The UK's Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has recently published a plan of how it sees the country transitioning to a low carbon economy. Five main sectors are covered:
- Power and Heavy Industry. Reductions are to be achieved by using the EU's trading scheme (ETS) to further cap emissions from existing power plants and heavy industrial users, as well as new areas of industry when Phase III of the scheme is introduced. This would be accompanied by investments in renewables to raise the amount of electricity generated from low carbon sources to around 40% of all sources by 2020. Additionally, the government would:
- provide support for carbon capture demonstrators to be trialed at a few coal fired power plants, as well as the infrastructure needed to transport and store the recovered CO2.
- streamline the planning and regulatory approval process for new nuclear power stations.
- promote the development of a smart grid to handle the growing diversity in power generation feeds and the distribution of electrical power around the country.
- Transport. The government would seek to improve the fuel efficiency of new vehicles and press for emissions from aviation (and perhaps shipping) to be added to the scope of the EU's trading scheme. For further details consult the low carbon transport strategy document produced by the UK's Department of Transport.
- Homes and Communities. Initiatives include programs to improve the energy efficiency of existing housing stock, the construction of new buildings to higher environmental standards and the installation of smart energy meters in all homes by 2020.
- The Workplace. The scope of the EU's trading scheme will be increased to cover businesses that are large consumers of power (see the carbon reduction commitment) and a low carbon industrial strategy developed.
- Farming, Land and Waste. A more efficient use of fertilisers will be encouraged, as well as improved management of livestock, support for processes capable of turning biodegradable waste into renewable energy and reducing the amount of waste sent to landfill.
Proposed Reduction in UK Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Source (sited above): Chart 1, UK Low Carbon Transition Plan National Strategy, July 2009
The road map looks promising, but one wonders how easy it will be to execute in practice. Whilst the graph shows a reasonable reduction in total emissions from sources of production - some 20% over the next 13 years - it does not appear to consider emissions at the point of consumption, e.g. the embodied greenhouse gas (GHG) content of domestic production as well as that imported in the form of manufactured goods, cars and food, etc. Estimates vary widely, but total GHG emissions at the point of consumption could well be 50 → 150% larger than simply considering sources of production within the UK !! (for example, see Appendix H of David MacKay's book). Other points to note include:
- It is likely there will be severe constraints on how much money the government has to sponsor / subsidise the roll-out of a low carbon infrastructure. The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has also challenged its over-reliance on renewables which are costly - see a sustainable energy report and their additional publication: road map to a low carbon economy - whilst reports are emerging that the proposed schedule for a carbon capture demonstrator is beginning to slip.
- The graph shows a significant decline in power and industrial emissions from 2012 onwards. This may prove wishful thinking, coinciding with the start of Phase 3 of the European Union's ETS that has yet to be ratified by member states and the assumption that European governments will agree to a full auction of permits. In the event, it may be tempting to rely on leakage and the non-reporting of embodied GHG's in imports (e.g. transfer of production to other countries not party to Kyoto) to achieve the targeted reduction in emissions.
- There is no assessment of how the public's resistance to change could delay implementation of the plan. Examples of issues likely to influence the timetable include:
- A backlash against any increases in the price of energy needed to pay for the investment in renewables, particularly when a recent report has suggested that up to a quarter of the population may be facing 'fuel poverty' by the end of 2009.
- Delays or failure to secure local consent for the new projects. Typically this includes plans for nuclear power stations, onshore wind farms (vehemently opposed by middle England), as well as pipelines and the infrastructure required to transport and store carbon dioxide underground, either onshore or offshore.
- A growing awareness by businesses that they will be required to pay for other energy efficiency gains through the carbon reduction commitment.
Details of a road map that the US may follow can be determined from the contents of the American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) Act recently passed by the US Congress. Elements of the bill that have still to be debated in the Senate and subjected to formidable challenge by interest groups include:
- I - Clean energy with additional development strategies for carbon capture and sequestration, alternative fuels and clean transport.
- II - Energy efficiency and renewable energy standards.
- III, VII and VIII - Reducing the emissions of global warming pollutants (cap and trade).
- IV - Transition to a clean energy economy.
- V - Agriculture and forestry related offsets.
- XII - An energy refund program.
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