Renewable energy grows but UK still mostly dependent on fossil fuels

  • 21 Dec 2012, 15:30
  • Mat Hope


The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) yesterday released the latest figures on the UK's energy use. They show an increase in the share of power produced from renewable energy - but the UK is still largely dependent on fossil fuels.

The Telegraph reports today that the amount of electricity generated by wind power between July and September had increased by more than a third on the same period last year, equalling the record-high levels of electricity generated from renewable sources set at the end of 2011. Meanwhile, the UK continues to depend on fossil fuels - and coal in particular - to provide much of its electricity.

The new statistics cover the period from the start of July to the end of September this year.

Less dependency on fossil fuels for energy

Despite the bulk of energy - 84.5 per cent - coming from fossil fuels, this is less than it used to be. The figure, which covers all energy production, is 1.7 per cent less than in the same period last year, and actually a record low level.

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The IEA's coal projections on demand and emissions

  • 20 Dec 2012, 15:25
  • Freya Roberts

report released earlier this week from the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts global coal demand will grow by 16.9 per cent over the next five years, or 2.6 per cent per year.  

This is largely thanks to to the pace of growth in China - the report says that if economic growth in China continues on its current pathway, it will consume more coal than the rest of the world combined by 2014. This far outweighs a predicted reduction in coal demand in the US, where the IEA says cheaper natural gas has encouraged a switch away from coal.

We take a closer look at the IEA's report to find out what's happening to coal consumption in wealthy and developing countries, and ask how changing demand will affect greenhouse gas emissions.

Coal demand falters in developed countries

The IEA predicts that across a group of the world's richest nations - members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) - the amount of coal used to generate electricity will fall by 0.8 per cent per year over the next five years. 

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Energy and Climate Change Committee expresses concern about suggestions of inaccuracies in energy bill reporting

  • 20 Dec 2012, 13:00
  • Christian Hunt

Earlier in the year, we provided evidence to the recent Energy and Climate Change (ECC) select committee hearing into consumer engagement with energy markets about the role the media plays in informing people about energy issues.

The ECC committee published its findings today, and amongst wider issues expresses concern about suggestions that poor or inaccurate media coverage of energy bills may be having an adverse affect on consumer perception.

The Committee's report says that lack of transparency about "where the money that people pay for their energy goes" is a "recurring theme" of the inquiry. It expresses concern that "consumers do not know who to trust to give them reliable, independent advice and information about energy matters." It recommends that the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC):

"...leads a full and frank conversation about the contribution that consumers are being expected to make to ensuring we have safe, secure and affordable energy supplies in future. In particular, it is crucial that consumers are aware that their bills may continue to rise unless they take action to reduce their energy consumption where possible."

Over the past year we have documented instances of poor reporting of energy and climate change - including some reporting which we believe is, in the words of the press complaints commission, "misleading or inaccurate".

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Reviewing factchecks of the Mail group

  • 20 Dec 2012, 12:31
  • Christian Hunt and Robin Webster

As part of its recent investigation into consumer energy markets, the ECC committee wrote to newspaper editors about the issue of accuracy in media coverage of energy bills. The committee received quite an extensive response from the Mail group, particularly responding to comments that we made about its coverage. We take a look at it.

In our submission to the Energy and Climate Change (ECC) Committee's investigation, we made the case that a series of newspaper articles:

"....overstate the current impact of green policies (or 'environmental and social costs') on energy bills. Some appear to be the result of simple errors (for example, confusing electricity prices with energy bills, or ignoring the impact of gas prices on bills), others are the result of research being reported in a what seems to us a highly partial or selective way."

The ECC Committee raised the issue with newspaper editors in a letter. It particularly invited the Chair of the Mail group to respond to our suggestion that it had reused inaccurate figures, even after those figures had been corrected following a PCC complaint.

The Mail has responded with a detailed submission addressing all the examples that we had raised. It concludes by saying that its explanations show that "Carbon Brief's complaints are unfounded". We think this is worth responding to - partially because this is the first time we've heard from the Mail on how many of these articles were sourced or written. The only previous contact we have had is when the Mail has been asked to substantiate a figure via the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).

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Review of carbon budgets nothing new, Ed Davey tells committee

  • 19 Dec 2012, 12:30
  • Robin Webster

Is the UK on track for a 'dash for gas' - and has its approach to the UK climate change act changed? When the UK's gas strategy was released a couple of weeks ago, it looked like a new enthusiasm for gas power could be driving the government lower its carbon cutting ambitions. But yesterday, energy and climate change minister Ed Davey told a committee of MPs that the government's policy hasn't changed at all and it is on track to deliver on the targets in its carbon plan.

The government's gas strategy - busting UK carbon cutting plans?

When George Osborne launched the government's new gas strategy with the Autumn statement a couple of weeks ago, it included three different scenarios for the future development of the UK power sector. One of these proposed that 37 gigawatts of gas - or about forty new power stations - might be constructed by 2030, attracting a fair bit of media attention.

The government says this level of build, combined with a policy to expand production of power from renewables and nuclear, would reduce the emissions intensity of the power sector to 200 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour of electricity by 2030.

This is four times the level that government advisor the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) recommends is necessary if the government is going to hit its emissions reductions targets under the climate change act. The CCC says that the UK should set a 'decarbonisation target' for the power sector that is much lower - just 50 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour of electricity by 2030. When Osborne announced the strategy the chief executive of the CCC denounced the 37GW scenario as "completely incompatible" with the government's plans to cut carbon.

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What does the next IPCC report say about climate change?

  • 18 Dec 2012, 16:30
  • Roz Pidcock

Last week saw a draft of the IPCC's upcoming report on the science of climate change leaked onto the internet. Although it is not the final version, some  news outlets have reported the contents of the draft, which provides indicators of how the science of climate change has changed and developed since the last IPCC report was published in 2007.

Every five or six years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) produces an in-depth assessment of the state of research in all areas of climate science, from precipitation patterns to polar ice.

The next one, known as the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), is due to be released next year. But a blogger  leaked an early version online on Friday. So what do the main differences appear to be between this report and the last one?

Human vs natural causes

According to the new report, there is now "incontrovertible evidence" that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased in the last 200 years, causing the average temperature of earth's atmosphere and oceans to rise.

So much evidence now exists that the draft says scientists are "virtually certain" human activity is the main driver of climate change , which means they are at least 99 per cent sure. In AR4, the figure was lower -  90 per cent - so scientific certainty has increased.

There is "very high confidence" - which means that there is lots of supporting evidence - that natural forcing affects the climate much less than human activity. Solar activity has had a cooling effect since 1980, the draft report suggests. (Bottom blue bar, below.) Compare this to the total warming effect from human activity, shown by the orange criss-crossed bar.

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IPCC draft report published online - suggests that the sun is not behind climate change

  • 14 Dec 2012, 15:30
  • Carbon Brief Staff

The argument that climate change is caused by solar activity has been described by an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) lead author as "completely ridiculous" and "exactly the opposite" of what the draft IPCC report concludes, after a climate skeptic blogger leaked a draft section of its next report onto the internet. Climate skeptic bloggers have claimed the IPCC's new report shows solar activity is causing global warming and the "jig is up" on climate science. But a closer look indicates that this is another case of cherry-picking.

The fifth version of the IPCC's report on the current state of climate science is due to be published in 2014, but individual parts of it are currently going through an involved processof review. The most recent draft of Working Group 1 (WG I) - which reports on the physical science of climate change - was  published on the internet yesterday.

WG I's reports deal with the scientific basis for climate change - examining, for example, changing levels of greenhouse gases, temperature changes in the atmosphere and the oceans and impacts observed around the world, including melting glaciers, changes in rainfall and the carbon cycle. The last version of this report had nearly a thousand pages and the next one looks like it may be even bigger.

The latest draft has just gone through an open  process of review. Anyone can sign up to be a reviewer, but individuals accepted as reviewers are asked not to "cite, quote or distribute" the draft reports. However, Alex Rawls, a climate skeptic blogger who signed up to the process posted the draft onto his website last night, arguing:

"...I regard [that the confidentiality agreement is made irrelevant] by the systematic dishonesty of the report... [in] the Second Order Draft ... the addition of one single sentence demands the release of the whole. That sentence is an astounding bit of honesty, a killing admission that completely undercuts the main premise and the main conclusion of the full report, revealing the fundamental dishonesty of the whole."

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Gas power could push up energy bills, says Committee on Climate Change as government gives go-ahead to fracking

  • 13 Dec 2012, 15:55
  • Robin Webster and Christian Hunt

The Committee on Climate Change's (CCC) new  report warns that electricity bills could be £600 higher in 2050 if the UK relies on gas rather than switching to a low-carbon power system.

But on the  Today programme this morning presenter John Humphreys accused the head of the CCC of "disregarding" the potential impact of cheap shale gas on lowering energy bills. As the UK's energy future continues to look uncertain, we look at the CCC projections.

Energy bills up to 2020

In the report, the CCC reiterates its  earlier assessment that green policy measures will add around £100 to consumer energy bills by 2020.

Energy efficiency measures will reduce bills a bit, but increasing wholesale energy costs, costs from environmental policies and the cost of paying for upgrading energy transmission networks will push bills up overall.

Image 1

The CCC points out that households which rely mainly on electricity for heating will see a bigger impact - up to £400 (See  page 27). Policies will be needed to limit this effect, the CCC say.

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Resources, energy prices and emissions: the three big questions about UK shale gas

  • 12 Dec 2012, 12:00
  • Robin Webster

Shale gas has received the official nod - David Cameron told an influential committee of MPs last night that there is a "gas revolution taking place across the world" and "I want us to be part of that revolution". But the government's support for shale gas has also been criticised over the past few days by experts who have labelled it " misleading and dangerous" and "categorically and mathematically" incompatible with the government's climate change targets.

The arguments over shale - often repeated in media coverage of the issue - seem to boil down to three key questions. We take a look at them.

1. How much shale gas is there in the UK?

In 2011, the British Geological Survey (BGS) estimated the UK has 150 billion cubic metres of shale gas reserves - that's about two years of current UK gas consumption. It's also around 5.3 trillion cubic feet, if we've got our conversion right. But then oil and gas company Cuadrilla announced that it had discovered 200 trillion cubic feetof shale gas under Lancashire, near Blackpool.

This is obviously a much larger amount. How can the two figures be compared? It's important first of all to note that the BGS figure refers to reserves - the amount of shale gas it believes can be extracted once economic and political limitations are taken into account.

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The best bits from the Global Energy Assessment

  • 10 Dec 2012, 15:00
  • Ros Donald

Changing the way people use energy will be key to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and limiting temperature rise, according to a new report. The Global Energy Assessment (GEA) plots 40 energy pathways that could help achieve that goal. Carbon Brief picks out some of the best bits with one of the report's contributors.

The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)'s  Global Energy Assessment (GEA) was launched just over a week ago. Over five years in the making, the print version is a five-kilogram doorstop - a testament, IIASA deputy director Nebojsa Nakicenovic told the audience, to the need for an integrated approach to solving the world's energy problems. IIASA is a scientific institute which aims to produce policy-relevant research on "problems that are too large or too complex to be solved by a single country or academic discipline" - like climate change. The creation of the GEA involved energy experts from a wide range of different backgrounds.

Dr. Volker Krey, who works at the institute and is a lead author on several Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports - including its coming  fifth assessment- worked on the chapter outlining the different pathways. He explains:

"There are significant benefits of taking a more holistic approach rather than looking at the challenges surrounding energy one by one. The latter makes the effort of tackling each of the challenges appear large and the benefits small. A coordinated approach will in contrast not require much more effort than addressing these single issues, but the benefits will outweigh these efforts"

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