How Does the UK Rank in the Climate Change Performance Index 2016?

CCPI-2016-Map-Overall_Results-World

There are many different measures used to tell how countries are doing in their progress towards dealing with climate change and reducing reliability on fossil fuels.  One of the most widely used studies for progress on renewable energy is the Climate Change Performance Index or CCPI.  So how did the UK do on this year’s study and which countries are doing the best?

Top five

In the CCPI, the top three places are currently left unfilled because in the opinion of the authors, no country has done enough to warrant it.  But in fourth place on the list is Denmark, a position it has held for the last five years.  The country already has strong renewables policies that have been implemented by the government, though there have been some backward steps in the last year with climate and energy targets being cancelled and budget cuts for measures designed to protect the climate.

The UK moved up from 6th to 5th in the 2016 report due to the improvements made in its renewable position.  This improvement comes in part from a government scheme announced in November to have a nationwide phase-out of coal use within a settled deadline.  However, this position could be in danger from a series of measures that may have a negative effect on renewables, including the 65% cut in the Feed-in-Tariff payment made to homes with solar power.  Reductions in subsides for onshore wind turbines is another area that may have a negative effect.

Notable moves

Sweden is another country that has always rated highly in the report and leads the energy efficiency category.  It has one of the highest percentages of energy from renewables in the European Union but has seen a fall in the report due to the ‘squandering of good results’ by the current government.

Morocco is in the top ten for the first time this year following its development of the Noor Complex, the world’s largest solar power plant that opened its first phase this month.  Using the space and sun of the Sahara means that the power plant could eventually create enough energy for the entire North Africa, with some spare to export to Europe.

India’s place has increased by six spots this year to 25 in the world, mainly due to a focus on shifting from coal to renewables and a massive expansion of solar energy systems.  The country has plans to increase non fossil fuels to 40% of installed capacity by 2030.

The US has made definite progress, moving up 12 places to 34 in the table but is still the second large CO2 emitted in the world.  Its work to help with recent climate negotiations has also helped boost its position along with rejected construction projects such as a large oil-sands pipeline.

Changing face

While the CCPI is just one way to measure how countries are changing their use of fossil fuels and embarking on renewables, it uses a range of criteria that show the positive, or negative, results of the real policies that governments around the world institute.

Is the Swansea Tidal Lagoon Dead in the Water?

Swansea Tidal Lagoon

At an estimated cost of £1 billion, the tidal lagoon in Swansea was set to be one of the most ambitious renewable energy projects in the UK since the green agenda began.

Just 10 months ago, things were certainly looking bright. After the Conservative government got in without a coalition to hinder them, Amber Rudd pushed through planning permission pretty quickly and it was hoped that construction would commence in August at the earliest. For many in the renewable industry it was a sign of the bright future to come.

That was about as good as it got for the company in charge of the Swansea Tidal Lagoon. By the turn of last year, there were serious concerns on investment, the cost of the installation when compared to the amount of energy produced, and the need for substantial subsidies to support the venture.

It all seemed to gather momentum far too quickly, causing the Government to back track and call for a review, that time honoured particular way of throwing something into the long grass.

Subsidy Cuts for Renewables

As we know, the Government has been a little harsh on subsidies, cutting them for vital renewable sources such as solar. This change in support has not only sent shock waves through the industry but made investment by outside companies far less attractive.

With the current uncertainty, the tidal lagoon has found it increasingly difficult to bring the right investors on board. From full throated support that saw the project included in the Tory manifesto, the Government has taken a step back and is trying to decide whether the level of subsidy required is appropriate and deliverable.

This February the owners of the project said that a decision needed to be reached shortly if they were to avoid running into severe problems. There are a number of knock on effects from the delay too. The steel work at Porth Talbot was looking to the lagoon construction to save its industry and now faces laying off over nearly 700 staff if there are more delays.

Many outsiders agree that the expected subsidy for the tidal lagoon is too steep for the Government to seriously consider and that the project is doomed. The asking price was some £168 per MW produced over the next 35 years. Compare that to the £95 per MW for the much maligned Hinckley Nuclear Power Station and you begin to see the problem.

Environmental Impact

Despite the speed with which the project was pushed through last year, there have since been concerns raised about the environmental impact of building the tidal lagoon. This is a huge construction that is going to change the coastline of Swansea and Natural Resources Wales feel that the effects of the lagoon, including potential flooding and the damage to wild life, have not yet been adequately addressed.

Cornwall’s Super Quarry

The building materials for the tidal lagoon need to come from somewhere and the company were hoping to create a large quarry on the Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall which would have shipped  millions of tons of rock to the site in Swansea Bay. Unfortunately, a recent court case has put this at risk as locals have protested again at the lack of environmental assessment for such a project. The local council came in for damning criticism over their illegal attempt to push planning permission for the quarry when the proper procedures had not been followed.

This means in essence that the tidal lagoon doesn’t have the raw material to start construction even if it were granted permission to go ahead tomorrow.

It is unlikely that anything is going to happen anyway until the Government have finished their review and this is not due until August. There are serious concerns that the project may well fall into the sea before then. According to Liberal leader Tim Fallon:

“I said that the tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay is a litmus test of this government’s position on green energy, and the environmental and economic case for this project is clear. I am concerned that this review could just be used as a smokescreen to try and justify even more cuts to the green energy sector.”

Are Biomass Boilers the Renewable of the Future?

Biomass Boiler

There is an undeniable buzz around the renewables sector this year. We have seen positivity in renewables growth in recent years, and in particular, the growing use of biomass technology in homes and community projects. You’re probably thinking to yourself, ‘Biomass boilers are great for the environment’. We agree with you there – to an extent. By far they are the most energy efficient and low carbon boilers available on the domestic market, but there are a few drawbacks to large-scale usage.

Nevertheless, a biomass boiler installed in a home could potentially save up to 40% on standard oil/gas bills every year. It is a tantalising offer for any consumer, and when the added benefit of its renewable status is involved, can consumers afford not to invest? With government targets required to be met, there may be a revolutionary change in the way we produce heat in our homes.

Meeting Government Targets One Boiler at A Time

The UK Government has had a target of achieving an 80% carbon reduction by the year 2050 through the Pathways scheme. Since then, there have been positive movements for renewable companies and consumers as to the popularity of renewable means of energy production, with renewables seeing a 16.3% increase in use in the UK between 2013 – 2014. In Scotland alone, the Scottish Government has reported 13.1% of all energy in the country came from renewables, with 2.7% of heat energy created by renewable resources – increasing from 0.4% in 2008.[1]

Of all renewable heat energy, 90% came from biomass. With targets for 11% of all energy to be renewable, there is work to be done – but there is hope for a brighter future. Biomass’s use in heat production is undoubtedly starting to set alight the renewable industry. With the potential to create up to 4,800kWh of heat energy per tonne of wood pellets, there are opportunities for consumers and businesses to take real advantage of their carbon fuel emissions and promote renewables as the way forward.

Savings for The Environment and Consumers

When it comes to choosing the right renewable energy source, the amount of carbon reduction and energy generated are taken into account. A home looking for savings of both carbon and money will find that up to £580 per year could be saved on their energy bills. An attractive incentive to any consumer is also the fact that replacing a boiler with biomass can save up to 7.5tonnes of carbon dioxide production per year (Depending on size and scale of the heating system).

The promotion by the government of the Renewable Heat Incentive has also seen a positive trend towards renewables with monetary incentives for consumers and businesses. With the potential to earn back the majority of the installation costs over seven years while contributing to a cleaner environment, there is little stopping consumers today from changing – and that is something positive to take.

The Environmental Cost of Biomass

We cannot deny the positive impact on the environment our reductions in carbon production will have. Greenhouse gases are at an intolerably high level, and it is our responsibility to take action to prevent the worst natural disasters at bay. However, just because biomass reduces carbon emissions does not mean they are entirely clean. Far from it.

Biomass boilers are often using wood chips and pellets as suitable fuel. Organic material is renewable, with growth capable of new resources time and time again, and the ashes from production can be used as fertiliser. Yet, there is one thing people are missing. Consider how long it takes to grow a tree. Decades, maybe, before it is ready to be used in wood chip production. If demand is on the increase for biomass, what does this mean in terms of costs for wood?

Then we have to consider the amount of fuel that is used in the transportation of biomass fuels to and from locations. According to CarbonBrief, the UK is the “the world’s largest wood pellet importer, with a 28% share of the global market.” Considering the UK produces very little of its own wood pellets, the price on the environment from transportation could ultimately level the reduction in carbon that was meant to be saved and bring it straight back through burning fossil fuels such as petroleum. Are we truly saving, or just adding to the problem? We may have to wait for the answers to that question.

Taking Control of Carbon Emissions

It is no surprise that there is still a long way to go for the government to meet targets set for 2050. That being said, positive trends towards renewables are beginning, and the potential for biomass to be used on an industrial scale is one that has not gone unnoticed.

Looking to the future, there is nothing to suggest biomass boilers will not be the renewable of our future. Maybe in ten or twenty years we will see more use for biomass fuels across a range of industries and transportation to cut costs across all areas. Only time will tell, however, if our wood supplies can stand up to the pressure.

[1] http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0049/00494812.pdf

Investing in Solar Panels is Still a Good Option!

Solar panel

The beginning of 2016 has been bad for renewables, particularly solar which has seen subsidies through the Feed in Tariff cut by 65%. This has led to many in the industry to complain that there will be major job losses when fewer customers decide to have panels installed.

But are solar panels still a good investment for the ordinary man or woman in the street?

The simple answer is that solar panels don’t give as big a return as they did before the Feed in Tariff came down in January. This fell from a healthy 12.92 pence to 4.39 pence which means essentially that it will take much longer to pay off any loan or savings investment and the likelihood of making a clear profit out of the Feed in Tariff is pretty small. This was, no doubt, a huge driving force in people deciding to have solar PV installed in homes and small offices across the UK.

There are, however, a number of other matters to take into consideration when installing solar panels.

  • First of all, you are going to benefit from cheaper electricity bills and you will be protected from the increasing rise in prices that utilities may charge in the future (which unfortunately for us all, is a certainty).
  • Your investment will be amplified the more the price of electricity rises and this is expected to be around 2.6% each year for the next fifteen years.
  • The cost of installing solar panels has also come down dramatically, especially with the Feed in Tariff that was in operation. While this fall might not continue so dramatically in the future, the price of solar PV is still good value.

According to the Solar Trade Association, installing panels provide a good rate of return despite the recent cuts:

“The calculations suggest solar panels offer a higher return rate than most savings accounts. It added that a competitively priced system, costing around £6,400 could see the initial investment paid back in around 13 years.”

The Government has come under criticism for its axing of the subsidies and the impact that it may well have on the industry as a whole. Even before the cut went into effect on the 1st of January this year, a number of solar PV companies had gone to the wall.

Solar PV is not the only technology that is about to experience less than sunny times. Solar thermal, which has been helped by the Renewable Heat Incentive, is set to be taken off the list sometime next year, causing more consternation in the industry. This is another area where the Government believes that the technology can survive on its own and that people will continue to buy solar thermal even with no incentives in place. Many in the industry disagree and complain that they are being unfairly singled out.

According to the Guardian who broke the story recently:

“Discriminating against this globally important technology in the UK would send a terrible message to householders, and it would have very serious ramifications for the British solar thermal sector.”

While subsidies continue to be withdrawn, the installation of solar PV and solar thermal is still taking place but at a slower pace. 340 MW have been installed since the start of 2016 and in the UK we just passed the 10 GW capacity mark. There are some who believe that innovations such as storage batteries which could make the prospect of home energy production more viable will give the industry a further boost in the years to come. But the technology is still in the early stages and may come too late to save many companies.

The truth is that solar PV and solar thermal in the UK are both facing difficult times as they adjust to the new subsidy landscape. That doesn’t mean they are unattractive investments, though returns may be slower in coming.

Find out more about installing solar technologies here.

What Effect Does the Paris Deal Have on the UK?

Paris Deal

The recent Paris Deal that was agreed after the Paris climate change conference saw almost 200 countries agree to keep global temperatures to under 2 degrees Celsius and to aim for a warming of just 1.5 degrees.  So what does this mean for the UK and how should the government be changing its policies to comply with this?

Climate Change Act

Some within the government were quick to point out after the deal that the figures agreed were much the same as those already in place due to the Climate Change Act.  The 2008 Act set a long term target with regards to rising temperatures and instituted five year review periods to see how the progress was going.

As part of the Act, the UK committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 based on the levels in 1990.  However, forecasts are already showing that the target for the mid-2020s period isn’t going to be met.

Changes needed

According to one former advisor to Gordon Brown, now an advisor to New Climate Economy, the new international deal may force the government to look at toughening their targets.  Michael Jacobs thinks that the new advisory body, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) need to examine the impacts of the new agreement and the implications of a 1.5 degree scenario.

At the moment, the government says that changes aren’t needed as the UK’s carbon budgets are working well.  But the recent changes in policies with regards to renewables could have a negative effect on this.  Cut backs on subsidies paid for onshore wind farms is one area highlighted as well as recent changes to the payments made to homeowners who are generating power from solar panels.

Opposition figures are already calling for the Chancellor to roll back these and a number of other changes made to renewables that could have a negative impact on the industry.  Others say that the major governments around the world are putting policies in place quickly to start achieving what they agreed in Paris and the UK needs to follow suit or risk falling behind.

The CBI have also said that the government needs to provide a ‘stable environment’ that will allow the development of renewable sources of energy that are more affordable and secure.    It does also back plans for new gas plants that somewhat contrast with the overall approach required.

Responses

Energy Minister Lord Bourne defended the cuts to the subsidies for solar power by saying that subsidies are needed to ‘get things moving initially’ but that no-one wants to be paying them ‘forever and a day’.  He added that what was required was a level playing field and this was the position that the government was creating while gaining the ‘moral authority’ to talk about cutting emissions.

Pressure is strong to turn this moral authority into clear decarbonisation policies that will allow the UK to move forward in renewables and be able to fulfill what it agreed to in Paris.