacles that spring from human psychology. In particular, some of the resistance to aggressive action on climate seems to spring from mental attitudes that may have helped us survive as a species in the past. Perhaps politicians intuitively recognise the existence of these barriers. So they continue to say that climate change is the most important problem facing humanity at the same time as adding new runways to the local airport or sanctioning the development of new coal-fired power stations.

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How much is it going to cost to decarbonise the economy?

The government wants to emphasise the affordability of climate change mitigation. It produces low estimates of the cost of low-carbon technologies. In the recent 2009 budget documents, the government estimated a cost of 1% of GDP to meet the tough new 2020 targets. In his pronouncement on carbon capture at coal-fired power stations, energy and climate change secretary Ed Miliband later said that his proposals will add 2% to electricity bills. Are these numbers reasonable? Professor Sir David King, the former chief scientific adviser, says no. In a BBC interview of 26 April, he indicates that he thinks that the cost of reducing the UK’s emissions is much higher than the government indicates but also that the financial implications of not dealing with the climate change threat are far higher than even Nick Stern suggests.

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Budget 2009: Has the government begun to recognise the scale of the challenge?

The chancellor may have been inconsistent, but at least the budget has some incentives to encourage renewable electricity, carbon capture and storage, and the switch to low-carbon fuels.

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Biochar proponents get spammed

George Monbiot wrote about the carbonisation of organic matter in the Guardian last month ('Woodchips with everything. It's the Atkins plan of the low-carbon world', Tuesday 24 March 2009), saying it was yet another miracle cure for the climate problem. And, like previous miracle cures, he said ‘biochar’ would turn out to be a dangerous delusion. It would deflect attention from taking real action on climate change. Parts of the planet would be turned into vast forest plantations with limited biodiversity to provide feedstock for huge factories. Vital food-growing land would be lost to vast corporations farming wood for turning into biochar. It is a re-run of the biofuels disaster, he said.

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Kingsnorth: why does E.ON want to build a new coal plant without CCS?

E.ON’s £1bn plan for a new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth is waiting for approval from the UK government. Other generators have shifted away from coal. Drax, which owns by far the largest coal power station in the UK, is investing in biomass. Other companies have focused on new gas plants. Why is the world’s largest investor-owned utility pushing ahead with a project to burn coal without carbon capture? The answer, unsurprisingly, is that burning coal to generate electricity is extremely profitable. Very low prices for emissions permits and tumbling coal costs mean that a profit-seeking management team is highly incentivised to try to push for permission to use coal in power stations. This article provides the background calculations for an estimate that the new Kingsnorth will generate an operating profit of about £300m a year if current fuel and carbon prices persist. Additionally, it also tries to show that the cost of fitting CCS equipment and running the plant to capture the large majority of all carbon emissions is likely to add no more than about 1.5p per kilowatt hour to the cost of generating electricity at current coal and carbon prices. This means that a new coal fired power station *with CCS* may have operating costs only marginally above gas power plants

Nevertheless, E.ON has just asked for government subsidy to install CCS at Kingsnorth from day one. The purpose of this article is to offer an estimate of the maximum the government ought to offer E.ON in order to get it to invest in CCS prior to opening the new power station.

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Republic of Maldives: a plan for carbon neutrality

The Maldives will be the first country to be overwhelmed by the effect of climate change. The republic is a collection of coral atolls with maximum heights of one or two metres above sea level. Climate change is increasing worldwide sea levels and the atolls will probably go underwater by the end of the century. The 300,000-400,000 people who live on the Maldives are not responsible for global warming. Their emissions per head (even including aviation fuels for incoming international tourism) are less than a seventh of typical European levels.

Many countries have set ambitious targets for the reduction of carbon emissions. The government of the Maldives seeks to encourage this trend by going one step further with a plan for near carbon neutrality within ten years.

This is an immensely challenging target. Chris Goodall (author of this blog) and Mark Lynas, the prize-winning climate change author, were asked to provide a short outline of how it might be achieved and what it might cost.

In the rest of this note, we show our calculations. We will be the first to acknowledge that this work is incomplete. Although it was tempting to conduct fieldwork in some of the most attractive island resorts, we did our analysis using publicly available information and with help from officials attached to the Maldives government.

Our work shows that near neutrality is possible, but expensive. It will take at least $1.1bn for this small island state. The Maldives imports almost all its fuels in the form of refined oil products. Rates of financial return to the investment therefore depend largely on the price of oil. If expectations of future oil prices exceed $100 a barrel, we judge that the plan is sufficiently attractive to be financeable by international institutions such as the World Bank.

Comments on this work will be very gratefully received.

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