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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Exaggerating the impact of climate change on the spread of malaria

A recent press release from the UK Department for International Development (DFID) suggested that millions more people in Kenya are susceptible to malaria as a result of mosquitoes colonising higher ground as global temperatures rise. ('New evidence of a link between climate change and malaria', 30.12.09.) The press release was extensively covered in UK newspapers and elsewhere. Simple analysis shows that the claims of the press release are almost entirely without foundation. The battle against the severe threat from climate change is impeded, not helped, by government departments issuing alarmist and exaggerated alerts based on poor science.

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Maldives stance on renewable energy

The Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed has become the most visible developing country spokesperson on climate change. Nasheed has continued to press for radical reductions in CO2 levels in the atmosphere, most recently arguing for a 350 parts per million target in a meeting with activist and author Bill McKibben in Copenhagen.

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The Committee on Climate Change shouldn't have answered the question it was asked

The UK government asked the wrong question. It demanded that the Committee on Climate Change calculated how much air travel can rise without causing an increase in aviation emissions. Not unsurprisingly, the CCC answered by saying that the number of trips could rise at the same rate as efficiency improvements in air travel. The Committee said that emissions per passenger will fall by about 1% a year, and so travel could rise by about this amount. No shocks there. By 2050, the CCC opined, the number of passengers taking trips from UK airports can rise to 370 million a year, up from 230 million today. The maximum possible number of new passengers at Heathrow from the addition of new runway and sixth terminal is about 60 million. Hoorah, said the industry, there's space for the expansion. Unsurprisingly, the press misinterpreted the Committee's report and said that it had 'approved' the government's plans for the airport. By answering the government's disiningenous question, the CCC has lost some of its impartiality.

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The Guardian's editorial on Copenhagen - 7.12.09

Today 56 newspapers in 45 countries take the unprecedented step of speaking with one voice through a common editorial. We do so because humanity faces a profound emergency. Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year's inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage.

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How green can the UK Conservatives actually afford to be?

A new piece of research shows that potential Conservative voters in the UK are typically slightly less supportive of strong environmental policies than the population as a whole. Undecided voters that the Tories want to attract into their camp are generally even less convinced by eco-friendly political initiatives. Although the party leadership remains eager to portray itself with a greenish tinge, the lack of support among voters will tend to circumscribe the freedom to propose radical ideas for the 2010 election. If your target voters are wary of strong environmental policies, you don’t propose them in the run-up to an election. Not unexpectedly, Tory voters want green policies to be focused on investment in emissions-reducing technologies and tend to reject any increase in taxes or restrictions on economic freedoms. So, for example, it will be difficult for the party to reject airport expansion strongly.

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What are we really arguing about when we argue about climate change?

The phrase ‘the science is settled’ is regularly used by politicians arguing for meaningful action on climate change. To the majority of the world’s scientists, global warming is a clear and present danger and those who deny it, or argue that its effects will limited or benign, are dangerous lunatics. Nevertheless, an increasing numbers of voters, particularly in the US and the UK, have drifted into the sceptic camp in recent months and years. A Pew Research October survey in the US showed the percentage of people seriously concerned by the climate change issue down from 77% to 65% in two years. An international survey by HSBC showed a fall from 32% to 25% over the past year in the percentage of people saying that climate change was the biggest issue that respondents worried about. A batch of highly successful books from journalists and maverick scientists has provided the intellectual covering fire for this decline. The result of the growing scepticism will be a weakening of national resolutions to take the difficult steps required to shift rich countries away from dependence on fossil fuels.

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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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The wider lessons from nuclear power cost inflation

The Guardian newspaper of Monday 19 October broke the story that the UK government is preparing to guarantee a minimum price for carbon dioxide emissions to encourage the development of nuclear power stations. Putting a high cost on greenhouse gas emissions from power stations will force up the wholesale price of electricity, ensuring a better financial return for nuclear power stations (and for renewables such as wind). The decision to create a floor price for carbon demonstrates that the full costs of nuclear technology are probably well above today’s wholesale electricity prices. We may well need nuclear power but we are going to pay heavily for it. The government’s optimistic noises from 2006 to the middle of this year about the commercial viability of nuclear power have turned out to be wrong.

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Schellnhuber: developed countries are 'carbon insolvent'

Hans Joachim Schellnhuber is the German government’s climate protection adviser and a distinguished physicist. He was interviewed by the German magazine Der Spiegel last week and gave a starkly simple view of how much CO2 the world can emit.

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No difference in the nutritional value of organic and conventionally produced food

A study commissioned by the UK Food Standards Agency concluded that: 'there is little, if any, nutritional difference between organic and conventionally produced food and that there is no evidence of additional health benefits from eating organic food.'

Yes and no. What the study actually shows is that organic food typically does have higher levels of important nutrients but the high degree of variability in the measured levels means that we cannot be 95% sure that these higher levels are not the outcome of chance. The Food Standards Agency and the report’s authors have misled people interested in this topic and should revise the summaries of their work.

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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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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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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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