Category Archives: Energy & Climate Change

The Guardian: Climate Change FAQ

Someone at the Guardian has put together a nice ‘Ultimate FAQ’ on climate change issues.  I’ve copied the questions below- links take you straight to the relevant Guardian article.  They’re not hugely detailed statistical analyses, but a useful primer for each area.

Big picture
• What exactly is the climate?
• What is climate change?
• Is the world really getting warmer?
• Are humans definitely causing global warming?
• Does a small temperature rise actually matter?
• How much warmer will the planet get?
• Is there a scientific consensus on man-made climate change?

Science
• What is the greenhouse effect?
• What is the carbon cycle?
• When did we discover man-made climate change?
• Are hurricanes getting worse because of global warming?
• Haven’t we had ‘global cooling’ lately?
• If water vapour is the key greenhouse gas, why are man-made emissions important?
• How do trees and forests relate to climate change?
• How do volcanoes affect the climate?
• Is the sun causing global warming?
• What was the Little Ice Age?
• What’s the IPCC?
• If it’s getting warmer, how come the 2010 winter was so cold?
• Can we rely on computer models to predict future climate change?

Emissions and footprints
• What is carbon?
• Which industries and activities emit the most carbon?
• What’s the target for solving climate change?
• What are CO2e and global warming potential (GWP)?
• What are ‘outsourced emissions’?
• What are the main man-made greenhouse gases?
• Can ‘peak oil’ help slow climate change?
• How long do greenhouse gases stay in the air?

Politics & society
• If global warming was such a big deal wouldn’t governments have sorted it out?
• What is the Kyoto protocol and has it made any difference?
• Which nations are most responsible for climate change?
• What is the economic cost of climate change?
• What is the Stern review?
• What is emissions trading?
• What is the emissions trading scheme and does it work?
• What is the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)?
• Why does climate change get described as a ‘stock-flow’ problem?
• What is climate change adaptation?
• What are the options for financing climate change adaptation?

Technology
• Why do we need low-carbon energy – and how much is currently produced?
• What is carbon capture and storage?
• What are the main types of carbon capture and storage technology?
• What is geo-engineering?
• What are biofuels and are they a good idea?
• What is thorium and how does it generate power?

Impacts
• What are climate change feedback loops?
• Will rising seas put cities such as New York and London under water?
• Will the Gulf Stream slow down, freezing the UK and northern Europe?
• Are tornadoes affected by climate change
• Could climate change be a good thing?
• Will climate change cause wars?
• How will climate change affect rainfall?

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Cost of different sources of energy

Here are two useful sources for comparing the current and projected prices of different sources of renewable energy.

The first comes from Centre for Climate Change and Economics Policy report: the Case For and Against Onshore Wind Energy in the UK, starting on page 16.

The second comes from the Renewable Roadmap, from which I’ve constructed this table:

Estimated levelised cost ranges for electricity technologies
£/MWh 2010 low 2010 high 2010 median 2020 low 2020 high 2020 median
CCGT £76 £79 £78 £87 £91 £89
Onshore wind £75 £127 £101 £71 £122 £97
Biomass cofiring £94 £110 £102 £93 £110 £102
Biomass conversion £106 £128 £117 £106 £127 £117
AD < 5MW £75 £194 £135 £70 £173 £122
Dedicated biomass £127 £165 £146 £120 £156 £138
Offshore wind £149 £191 £170 £102 £176 £139
Solar PV £202 £380 £291 £136 £250 £193
Marine £162 £340 £251
Estimated levelised cost ranges for heat technologies
£/MWh 2010 low 2010 high 2010 median 2020 low 2020 high 2020 median
Gas £25 £33 £29 £32 £46 £39
Off gas and elec. grid £28 £53 £41 £31 £57 £44
Air source heat pump £44 £55 £50 £42 £53 £48
Ground source heat pump £62 £75 £69 £56 £67 £62
Biomass boilers £40 £99 £70 £43 £102 £73
Electricity £68 £90 £79 £87 £101 £94
Biogas £22 £138 £80 £22 £138 £80
Biomass district heating £61 £156 £109 £65 £159 £112
Source: Renewable Energy Roadmap p 16-17

Useful energy policy links

Here are a few useful links to government policy documents that (theoretically) underpin its current energy policy:

Green Deal

The Green Deal and the Energy Company Obligation consultation document covers a lot of detail about how the Green Deal will operate, and the new obligation the government will place on energy companies to improve energy efficiency and tackle fuel poverty.

The Draft Impact Assessment for the Green Deal also has lots of further useful technical stats and details on how the Green Deal will be implemented.

A link to all documents to do with the Green Deal consultation is here.

Energy

*Updated* Nov 2012

Here are all the details about the Energy Bill, now published on Nov 28th 2012.  This page also has details on…

*Old Energy Bill stuff*

This section on the DECC website gives details about Electricity Market Reform and the draft 2012-13 Energy Bill, including policy briefs, impact assessments, and existing legislation in the area.

The Renewables Roadmap (July 2011) sets out the government’s strategy for increasing deployment of renewable energy generation in the UK.  Further detailed stats on this are in the technical analysis.

(The Renewables Roadmap page on the DECC website is here)

Fuel Poverty

The Hills Fuel Poverty Review is an in-depth view of how fuel poverty is measured, an argument for why that measure should be changed, plus (at the end) some interesting analysis of how different government approaches would have different affects on the proposed new fuel poverty measure.  I’m a little skeptical of the new measure, if only because on page 140 it states that the new ‘Low Income High Cost’ measure of fuel poverty proposed in the report would wipe off about 5 million people who would, by 2016, otherwise be classed as fuel poor.  Still, it’s a very useful report that will be very relevant to the fuel poverty debate over the next few years.

Full DECC page on the Hills Review is here.

Policy Impacts on Prices and Bills lists updated reports from DECC on the overall impact of policies like CERT, CESP and ECO on consumer energy bills

10 facts about UK offshore wind

Here’s a nifty collection of facts about offshore wind in the UK from Renewable UK.  Number 3 is particularly striking, I think:

The UK is the world leader in offshore wind with as much capacity already installed as the rest of the world put together. Given the current construction and development pipeline, the UK’s sector lead is likely to continue until 2020. The nation with the most offshore wind farms after the UK is Denmark.

Read more here: 10 Facts About Offshore Wind

Local Recycling Rates

The DEFRA website has some useful stats about the recycling rates of local authorities going back to 2005.

Table 3 of the local authority data 05-06 spreadsheet has the earliest LA data.

Table 3 of the LA-201011-v2 spreadsheet has the latest data.

Here’s the fun bit though.

The local authority data 07-08 has some additional key performance indicators about the cost of waste collection that don’t appear to have been continued in later datasets.

Column O shows the cost of waste collection per head for every local authority in England.  Costs of waste collection and disposal are generally higher if recycling rates are lower, because more waste has to be sent to expensive landfill sites.  But this is the first time I’ve seen local stats you can interrogate to bear this kind of thing out.

The stats show an average waste collection cost per head amongst all local authorities who returned such data as being £53.60.  My home of Southampton comes in at above average, at a cost per head of £58.07.

Just in case DEFRA ever gets rid of this awesome spreadsheet, I’ve saved a copy of it here.

Local Authority Municipal Waste Statistics 2007-8- cost of waste collection per head

Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES)

The holy bible for statistics relating to energy policy is DUKES (the Digest of UK Energy Statistics).  It has really in depth stats on UK energy production and use, broken down by energy type.  It mostly covers the last 5 years, with some key indicators going back to 1970.

There is loads of interesting stuff here, but as with most government documents, the coolest stuff is near the end (in this case in a separate internet booklet).

Here, for example, are some fascinating flow charts on where different types of energy goes in the UK (these are in Annex H starting p 135):

And here’s some graphs on energy consumption by user and by fuel (p165-166)

Local Fuel Poverty Statistics

This spreadsheet from DECC gives the estimated number of households living in fuel poverty by local authority, Parliamentary constituency and region.

The weakness in the figures is that they’re from 2009, which clearly predates a lot of recent energy price rises.

If I get time I might check on what’s happened overall to fuel poverty numbers since 2009, which would provide a crude mechanism for extrapolating an increase onto the local figures.

The spreadsheet shows in 2009 there were:

  • 12,448 fuel poor households in Southampton (12.7% of households)
  • The average (both median and mean) rate of fuel poverty by local authority was 18.2%- in Plymouth.

Fuel poverty rates by region are reproduced below:

Fuel Poverty in English Regions
English region Number of households1 Number of households in fuel poverty1 % of households fuel poor
East Midlands        1,862,121            398,478 21.4%
East of England        2,388,522            387,672 16.2%
London        3,030,780            401,859 13.3%
North East        1,127,904            271,519 24.1%
North West        2,938,918            649,201 22.1%
South East        3,481,988            410,928 11.8%
South West        2,229,058            411,080 18.4%
West Midlands        2,244,928            589,004 26.2%
Yorkshire and the Humber        2,231,195            444,182 19.9%
TOTAL      21,535,414         3,963,923 18.4%
1 Note: Household and fuel poverty numbers at region level come from the national fuel poverty statistics, 2009

See the full spreadsheet: Fuel Poverty Sub Regional Statistics

Energy Jargon Explained

The previously posted Committee on Climate Change Report on Household Energy Bills has a useful box with a quick explanation of different commonly used energy policy terms.  I’ve found energy policy to contain some of the most unjustifiably inscrutable jargon, so I thought it was worth reproducing this box in full.  This is on page 5 of the report.

Health warning: the descriptions for ECO, the Carbon Floor Price and for Electricity Market Reform are probably a little optimistic.

Impact of green measures on household energy bills

The independent Committee on Climate Change has a report showing what % of household energy bills can be attributed to “green” measures.

Looking at the impact of green measures between 2004-2010 (p12), the report says:

(c) Current total energy bills
Combining our analysis of electricity and gas bills for the typical dual-fuel household indicates that the average combined bill increased from £605 per household in 2004 to £1,060 in 2010. Of this £455 increase (75%, compared to general inflation of 16% over the same period):

  • Around £380 was unrelated to low-carbon measures, with £290 due to increases in wholesale costs reflecting increases in the price of gas and supplier costs and £70 due to increasing transmission and distribution costs, and £20 due to VAT.
  • Around £75 was due to low-carbon policy costs, within which it is important to distinguish between costs of £30 towards decarbonising the energy mix through support for investments in low-carbon power generation including renewables, and costs of £45 for funding of energy efficiency measures, without which bills could have increased further over this period.

Our analysis therefore clearly shows that it is not the case that energy bills are currently high due to costs of low-carbon measures. From 2004 to 2010 bills increased by £455 to £1,060, primarily in response to increased wholesale gas costs, with only £30 (7% of the increase and 3% of the bill) due to the costs of decarbonising the generation mix, and £45 (10% of the increase and 5% of the bill) due to funding improvements to the energy efficiency of homes.

Here’s the full report:

Household Energy Bills – impacts of meeting carbon budgets

And here’s some illustrative graphs:

The Science of Climate Change: Hockey Sticks

The gold standard for evidence-based arguments for tackling climate change remains the Stern Review, published by the UK Government in 2006.  It’s an independent report that looks at the costs associated with tackling climate change, and the costs of not tackling climate change.

Chapter 1 is devoted to the science of climate change, and is a useful resource for rebutting popular climate change denier myths.

I particularly like this bit (p6):

Box 1.1 The “Hockey Stick” Debate.

Much discussion has focused on whether the current trend in rising global temperatures is unprecedented or within the range expected from natural variations. This is commonly referred to as the “Hockey Stick” debate as it discusses the validity of figures that show sustained temperatures for around 1000 years and then a sharp increase since around 1800 (for example, Mann et al. 1999, shown as a purple line in the figure below).

Some have interpreted the “Hockey Stick” as definitive proof of the human influence on climate. However, others have suggested that the data and methodologies used to produce this type of figure are questionable (e.g. von Storch et al. 2004), because widespread, accurate temperature records are only available for the past 150 years. Much of the temperature record is recreated from a range of ‘proxy’ sources such as tree rings, historical records, ice cores, lake sediments and corals.

Climate change arguments do not rest on “proving” that the warming trend is unprecedented over the past Millennium. Whether or not this debate is now settled, this is only one in a number of lines of evidence for human induced climate change. The key conclusion, that the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will lead to several degrees of warming, rests on the laws of physics and chemistry and a broad range of evidence beyond one particular graph.