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Energy Crunch: The future's local?

Rooftops image via nicohogg/flickr. Creative Commons 2.0.

Three things you shouldn't miss this week

  1. Commentary: Cutting emissions without onshore wind may be possible, but it would cost us - Evidence from a government advisor suggests capping onshore windfarms will make it a lot harder and more expensive to hit our carbon targets.
  2. Chart: Power sector scenarios for reaching the UK target of 50gCO2/kWh by 2030 - showing 25GW of onshore wind in all scenarios (highlights by Energy Crunch).

    Committee on Climate Change, May 2013
  3. Article: Four ways Ovo and City support for community energy could transform the market - Ovo are making it simpler and less risky for community groups, local authorities and housing associations to run their own energy companies. 


The Tories’ announcement last week that a future Conservative government would cut off all further funding for onshore wind was a sure sign of low politics undermining sensible energy policy. Energy Minister Michael Fallon’s apparent rationale for the decision is that the 11-13GW of onshore wind projects already completed or in the pipeline is enough to meet Britain’s 2020 commitments. But his words ring hollow when you consider warnings from the government’s independent advisor, the Committee on Climate Change, showing that Britain will need over twice this amount (25GW) of onshore wind by 2030 in order to meet our longer term goals. Perhaps the prospect of electoral defeat by anti-wind UKIP at the European elections is a more plausible motivation for the Conservative’s move?
What is not yet clear is whether the same ‘industrialisation of the landscape’ objections levelled at onshore wind will also hamper shale gas. DECC welcomed a report this week claiming that fracking could potentially generate 64,000 jobs – although the study by Ernst & Young is based on a highly optimistic production scenario from the Institute of Directors. The government clearly expects further opposition, and in an effort to ease the path for fracking is planning to change trespass rules to allow drilling pipelines to extend under private land without permission.
One of the reasons the government gives for its enthusiasm for shale gas is greater energy independence, both from the Middle East, and especially now from Russia as the Ukraine crisis escalates. Ukraine has until May 7th to make back payments to Russia for gas, or risk having supplies cut – a move which could send shockwaves to other parts of Europe. There is no way Britain’s shale gas will be up and running in time to make any difference to our energy security in this immediate crisis, however, and it’s hard to see how it will make much difference longer term either, as our North Sea gas production continues to plummet.
In the meantime the more subtle energy revolution going on behind the scenes continues. The so called ‘carbon bubble’ of investments in unburnable fossil fuel assets went mainstream last week as investment company Blackrock partnered with the FTSE Group to create a set of fossil free investment stock market indices. In a different approach to energy independence, London announced a scheme aiming to generate 25% of the city’s power from local sources by 2025. Finally, upstart energy supplier OvO recognised the potential for local and community energy generation this week with a new partnership scheme aimed at community energy companies. With new storage technology and falling solar costs perhaps the future of energy is local.
Related Reports
Next steps on Electricity Market Reform – securing the benefits of low-carbon investment, Committee on Climate Change, May 2013
Getting ready for UK shale gas - Ernst & Young for United Kingdom Onshore Operators Group
Switch From Ethanol Back To Gasoline Leads To 20 Percent Drop In Ozone Levels - Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN)

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