Five weird things about the EU's cost of energy study

  • 15 Oct 2014, 11:11
  • Simon Evans

The cost of energy tends to dominate arguments about how the world should respond to climate change.

Opponents of strong climate action say that coal is cheap, and government support for renewables is expensive. Green energy advocates say that apparently 'cheap' fossil fuels are failing to pay the full costs they impose on society, including health impacts and climate change. There's an argument about which costs should count, and which shouldn't.

Getting the right answer really matters. A case in point are the climate and energy targets for 2030 that are due to be agreed by European leaders at a summit next week. Much of their attention will be taken up by whether climate ambition will lead to higher energy costs.

In the lead up to the summit the European Commission has published a  detailed study that attempts to tease apart all of the different types of energy cost. The idea is to assess fossil fuels, renewables and nuclear power on a level playing field, including government subsidies and costs not currently priced by the market.

The study contains mountains of information that took a monumental effort by consultants Ecofys to pull together. But it still leaves almost as many questions as answers.

Here are five weird things we learnt from looking at their work, that show how fiendishly difficult it is to assess the true costs of energy.

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US military outlines plan to deal with increasing climate change threat

  • 14 Oct 2014, 15:00
  • Mat Hope

Flood trucks | US Navy

"A changing climate will have real impacts on [the US] military and the way it executes its missions", US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel yesterday said. And the US military is planning how to deal with the threat now.

The Department of Defense's 2014 Climate Adaptation Roadmap, published yesterday, suggests climate change has the potential to exacerbate some of the world's most significant challenges, from disease to international conflict. It calls climate change a "threat multiplier" with the potential to increase the impact of numerous security concerns.

This  isn't the first time the US military has expressed its concerns about climate change. But the roadmap is one of the first documents to "really go into great detail about what the US military should be doing in response to climate change now" Francesco Femia, co-director of the Center for Climate and Security thinktank, tells Carbon Brief. The report shows that military has decided the risk from climate change "is great and it's immediate", Femia says.

New activities

The roadmap outlines a number of new ways climate change could cause the military to be called into action. Its findings are driven by two things, Femia says: developments in climate science and "what the military is seeing on the ground".

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Owen Paterson’s objections to the Climate Change Act: some context

  • 13 Oct 2014, 15:00
  • Simon Evans and Mat Hope

Wind & coal | Shutterstock

Former environment minister Owen Paterson has been in the papers over the weekend. In an article on the front page of yesterday's Sunday Telegraph he says we won't be able to keep the UK's lights on unless we scrap the Climate Change Act. This is a law requiring the government to cut the UK's greenhouse gas emissions, which he himself voted for.

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Paterson is due to give a lecture to climate sceptic thinktank the Global Warming Policy Foundation on Wednesday, where he will expand on this theme. In advance of his talk we've taken a look at what he has to say.

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How much of China's carbon dioxide emissions is the rest of the world responsible for?

  • 09 Oct 2014, 15:00
  • Mat Hope

China smog | Shutterstock

China is the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter, by far. The country produces more than a quarter of the planet's annual greenhouse gas emissions.

World leaders increasingly reference China's spiralling emissions as a reason why it should commit to dealing with climate change.

But is it fair to ask China to lead the way? After all, a hefty share of the pollution rising out of China's smokestacks comes from factories churning out TVs, mobile phones and cheap toys for the rest of the world.

China's emissions

In 2006, China became the  world's largest emitter, overtaking the US. By 2013, 28 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions came from China, according to data from the Global Carbon Project.

This graph shows the dramatic step change in the growth of China's carbon dioxide emissions that's taken place in the last 15 years:

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Source: Data from the Global Carbon Project, Global Carbon Atlas. Graph by Carbon Brief.

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Is burning wood for energy worse for the climate than coal?

  • 07 Oct 2014, 16:50
  • Simon Evans

Drax Power

An article in today's Daily Mail says it is "lunacy" to run Drax power station on biomass instead of coal. Converting the plant to burn wood destroys forests and emits more carbon, it says. The paper calls this a "living, humming, forest-destroying symbol of the shameful absurdity of European energy policies".

Drax and the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) do not agree. DECC is giving money to conversions at Drax and other power plants because they are helping the UK meet an EU target to get 15 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

DECC says this will cut carbon too, if the right kind of biomass is used. But what does the right kind of biomass look like? Let's try to unpack things a little.

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Daily Briefing | Government cuts solar subsidy angering industry

  • 03 Oct 2014, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

UK renewable energy subsidy changes anger solar industry 
The solar industry has hit back at the government's new Contracts for Difference scheme, saying it unfairly curtails the burgeoning industry at a critical time. The CfD scheme will provide £300m worth of support to the renewable power industry but will require that more mature technologies, such as onshore wind and solar, compete for subsidies with less established - and more expensive - sectors. Labour has waded into the row over solar subsidies, accusing the government of undermining support for the industry, reports BusinessGreen.  The Guardian 

Climate and energy news

Expensive green energy a 'bad gamble' as ministers slash gas price forecasts
The Department of Energy and Climate Change has released new forecasts slashing its gas price forecasts for this decade by as much as 20 per cent. With nuclear and wind set to remain more costly relative to gas, this undermines the Government's case for backing green energy, says The Times. Cheaper gas could be good news for consumers, shaving close to £100-a-year off a typical dual-fuel bill, reports the Telegraph.  The Telegraph 

Investment in clean energy rising after two years of decline 
Globally, just over $175 billion was poured into solar, wind and other green energy sources in the first nine months of 2014, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. China's solar boom made the single biggest contribution, catapulting total investment by 16 per cent on last year. But there's no room for complacency, says Bloomberg chairman Michael Liebreich. More is needed to support the rapid transformation of the power system needed to see carbon dioxide emissions peak in 2020.  The Financial Times 

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Conservative conference keeps quiet on climate change

  • 01 Oct 2014, 17:00
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 mrgarethm

Climate change doesn't appear to be part of the Conservative Party's electoral strategy. At its annual conference in Birmingham this week it has seemed a case of the less said on the subject, the better.

The Tories' internal contradictions on climate are no secret. The likes of former environment secretary Owen Paterson have loudly opposed efforts to tackle emissions, while Tory heavyweights like Lord Deben and Michael Howard are firm advocates of action.

These contradictions have left some commentators asking who really speaks for the Conservatives on climate change.

Is it David Cameron who last week called climate change "one of the most serious threats facing our world" and told the conference the UK was leading on climate? Or George Osborne, whose conference speech  avoided the subject?

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IEA: Four charts that show what a solar powered future looks like

  • 29 Sep 2014, 14:30
  • Simon Evans

City solar | Shutterstock

The sun could be meeting a quarter of the world's electricity needs by 2050, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says.

Today it published two solar technology roadmaps: one for solar thermal electricity where heat from the sun is used to heat liquid and drive a turbine; and another for the more familiar solar photovoltaic cells.

The IEA says that by 2050, solar PV could be providing 16 per cent of the world's electricity. Solar thermal could account for another 11 per cent, it thinks.

The march of solar PV

Solar panels have been spreading across rooftops around the world like a rash. Installed solar PV capacity has increased by half again each year for the past decade, as the chart below shows.

Source:  IEA solar PV technology roadmap 2014

Much of that growth has been in Europe, particularly in Germany, Italy and Spain where generous subsidies had driven deployment.

Those subsidies have been cut, leading to reduced installation rates. But other countries have started to pick up the slack.

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Behind the scenes at Ban Ki-moon’s climate summit: The view from New York

  • 24 Sep 2014, 17:40
  • Ed King

Wreathed in red and clutching her microphone tightly, a nervous Natasha Bedingfield surveyed what must have been the oddest audience in her brief career. The British pop star was an unusual choice to wrap up what was a fairly extraordinary UN climate summit, held in and around its headquarters alongside New York's East River.

"Love is a powerful thing", she told the remaining delegates inside the sumptuous General Assembly hall, who were probably as surprised as she was to see her on stage. In many ways her appearance summed up this meeting. Eye-catching, full of endeavour and high notes, ending with little tangible to take home, bar the memories.

Ban Ki -moon Opens Climate SummitBan Ki-moon opens the climate summit. Credit: UN Photos

That may sound unfair, given the bombardment of low carbon pledges from governments, businesses and foundations built on oil money over the best part of 48 hours. By the time he had finished his closing summary, just before Natasha swept onto the podium, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon could proudly say the summit had seen progress on forests, cities, finance and much more.

How much of this money was new, and how many of these plans - some of which seemed hastily cobbled together - will withstand scrutiny is likely to become clear in the next few days.

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All the significant announcements from the UN climate summit, and whether they’re new

  • 24 Sep 2014, 13:50
  • Mat Hope, Simon Evans & Christian Hunt

Obama & Ban Ki-moon | Shutterstock

World leaders gathered in New York yesterday for the UN secretary general's climate summit. Over 125 countries sent delegates in an attempt to reinvigorate international efforts to tackle climate change.

Jonathan Grant, director, sustainability & climate change at consultancy PwC has  wisely said "It will take time to sort the new announcements from the old, and to understand whether the new announcements are a step change from business as usual".

Here's our effort at beginning to pick through the hours and hours of speeches to separate the new announcements from the old.

We have a full summary of country statements here.

International commitments

The United States was one of the only nations to come armed with completely  new policy announcements.

President Obama signed an executive order directing federal agencies to consider climate resilience when designing programmes and allocating funds. He also ordered government agencies such as NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to  give their data to other countries to assist with managing climate change, and to extend programmes to train developing country scientists.

Oxfam America described the plans as  "not revolutionary".

China's Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli reiterated his country's goal to cut carbon intensity by 40 to 45 per cent of 2005 levels by 2020.

He also said China's carbon emissions would peak "as early as possible".  A senior Chinese climate negotiator made a similar statement earlier this year, but it had not been considered official government policy until now. The flexible language makes it hard to tell exactly what the commitment means.


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