Can we install enough renewable energy to meet demand?

Windmills_and_Ailsa_Craig_aka_Paddy's_Milestone_rotated

By Jon Crooks

With a review of the proposed Hinkley Point C power station in Somerset due next month and repeated promises of more detail on the UK’s broader energy policy by the end of the year, this final blog in the series looks at whether we can install enough renewable energy to meet current and growing demand for electricity through the electrification of other sectors within the time frame needed and asks, do we need new nuclear power stations like the one proposed at Hinkley in Somerset? 

As mentioned in the first blog of this series, recently published figures from the new Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) showed that the renewable energy share of the electricity sector was up 5.5 percentage points from the previous year to 24.6%. This is great news, make no mistake. As Carbon Brief summarised in their review of these figures:

“Wind, solar and biomass all contributed to the rising share of renewable electricity. Onshore wind generation increased by 23% on a year earlier, while offshore wind and biomass grew 30% as new windfarms were completed and Drax continued its conversion from coal to wood pellets.”

It’s clear therefore that we are already replacing coal with solar, wind and biomass. If this can become a trend (a 5% increase in share each year), then a move from 25% in 2015 to 30% in 2016 is possible, which if we then extrapolate over the next 15 years would mean 50% of our electricity generation could come from renewable energy by 2020, 75% by 2025 and by 2030 we would be getting all our power from renewable sources. We just have to keep building capacity at the current rate. Don’t we?

Increased urgency

Recent figures – based on Met Office data – prepared by meteorologist Ed Hawkins of Reading University show that average global temperatures have already been more than 1C above pre-industrial levels for every month except one over the past year and peaked at +1.38C in February and March. Keeping within the 1.5C limit will now be extremely difficult, say scientists, given these rises.

spiral_optimized

These alarming figures will form the backdrop to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change talks in Geneva this month, when scientists will start to outline ways to implement the climate goals set in Paris. Dates for abandoning all coal-burning power stations and halting the use of combustion engines across the globe – possibly within 15 years – are likely to be set.

The transport sector has seen an increase in demand, driven by cheaper oil prices, and if we are to switch all our transport to electric power over the next 15 years, demand for electricity will clearly increase if all else remains constant – though it is worth pointing out that a battery-powered vehicle is approximately five times more efficient than a petrol-fuelled vehicle.

The same applies to heating and cooling of buildings, where we must move away from fossil fuels quickly and this will mean an significant element of electrification will be required.

This means that we will either need to step up the current pace of building renewable energy capacity to meat the increased demand, look to build new nuclear power stations or greatly improve energy efficiency. So what is the answer?

Nuclear power

22% of our electricity currently comes from nuclear reactors, but the UK’s nuclear power stations will close gradually over the next decade or so, with all but one expected to stop running by 2025.

Several companies have plans to build a new generation of reactors and I’ve long thought that we need this to happen, even if just as an insurance policy against not being able to decarbonise through renewable energy alone. But a number of things have emerged recently to change my mind. I’m now convinced that nuclear power is not the answer.

Firstly, nuclear energy results in 9–25 times more carbon emissions than wind energy, due to the mining, refinement, and transportation of nuclear fuel; the much longer time involved in building a nuclear facility (approximately 4 times longer than wind or solar facilities); and larger building footprint.

Secondly, I think we can and will move faster in terms of renewable energy deployment. Whilst my crude calculation above assumed a 5% increase required year on year to meet current demand, the reality will be more exponential as we have already seen:

Chapter_6_web-page-009

Source: DUKES 2016 Chapter 6: Renewable sources of energy

We’ve already seen a further acceleration in investment activity since the signing of the Paris Agreement at the end of 2015 and the more money that flows into renewable energy projects, the more the price falls, the more it then becomes an even more attractive investment, and so on. Can you look at the above graph and see this playing out any other way?

UK Case studies

A report, produced by the RSPB (pdf),  concluded that approximately four times the UK’s current final energy consumption could be generated from renewables, with low ecological risk.  Of particular interest, their results showed very high potential for offshore wind technologies with low ecological risk, generating up to 5,673 TWh/ year – equivalent to almost three and a half times the UK’s final energy consumption in 2014.

The Centre for Alternative Technology prepared a plan (pdf) entitled Zero Carbon Britain 2030, which was updated in 2013.  The report details a comprehensive plan through which Britain  could reduce its CO2-equivalent emissions 94% by the year 2030 (for all sectors, not just electricity generation).  The report proposes to achieve the final 6% emissions reduction through carbon sequestration in forests and peatlands.

In terms of energy production, the ZCB report proposed to provide 100% of UK energy demands by 2030 from renewable sources.  In their plan, 79% of electricity demand is supplied through wind (72% from offshore turbines, 7% from onshore), 3% from wave, 6% from tidal, 8% from solar, 3% from geothermal and 1% from hydroelectric.

Scotland in particular already has a significant share of the European wind energy market and high winds recently boosted renewable energy output to provide 106% of Scotland’s electricity needs for a day.

The government has just given planning permission for the Hornsea Project Two offshore wind farm. This project could be the largest in the world when completed and have a capacity of as much as 1.6 GW located off the east coast of England. That’s half the capacity of Hinkley in one wind farm.

Dong Energy has recently stated that it is ready to offer the U.K. more offshore wind power should Prime Minister scrap construction of Hinkley nuclear power plant.

“We would be able to further accelerate and expand the build out of offshore wind should there be such a need,” Dong’s Chief Executive Officer Henrik Poulsen said. “Of course, that’s entirely leaving those decisions to the U.K. government.”

Building more offshore wind farms is key to driving down the cost of the renewable energy technology, according to Poulsen, head of the Danish utility, which is the world’s biggest offshore-wind-farm developer.

Energy efficiency 

John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, recently argued:

“The less we use, the easier the problem is to solve. If all street lights were switched to LED bulbs we could take half a GW of demand off the grid with ease. If all homes did the same, we’d save 2.7GW of power at peak use – that’s nearly the equivalent of Hinkley by just changing the lightbulbs.”

In both the RSPB and ZCB studies, it was assumed that the UK would implement ambitious energy saving measures and significantly reduces overall energy demand. Measures such as improvements in the energy efficiency of lighting and appliances and significantly improved insulation in buildings, so that less energy is wasted. The RSPB assumed that by 2050, the UK’s final energy demand would be reduced by more than a third and ZCB suggested it could be reduced by 60% by 2030.

“A low-carbon future is essential. So is energy security and affordable energy. If we are to deliver on all three, there is a huge investment opportunity across renewable energy, interconnectors, energy storage, smart grids and energy efficiency.” –John Sauven, Greenpeace UK

Recomendations

I would like to see the UK Government publish a comprehensive plan, similar to that produced by Zero Carbon Britain that not only sets the goal of net zero emissions by 2030, but paints a picture of what that that will look like in terms of UK energy mix and crucially what policies will be put in place to get us there.

Businesses and investors, crucial to delivering the technology, innovation and capital required to meet this challenge are looking to government to show the way. Here are a few suggestions from me for starters:

  1. The construction of Hinkley nuclear power plant should be scrapped.
  2. Instead the government should give the go-ahead to the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project, which will provide cleaner, cheaper energy in more abundance and for longer.
  3. No new gas power plants should be given the go-ahead
  4. Primary focus to be on additional offshore wind deployment at a scale sufficient to replace any closing coal plants. The Government’s Renewable Energy Roadmap highlights a potential deployment by 2020 of up to 18 GW of offshore wind (compared to installed capacity at the end of 2015 of 5.1 GW). This would correspond to around 17 per cent of the UK’s net electricity production (compared to 4.8% at the end of 2015), which is OK. But we need to be more ambitious and target 25 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2020 and 50 GW or 50% of our electricity production from offshore wind by 2025.
  5. Financial support for small-scale rooftop solar and community energy projects based on wind, solar and hydro schemes to ensure they are viable and lead to a steady increase in uptake, with subsidies and grants available for energy storage and smart appliances also made available.
  6. Energy efficiency needs to be made a top government priority with re-implementation of the zero carbon homes policy to ensure all new housing is net zero carbon from 2020 and a plan put in place to deliver energy efficiency across the UK’s existing housing stock through a combination of incentives and penalties that gradually improve energy efficiency ratings over a 10 year period.

The above is just a start and will need to dovetail with other strategies in other sectors, delivering zero carbon transport, changes to how we heat our buildings and changes to industry, agriculture, the level and make up of our consumption of food and products, and policies that reduce waste and transition us to a more circular economy.

Watch this short video from Zero Carbon Britain and support the cause:

We can have 100% renewable energy and still have ‘baseload’ power

With a review of the proposed Hinkley Point C power station in Somerset due next month and the promise of a detailed strategy on the UK’s broader energy policy by the end of the year, this second of three blogs this week looks at ‘baseload’ power.

 

Let’s first remind ourselves of the longer-term perspective in terms of the UK’s low-carbon transition:

“The UK’s fifth carbon budget, recently passed into law, will require the power sector to be largely decarbonised by 2030. Meanwhile, the Paris Agreement on climate change means the UK has pledged, along with almost 200 other nations, to almost completely decarbonise all energy use soon after mid-century.” – Carbon Brief

That means we need to get almost all our electricity from zero- or low-carbon sources by 2030 and start making inroads into other sectors by then too; such as electrification of transport, heating and cooling systems and reduced emissions from industry, agriculture etc.

Focusing first on the electricity generation sector, which makes up the highest proportion of GHG emissions and will underpin the electrification of other sectors therefore clearly makes sense.

So can it be done? There are two main perceived challenges:

  1. Can we install enough to meet current and growing demand for electricity within the time frame needed?
  2. Whether renewable energy alone can provide sufficient ‘baseload’ power

‘Baseload’ power

‘Baseload’ (24-hour per day) demand has become widely-accepted as one of the challenges faced as we transition to 100% renewable energy.  After all, the wind doesn’t blow all the time and there’s no sunlight at night.

Gas-fired ‘peaking’ plants are often used to buffer the intermittency of industrial-scale wind and solar inputs to the grid. As such, it is argued that we may need substantial amounts of grid-level energy storage as well as a major grid overhaul as wind and solar power become more dominant in the share of electricity generation. But will this really pose a challenge? Here are four reasons why it shouldn’t…

#1 Addressing intermittency from wind energy

Wind power is currently the cheapest and most abundant source of renewable energy in the UK, but is said to present the challenge of dealing with the intermittency of wind speed.  Nevertheless, as of 2014, wind already supplied 39% of Denmark’s electricity generation.

Although the output of a single wind farm will fluctuate greatly, the fluctuations in the total output from a number of wind farms geographically distributed in different wind regimes will be much smaller and partially predictable.  Additionally, over the longer term (month by month) in many regions, peak wind production matches up well with peak electricity demand.

UK wind seasonality

Monthly wind output vs. electricity demand in the UK (UK Committee on Climate Change 2011).

#2 Distributed energy resources (DER) and home and business storage

Secondly, storage will play an increasing role. Distributed Energy Resources (DER), such as roof-top solar, are small-scale power generation sources located close to where electricity is used (e.g. a home or business) and provide an alternative to or can supplement power that comes from the grid. DER is a faster, less expensive option to the construction of large, central power plants and high-voltage transmission lines. Furthermore, it offers consumers the potential for lower cost and energy independence.

Alongside DER, batteries will play a key role. Batteries won’t only replace petrol tanks in cars over the next decade or two, they will also make it into our homes and businesses to store electricity from rooftop solar panels or from the grid. The electric car company Tesla announced its entry into this market last year, unveiling a suite of low-cost solar batteries for homes, businesses and utilities; “the missing piece”, it said, in the transition to a sustainable energy world.

Wall-mounted, with a sleek design, the lithium-ion batteries are designed to capture and store up to 10kWh of energy from wind or solar panels. The reserves can be drawn on when sunlight is low, during power cuts or at peak demand times, when electricity costs are highest. The smallest “Powerwall” is 1.3m by 68cm, small enough to be hung inside a garage or on an outside wall. Up to eight batteries could be “stacked” in a home.

The batteries will initially be manufactured at the electric car company’s factory in California, but will move production to its planned “gigafactory” in Nevada when it opens in 2017. The Nevada facility will be the largest producer of lithium-ion batteries in the world and it is hoped its mass-production scale will help to bring down costs. It is not the only battery storage system on the market, but the Powerwall boasts a relatively high storage capacity, a competitive price, and the heft of investment and excitement generated by Musk’s vision.

Also unveiled last year was a larger “Powerpack”, which is a 100kWh battery block to help utilities smooth out their supply of wind and solar energy or to pump energy into the grid when demand soars. Approximately two billion Powerpacks could store enough electricity to meet the entire world’s needs, which may seem like an insane number, but as Musk said: “this is actually within the power of humanity to do.”

#3 Reducing baseload demand

Thirdly, it is about timing. It is now widely recognised that we will need to start timing our energy usage to better coincide with the availability of sunlight and wind energy and in order to smooth out peaks in demand, and demand response technologies, such as smart grids, smart meters and smart appliances are already stepping up to the task.

Smart grids are energy networks that can automatically monitor energy flows and adjust to changes in energy supply and demand accordingly. When coupled with smart metering systems, smart grids reach consumers and suppliers by providing information on real-time consumption.

This will help to better integrate renewable energy by combining information on energy demand with weather forecasts to allow grid operators to better plan the integration of renewable energy into the grid and balance their networks.

The incentive to individuals and businesses is price driven. With smart meters, consumers can adapt – in time and volume –  their energy usage to different energy prices throughout the day, saving money on their energy bills by consuming more energy in lower price periods when renewable energy is more abundant or demand is lower. Smart grids also open up the possibility for consumers who produce their own energy to respond to prices and sell excess to the grid.

Energy companies have already started installing smart meters in homes in England, Scotland and Wales. Every home in Britain will have a smart meter installed by 2020.

Smart appliances will also play a part. Domestic appliances can offer a range of options for load-shifting, including delaying the start of washing or dishwashing cycles, intermediate interruptions of operation of appliances, or the use of refrigerators and freezers for temporarily storing energy.

#4 Renewable ‘baseload’ sources

There’s more to renewable energy than wind and solar!

Some renewable energy sources are just as reliable for ‘baseload’ energy as fossil fuels and nuclear, if not more so (coal and nuclear in particular can not be turned on and off quickly as and when required).

Types of ‘baseload’ renewables will differ depending on the particular environmental conditions around the world. For example, bio-electricity generated from burning the residues of crops and plantation forests, hydro in countries like Norway, concentrated solar thermal power with low-cost thermal storage (such as in molten salt) in countries like Spain, Morocco and Australia, and geothermal power all provide ‘baseload’ power.

Tidal

It is estimated that tidal power could generate around 20% of Britain’s requirements and Scotland and the UK generally are seen as world leaders in tidal energy research. Sunshine, wind and waves vary with the weather, but tides still rise and fall and the flow can be safely harnessed in and out. There are great practical challenges associated with this form of hydropower and only around twenty sites in the world have been identified as being ideal locations for large scale tidal power arrays, but eight of these sites are to be found in Britain.

The Severn, Dee, Solway and Humber estuaries are all potential sites for tidal energy generating barrages in the UK, while Islay and the Pentland Firth are to host tidal turbine arrays. The Pentland Firth, the narrow run of water between the north-east tip of Scotland and the Orkney islands, is possibly the best place in the world to generate electricity from the movement of the tides. It is estimated that around 8 TWh could be generated by tidal power in the Pentland Firth, representing 8% of total UK electricity consumption.

Additionally, in his autumn statement last year, George Osborne flagged up the prospect of a tidal lagoon power project in Swansea Bay, only to put it out for review when the price of oil and gas came down. The start-up cost for Swansea Bay stands at £1.3bn compared to £18bn for Hinkley Point C. The planned productive life of the lagoon would be more than 100 years compared with 60 years for Hinkley. Over the years, with rising output from larger lagoons around the coast, tidal input to the national grid could match Hinkley nuclear in cost and quantity.

Biomass

Certainly a controversial form of renewable energy, but it will play a part. Last year, Drax burned pellets made from nearly 12 million tonnes of wood, more than the UK’s entire annual wood production. 98% of their wood was imported; the vast majority from the southern US and Canada.  Whilst many NGOs claim that this is leading to forest destruction for electricity, which is disastrous for the environment and the climate, Drax insist that they  have a policy of driving fuel procurement activities through a set of sustainability principles and the pellets all come from waste cuttings, residue from sawmills, ag waste etc. and that the supply chain is independently checked and the whole process carbon neutral.

Carbon Brief produced a report last year investigating the use of Biomass in the UK, and Drax in particular, which demonstrated just how tricky this argument is.  I think it’s fair to say that the jury is still out, but it was providing 5.5% of our electricity in 2015).

#5 Interconnectors

One final way to allay fears around ‘baseload’ power is by linking to other countries’ transmission systems. By doing this the National Grid can increase the diversity and security of energy supplies, facilitate competition in the European market and help the transition to a low carbon energy sector by integrating with renewable sources in other countries . Consider Norway for example, which produces almost all it’s electricity from hydro, providing access to a secure ‘baseload’ supply.

National Grid’s transmission system is already linked by interconnectors to the transmission systems of France (which derives about 75% of its electricity from nuclear energyand The Netherlands. In addition to jointly owning and operating the England-France and England-Netherlands interconnectors, National Grid are developing proposals on a number of other interconnector projects.

  1. Belgium – In February 2015 National Grid Nemo Link Limited and Elia, the Belgian Transmission System Operator, signed a joint venture agreement to move ahead with the Nemo Link – the first electricity interconnector between the two countries. When completed the interconnector will provide 1 GW of capacity – enough to power half a million homes. It’s anticipated that Nemo Link will go into commercial operation in 2019.
  2. Norway – Further plans to connect to Norway to take advantage of their immense supply of hydropower via another subsea power cable, supplying a further 1.4GW – enough to power nearly three quarters of a million UK homes. National Grid and Statnett, the Norwegian Transmission System Operator, has signed the ownership agreement which signals the start of the construction phase for the 720 km interconnector between the UK and Norway (known as NSL).
  3. France – Plans are underway to construct a second subsea power cable, which will supply enough electricity (1 GW) to power two million British homes and is intended to be up and running by 2020
  4. Denmark – the Viking Link is a proposal to build a high voltage direct current (HVDC) electricity interconnector between Bicker Fen in Lincolnshire and a substation at Revsing in southern Jutland, in Denmark. It is expected to be operational by the end of 2022.
  5. Iceland – A capacity of 1 GW is being investigated, with desk studies ongoing to establish feasible converter sites, onshore and offshore High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) cable routes, and landing points. It is expected that the landing points for the cable will be in Northern Scotland and South East Iceland. The project is currently projected to be operational from 2027

The first two of these projects (with Belgium and Norway), in which agreements have been signed to signal the start of construction, will together provide 2.4 GW of capacity, the equivalent of more than 5% of UK power generation capacity.

European Union Case Study

The European Renewable Energy Council (EREC) prepared a plan for the European Union (EU) to meet 100% of its energy needs with renewable sources by 2050 (that’s all sectors, not just power generation), entitled Re-Thinking 2050.  In 2050, the proposed EU energy production breakdown is:  31% from wind, 27% from solar PV, 12% from geothermal, 10% from biomass, 9% from hydroelectric, 8% from solar thermal, and 3% from the ocean.

EU Renewables

EREC report breakdown of EU energy production in 2020, 2030, and 2050

Summary

Arguments that renewable energy isn’t up to the task because “the Sun doesn’t shine at night and the wind doesn’t blow all the time” it would seem are overly simplistic.

There are a number of renewable energy technologies which can supply ‘baseload’ power and the intermittency of other sources such as wind and solar can be addressed by interconnecting power plants (and even countries), which are widely geographically distributed. The use of battery storage and evening out demand through smart technology will also play a part.  Numerous regional and global case studies – some incorporating modelling to demonstrate their feasibility – have provided plausible plans to meet 100% of energy demand with renewable sources.

However, many if not most of these rely on significantly reducing the amount of energy we consume as well as switching to renewable energy sources. Energy efficiency is therefore likely to play a significant role in achieving our targets.

Can we install enough renewable energy to meet current and growing demand for electricity through the electrification of other sectors within the time frame needed?

Do we need new nuclear power stations like the one proposed at Hinkley in Somerset? 

This will be the subject of the last in this series of blogs on UK energy policy out tomorrow…

A global shift to 100% renewables is within sight

By Jon Crooks

"Schneebergerhof 01" by Kuebi = Armin Kübelbeck - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Schneebergerhof_01.jpg#/media/File:Schneebergerhof_01.jpg

At the Climate Summit in New York last September, the task given by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was simple. Heads of States had to promise the delivery of a global action plan by 2015 and this needed to target a fully decarbonised energy sector based on 100% renewable energy by 2050. That means no new carbon put into the air by the way we power our lives. Homes, transport and businesses – everything needs to be powered by clean, renewable energy.

Is this possible? Yes. Remember we have 35 years to get there. Think of all the technology we have now that didn’t exist 35 years ago: computers, the internet, smartphones etc. We can create even more solutions that we haven’t even thought of yet.

The EU has said it will push for at least 27% of the EU’s energy to come from renewables by 2030, but that’s not enough. The G7 have said they will commit to ‘strive’ towards transformation of the energy sector by 2050, but this is too loose. We can do so much better than this when you look at the progress made already.

Since the Copenhagen climate summit 6 years ago…

In the last six years since that now infamous and disastrous Copenhagen climate summit there has been a huge amount of investment in renewable energy, spectacular growth in the amount of solar and wind generated power, with renewables now the world’s second largest source of electricity. The prospect of a renewably-powered future is now much more tangible.

In 2009, there was 1,223GW of renewable power capacity installed globally (including hydro and traditional biomass), according to REN21, a thinktank. By 2014 that had risen 28% to 1,560GW, equivalent to 780 average sized (2GW) coal power plants. That’s in just 6 years.

2013 was the first year that more renewable capacity was built than fossil and nuclear combined: 56% of the electricity generating capacity built in 2013 was renewable.

China increased the amount of renewable power it generated by more than three times as much as the rest of the world put together in 2014.

Investment in renewables grew significantly in the years following Copenhagen, according to figures from BNEF. $196Bn was invested in 2009. In 2013 it stood at $254Bn, a 30% increase.

The growth of wind and solar power has consistently outstripped projections from the influential International Energy Agency. Renewables have even grown faster than predicted by Greenpeace.

Wind Power

Global wind power capacity more than doubled between 2009 and 2014. By 2014 China had installed more than four times the wind generating power it had in 2009. India doubled its wind capacity in the same five years.

Solar Power

Global solar capacity saw even faster growth between 2009 and 2014 – growing by 91% in 2010 alone. In 2014 China had achieved a staggering 94-fold increase in solar capacity since 2009. Solar capacity grew 15-fold in the United States between 2009 and 2014, with a third of that installed in 2013/2014 alone.

And now?

The latest figures on renewable energy trends from the UN Environment Programme (Unep) reveal a striking turnaround after a period in which low oil prices and policy uncertainty pushed investment down, threatening the sector. Even though oil prices remain low, world investment, largely in solar and wind, went up by 17% to $270bn last year, reversing a two-year dip. The new generating capacity that represents is about the same as the total output of the current US nuclear system.

The cost of renewable electricity has fallen rapidly over the past six years, particularly for solar power, where cost reductions have been dramatic and unexpected. IRENA says solar PV module costs have fallen 75% since the end of 2009 and the cost of electricity from utility-scale solar PV by 50% since 2010.

Of course it’s tough for politicians trained to look only to the next election cycle, but we are starting to see progress. At least 16 cities already have 100% targets. Copenhagen, San Francisco, Munich and Frankfurt were the first to commit to going 100 % Clean – Copenhagen even a lot earlier: by 2030!

Costa Rica may have relied on its very particular topography to have its energy system powered 100% by renewable energy in 2015, but it is symbolically powerful and Costa Ricans are enjoying falling energy prices. Also, the best energy systems should always be locally tailored.

Under very different circumstances, the district of Rhein-Hunsrück in the industrial giant of Germany achieved 100% renewable status and exports surplus clean energy to the grid. The €290m (£213m) it used to spend on importing energy is being turned into value for the local community by an energy system based on efficiency and local, renewable sources.

One in four UK homes now benefits from wind power, a rise of 15% on last year, and Scotland is generating enough clean energy to be used in 98% of its homes.

Solar entrepreneur Jeremy Leggett argues in his forthcoming book, The Winning of the Carbon War, that three mostly independent dynamics are at play driving the change. Firstly, the numbers no longer add up in the old fossil fuel model. The costs of new acquisitions become unmanageable in a system that feasts on debt. Secondly, costs in solar and the vital link of a green energy system, battery storage, are plummeting while the sector offers attractive, reliable rates of return to investors. The Swiss bank UBS famously predicted the rapid “extinction” of the old fossil fuel system as battery costs as much as halve over the next five years.

And, finally, there is movement internationally on climate policy. “We are now in danger of winning the carbon war,” says Leggett. ”Would I like to be running an oil company now? Defending their case is becoming untenable.”

Some countries have begun to realise the benefits. A recent German study [pdf] reveals that some €5.4bn was generated in Germany in 2012 through projects that were partially or fully owned by local investors, including citizens. Local private investments created a total of around 100,000 jobs that year in both the construction sector and operation.

It is doable – the weight of scientific opinion leaves no doubt. Professor Mark Jacobson from Stanford University has outlined a vision to power the entire United States, including the transport sector, by 100% renewables by 2050. We don’t lack the ability, we lack political will.

 

Manchester – poised to become a leader in the worldwide climate movement?

By Jon Crooks, published on The News Hub on 24th November 2014

manchester-skyline

Climate change is back on the political agenda and a growing number of cities, regions and even countries are committing to a transition to 100% clean by 2050. Can the new ‘Northern Powerhouse’ be one of them?

At the recent Climate Summit in New York, the task given by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was simple. Heads of States had to promise the delivery of a global action plan by 2015 and this needs to target a fully decarbonised energy sector based on 100% renewable energy by 2050. That means no new carbon put into the air by the way we power our lives. Homes, transport and businesses – everything needs to be powered by clean, renewable energy.

Is this possible? Yes. Some countries are already getting 50-70% of their electricity from renewables in a single day and remember we have 35 years to get there. Think of all the technology we have now that didn’t exist 35 years ago: computers, the internet, smartphones etc. We can create even more solutions that we haven’t even thought of yet.

Of course it’s tough for politicians trained to look only to the next election cycle, but we are starting to see progress. Some 16 cities already have 100% targets. It is doable – the weight of scientific opinion leaves no doubt. Professor Mark Jacobson from Stanford University has outlined a vision to power the entire United States, including the transport sector, by 100% renewables by 2050. We don’t lack the ability, we lack political will.

But why Manchester? Well for starters thousands of people from Manchester signed a petition in the lead up to the People’s Climate March in September demanding a 100% clean energy future. The march itself was an incredible fusion of people. I was there. Thousands of us walked from Piccadilly Gardens, around the city, past the Labour Party conference at the Midland Hotel, where many wanted to pause to share a few choice words, and then across the road where we rallied outside the Bridgewater Hall to listen to several rousing speeches from the likes of Green Party leader Natalie Bennett.

Many of those speeches made the point that the North West is considered to be on the front line in the fight against fracking. A new fossil-fuel powered industry, which will be years in the making, is unlikely to deliver what is hoped of it and is far from the clean energy revolution we need. The public resistance to fracking is strong, should not be underestimated and continues to grow and, I think, will win. We are a city region intent on achieving a better future for our children. We won’t settle for a dirty transition to clean energy, we want a truly 100% clean goal.

Significantly though, politically, Greater Manchester is perfectly placed for this. A combination of ten local authorities have worked together for some time and after years of debate have now agreed to have an elected figurehead to oversee them. The Chancellor has rubber-stamped the deal and we will have a temporary mayor from January and a new elected mayor from 2017.

This will lead to a city region with greater freedoms, which will ultimately control all public spending in Greater Manchester. With responsibility for local transport (something which is already making great strides through the expansion of the successful Metrolink tram network and better provision for cyclists with the newly announced Oxford Road scheme), along with devolved planning freedoms and control of funds for housing, Manchester will be able to control its own destiny.

Online petitions are a growing political movement all on their own and fast becoming a proven way to make real change happen, but they are at their most powerful when they are directed at local actors by people in their community. I like the idea of a cascade of campaigns in cities and towns across the world calling for local pledges for 100% clean energy by 2050. Together we can turn our countries green from the inside out and show national politicians that climate action is possible and popular.

Getting our towns & cities to promise a clean, sustainable future is an important step towards stopping runaway climate change, and together we can make it happen. That’s why I created a petition to specifically get Manchester to commit to 100% clean energy.

The more of us who take action, the more likely it is our leaders will listen.