Daily Briefing | Shale gas, energy bills, and behavioural change

  • 29 Nov 2013, 10:00
  • Carbon Brief staff

Lord Browne: fracking will not reduce UK gas prices 
The head of UK fracking company, Cuadrilla, has contradicted the Prime Minister and Chancellor saying shale gas will not have a "material effect" on energy prices. Speaking at the LSE, he also told the audience that the transition to a low carbon energy system is impossible without gas. The comments come alongside news for conventional exploration: the UK has awarded record numbers of offshore oil and gas licenses. In addition, pro-fracking MP, Andrew Tyrie, has said he will oppose an application for a license in his constituency. 

Climate and energy news:

Canada continues to delay release of oil sands emission rules 
Canada is not ready to unveil already long-delayed rules on curbing greenhouse gas emissions from the Alberta oil sands, the environment minister said on Thursday in comments that could boost U.S. resistance to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. 

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Decoding Labour's 10-point energy plan

  • 29 Nov 2013, 00:01
  • Carbon Brief staff

Labour has released its new energy policy, and it's harking back to the golden days of... Thatcherism. In a 10-point plan, Labour tells us how it would "make the energy market work" - a plan that includes reintroducing some ideas from the dawn of energy privatisation under the Thatcher government. The manifesto is in proudly wonkish language, so here's our attempt at a translation.

1. "End operational vertical integration by ring-fencing supply and generation businesses"

Each of the 'big six' energy companies have two arms: as well as generating electricity, they supply it to people's homes.

One of the major obstacles to working out  how much profit energy companies make across their operations is figuring out how much they make from each operation. For instance, if rising wholesale energy prices dent a company's supply arm profits, the generation arm could cover them (or vice versa).

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Is the government prepared to talk about fuel poverty?

  • 28 Nov 2013, 16:30
  • Robin Webster

2,700 people die every year because they can't afford to heat their  home - and a key government measures for tackling the problem is about to be weakened. The government's fuel poverty programme is already in trouble - but are matters about to get worse?  

The Energy Company Obligation ( ECO) requires energy providers to seek out and subsidise home insulation for low-income households. But the scheme is due to be rolled out slower than originally planned, according to this morning's Today programme, giving suppliers four years rather than two to achieve their  targets

The move comes in response to public concern about rising energy bills. ECO is paid for through a levy on consumer bills -  so weakening ECO will decrease average household spend on energy. The measure isn't a perfect solution to fuel poverty, and has been  widely criticised. But without it, the government's plans for tackling the problem look even shakier - and there's no sign it's thinking about ways to improve the situation. 

Missing fuel poverty targets - by a mile 

UK households pay some of the lowest gas and electricity prices in  Europe. Yet fuel prices have been  steadily increasing over the last ten years, far outstripping the price of other goods.


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UK uses more energy, more renewables, and still relies on fossil fuels as imports rise

  • 28 Nov 2013, 11:20
  • Mat Hope

The UK got a record share of electricity from renewable sources in April to June this year, the government's  latest statistics show. But that spike could be short-lived, and the UK remains largely dependent on fossil fuels for most of its energy.

Renewables record

A record 15.5 per cent of electricity was generated from renewable sources between April and June, replacing the previous record set in the three months before.

DECC Renewables bar chart

The government says the rise was partly due to more windfarms coming online, and high wind speeds keeping the turbines spinning - the green and purple chunks on the graph above. Onshore windfarms generated about 70 per cent more electricity than a year before, while offshore windfarm generation rose about 50 per cent.

But maintaining renewables' share  might not be possible, as a large part of the rise was down to a biomass power plant that has since been closed.

Tilbury coal power station had been converted to burn organic materials, such as wood. But the government subsequently announced that it would not be eligible for subsidies, and its operators - RWE npower - decided to close the plant.


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Daily Briefing | Fracking water, 'slowdowns', and subglacial lakes

  • 28 Nov 2013, 09:15
  • Carbon Brief staff

Water shortages may make fracking impractical, industry says 
The water trade body Water UK and the industry which represents shale gas companies have agreed to cooperate on expanding the number of fracking sites in the UK. The agreement says "where water is in short supply there may not be enough available from public water supplies or the environment to meet the requirements for hydraulic fracturing." 

Climate and energy news:

Npower to cut 1,400 jobs in the UK 
Energy supplier Npower will give details this morning of a major restructuring of its UK operations, as a part of which it will cut 1,400 jobs. Npower had saw a 3 per cent fall in operating profits to £176m in the first half of 2013. 
BBC News 

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Could 'peer pressure' replace a global climate deal?

  • 27 Nov 2013, 16:30
  • Mat Hope

The international climate talks can at times resemble an unruly playground - lots of tears, shouting, and not an awful lot of order.

It's enough to make the casual observer wonder whether the annual UN meetings are really working. But is there an alternative?

An interesting answer emerged at a meeting of experts this morning: peer pressure. Participants at the Carbon Connect event said governments were much more likely to implement climate change policies if they see their allies might leave them behind.

Landmark laws

Each year, countries meet under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to set the direction of global climate policy. In recent years, only incremental progress has been made, leading some to question whether governments are still committed to constraining emissions and combating climate change.

But such analysis overlooks progress being made in countries' own halls of power, said Sam Fankhauser, co-director of LSE's Grantham Institute.


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Avoiding a new 'cold' war: the US military’s new Arctic strategy

  • 27 Nov 2013, 14:00
  • Ros Donald

Arctic sea ice is thawing at greater rates year by year, creating a new shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific. As nations take advantage of the new trade opportunity, they are also increasing their military presence in the area. Following Russia's announcement it will reopen a Soviet-era military base, the US has now launched its own military strategy for the Arctic. So could climate change take us back to the era of Ice Station Zebra-style Arctic standoffs, or is the future looking more cooperative?

Ice on the Arctic Ocean shrank to its lowest recorded level last year - and some scientists expect the region will be ice-free in summer  in a few decades' time. As the prospect of  a rush to exploit the oil and gas reserves under the sea emerges, so does the possibility of new tensions.

Even historical peacebroker, Norway, has been trying to persuade NATO to establish a strong presence in the Arctic in response to Russian rearmament and maneuvers on the Swedish mainland.

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The rest of Europe lags behind the UK in preparing cities for climate change

  • 27 Nov 2013, 11:10
  • Roz Pidcock

The UK is leading Europe in terms of the number of cities that have climate change mitigation or adaptation plans, according to a new study. But one in three European cities has no plan whatsoever in place for coping with a changing climate.

Major players

Global temperatures have risen by  0.85 degrees over the industrial era - and cities have had a large part to play in that warming. Research suggests cities are currently responsible for more than  70 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions.

Cities are also considered at high risk from climate change impacts, such as extreme weather and flooding, because they cram a lot of people into a small area, support vital infrastructure and contain valuable commercial assets.

But a new study suggests more than a third of European cities are unprepared for climate change, with neither a plan in place to reduce emissions nor to cope with the  expected impacts.

Where did the story come from?

The findings come from a new paper just published in the journal  Climatic Change. The large team of 12 authors hail from the US, the Netherlands, the UK, Spain, Ireland, France, Sweden, Estonia and Italy.

Lead author,  Dr Diana Reckien, carried out the research while a visiting scholar at the Centre for Environmental Decisions, part of Colombia University in New York.

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Daily Briefing | Backbench warnings, birthday wishes, and cow farts

  • 27 Nov 2013, 09:20
  • Carbon Brief staff

Energy companies 'have no entitlement to profit', says regulator Ofgem after margins soar 
Andrew Wright, chief executive of energy market regulator Ofgem, told MPs companies needed to "earn the profits they make, by providing good efficient service, reducing costs, improving performance and winning customers". 

Climate and energy news:

Tory backbenchers warn Cameron he risks split 
25 Tory MPs have warned the prime minster that he risks splitting the Conservatives if he ditches green policies as a concession to the right of the party. 

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Shale gas could restrain rising energy costs, says report

  • 26 Nov 2013, 16:00
  • Robin Webster

A thriving European shale gas industry could help limit energy bills rises by the middle of the century, according to a new report from two respected energy consultancies. The  report - which is sponsored by the oil and gas industry - also predicts that shale gas won't threaten Europe's plans to reduce carbon emissions. 

In a time of rising energy bills, the question of whether shale gas could provide the UK with a source of cheap gas has attracted a considerable amount of  media attention. The consensus of expert opinion suggests that indigenously produced shale gas is unlikely to have a significant impact on gas prices in the UK - at least in the short-term

Yesterday's report projects the impacts of developing a shale gas industry across the whole of the EU, over several decades. It predicts household spend on gas and electricity could be cut by 11 per cent in relative terms as a result of European shale gas - although that doesn't necessarily mean that bills will go down in absolute terms. 

The  International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (OGP) commissioned the report, which might invite scepticism about its relatively optimistic conclusions. But the two consultancies who created the analysis - Poyry consulting and Cambridge Econometrics - emphasise that it was conducted independently, without involvement of the OGP members.

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