Record renewable energy consumption dampens impact of cold weather on UK’s annual emissions

  • 02 Jul 2014, 11:10
  • Mat Hope

CC: Slbs

The UK's energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions both rose in 2012, according to  new figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS). The statistics show that record amounts of low carbon energy dampened the effect of increased consumption on emissions, but failed to cancel out the impact of a cold winter.


Households and businesses consumed 1.2 per cent more energy in 2012 than in 2011, bucking a general trend for declining consumption since 2005 (as the chart below shows). Temperatures one degree celsius lower than a year before were largely responsible for the increase, the ONS says.

ONS Energy Consumption

More fossil fuels were burned to meet the demand, the statistics show. The dashed blue line on the chart below shows the amount energy generated from fossil fuels such as coal and gas. Note how it pretty much mirrors the line on the chart above.

ONS Energy Consumption By Source

Burning coal and gas for power or heat releases lots of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

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Government defends its climate science communication, but sets out a new strategy to improve it anyway

  • 01 Jul 2014, 13:40
  • Ros Donald

Is the government doing a good enough job of communicating climate science? In a response to a critical report by MPs on Parliament's Science and Technology Committee, the government has defended the way it communicates climate change, but it has also set out how it plans to improve. 

In April, the committee told the government it must  up its game in communicating the science of climate change. Its  report   'Communicating climate science', followed months of evidence sessions with experts and government and media representatives. Now the government has  responded to the committee's recommendations.

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Scotland doesn’t have much shale gas, new estimates indicate

  • 30 Jun 2014, 14:31
  • Mat Hope

CC: J Macdonald

Scotland may have some hard to reach shale oil, but not much shale gas, according to new estimates.

A new  study by the British Geological Survey (BGS) released today suggests southern Scotland's Midland Valley may only have a fraction of the shale gas resources thought to be in northern England. The region between Glasgow and Edinburgh may have shale oil resources to rival those supposedly in England's south, however.

The report warns that it is "not yet possible" to ultimately know how much oil and gas Scotland's shale may produce.

How much is there?

BGS used mapping tools and data from existing oil and gas wells to predict the size of the resources. It gives three estimates of how much oil and gas there may be based on the model's results: low, central, and high.

BGS estimates there could be in the range of 49 to 135 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas locked in shale rock in Scotland's Midland Valley. It's central estimate is around 80 tcf - about six per cent of the resource thought to be in Lancashire's Bowland shale. The UK uses about three tcf of gas each year.

BGS Shale Gas Ranges

Source: Data from the British Geological Survey, graphs by Carbon Brief

While the survey finds there probably isn't much shale gas in Scotland, BGS estimates there could be as much as 11.2 billion barrels oil trapped in the same rock - about 30 per cent more than it recently estimated was in the  Weald Basin in the south of England.The UK uses 535 million barrels of oil each year. It has 3 billion barrels of oil that are currently known to be recoverable.

BGS Shale Oil Ranges

Source: Data from the British Geological Survey, graphs by Carbon Brief

BGS doesn't offer an estimate of how much oil or gas could eventually be extracted from the rock. Its estimates refer to the oil and gas "in-place" in the shale - the total amount that may be underground. That's  different from a 'reserve' estimate, which tells you how much you might eventually get out of the ground, and will be lower.

BGS emphasises that "some or all of [Midland Valley's oil and gas] might never be produced" in a press release accompanying today's report. That's partly because the region's geology could make it difficult for companies to drill exploratory wells. BGS says the Midland Valley shale rock has "thinner shale packages mixed in with volcanic rocks, faults and abandoned deep coal mine working which make it more complex and are likely to limit where wells can be drilled".

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Why has the government been criticised for paying ‘too much’ for low carbon energy?

  • 27 Jun 2014, 13:23
  • Mat Hope & Simon Evans

CC: Policy Exchange

The government is paying over the odds for eight low carbon energy projects, according to spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO). It says the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has awarded unnecessarily generous subsidies in its haste to confirm the plans.

The NAO's  report led to a  spate of headlines claiming renewable energy projects were receiving  "too much" funding from the government. So what's going on?

Early contracts

The government is introducing a new subsidy scheme for low carbon energy starting in April 2015, known as contracts for difference (CfDs). DECC decided to award early contracts to some projects to ensure there wasn't a gap in investment during the transition between the old scheme and the start of the CfDs. It's the early contracts that the NAO's criticises.

In May 2014, the government signed early contracts for five new windfarms, one biomass plant and to convert part of Drax coal-fired power station to biomass. The projects could provide 4.5 gigawatts of capacity when completed, helping the UK hit its target to get  15 per cent of its energy from renewable sources.

But the way DECC handed out these contracts "may have  increased costs to consumers", the NAO says. Its main criticism is that the government awarded the contracts - worth up to £16.6 billion - without any competition.

The CfD scheme means the government agrees a guaranteed price for electricity with power companies, known as the strike price. If the wholesale price of electricity falls below the strike price, the government tops it up, with the cost passed on to consumers. If wholesale prices are above the strike price, companies pay back the difference.

The government will hand out some of the contracts at a  fixed strike price on a first come first served basis. But companies may be forced to bid for contracts later if the scheme is oversubscribed. This could drive down the strike price.

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What EU policy responses to the Ukraine crisis reveal about energy security priorities

  • 26 Jun 2014, 13:00
  • Mat Hope

CC: F Kovalchek

With Russia threatening to  limit the flow of gas through Ukraine's pipelines, energy security has been pushed to the top of the European agenda. But between fracking East Sussex to insulating homes in Riga, policymakers can't seem to agree on the best course of action to secure Europe's energy supply.

We take a look at some proposals and assess if - and how - they contribute to Europe's energy security.

Defining energy security

But what is energy security? One reason there's a plethora of proposals is it doesn't mean just one thing.

Politicians have  three aims when designing energy policy: ensure consistent supply, keep prices stable, and address climate change. If they misjudge their policies, any of those three could go awry and make the system insecure.

Some policymakers are keen for a like-for-like swap - replacing Russia's gas with imports from elsewhere. Others see the potential for a coal revival, or argue that investing in low carbon energy sources is the best plan. Each option could help secure Europe's energy future in a different way, as this table shows:

Energy Security Table Coloured 3

Alternative fossil fuels

One option is to explore shale deposits dotted around Europe and ramp up domestic oil and gas production. Britain's prime minister David Cameron even suggested the UK had a "duty" to get its fledgling shale gas industry up and running in the wake the Ukraine crisis.

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Supreme Court backs Obama’s plan to sidestep Congress and regulate carbon emissions

  • 25 Jun 2014, 12:35
  • Simon Evans

CC: Gouldy99

The use of executive powers to regulate greenhouse gas emissions has been reaffirmed by the US Supreme Court in a ruling issued on Monday. We take a look at the history of US efforts to regulate emissions and what the latest ruling means for the future.

First, here's a brief timeline of US efforts to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.

2003, 2005, 2008 and 2010

Between 2003 and 2010 the US Congress repeatedly tried and  failed to pass cap-and-trade legislation that would have limited emissions across the US economy.

The number of climate laws reaching Congress peaked in 2009-10, as the chart below shows. The current Congress still has until mid-term elections in November to catch up.

EPA Supreme Court Bar Chart

Source: Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

The 112th US Congress during 2011-2012 was the first to make no attempt to pass cap-and-trade rules since the first effort, way back in 2003. Obama has effectively given up on getting Congress to act and is using the executive powers of the US Environmental Protection Agency instead.


The EPA's executive powers to regulate greenhouse gas emissions stem from a 2007 Supreme Court ruling. This said the Nixon-era Clean Air Act should be used to regulate "any pollutant" that "endangers public health or welfare". This case is often referred to as Massachusetts vs EPA.


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Academics urge scientists to do more to engage the public on climate change

  • 24 Jun 2014, 14:30
  • Roz Pidcock

David Adamec, ABC News

There's something amiss with the public's understanding of climate change - and it's got a lot to do with scientists' inability, ill-preparedness or unwillingness to take on the role of communicators. Those are the conclusions of a new report out today that may just ruffle a few feathers in the science community.

A call to arms

The  new report from the UCL Policy Commission on the Communication of Climate Science examines the role of climate scientists in public engagement, society and policy making.

Entitled 'Time for change? Climate science reconsidered', the report makes several recommendations for how scientists can up their game on all these fronts.

Top priorities, according to the report, are increasing the transparency of the scientific process and matching up what scientists do to what society needs to better appreciate the scale and urgency of climate change.

The challenge

Climate science finds itself "mismatched to societal needs", the report claims. The information society needs to get a handle on the climate challenge is not getting through, say the authors:

"There is widespread public acceptance of the reality of climate change, but not of the urgency and scale of the challenges that the science indicates it represents".

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Risking it all: Report highlights how climate change threatens US business

  • 24 Jun 2014, 13:25
  • Mat Hope & Ros Donald

CC: P Sableman

From coastal properties slipping into the sea to diminishing corn yields, new analysis suggests climate change could cost the US hundreds of billions of dollars if policymakers fail to take action.

The report, by the Risky Business Project, backed by dozens of prominent industry leaders, warns that the US faces "profound risks" from climate change.

With its cross-party backers and focus on economic risks, the report aims to help transform climate change from a politically divisive issue into a business case for action.

New normal

The research says two impacts of climate change put US's economy at most risk: extreme heat and sea-level rise.

The world should expect  more intense heatwaves, rainfall, and droughts as emissions increase and global temperatures rise, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Models show  sea level is likely to rise by between 29 and 82 centimeters by the end of the century, and that hurricanes will become more common in some regions.

Under these conditions, the Risky Business report says the US should expect extreme weather events to become more frequent. The chart below illustrates how climate change has shifted the range of what people can come to expect from the weather:

Risky business extreme weather

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Updated: The UK, Europe, and an energy efficiency revolution

  • 19 Jun 2014, 16:30
  • Simon Evans

CC2.0 Mohammed Saeed

Update 19/6/14: Uncertainty over the European Commission's preferences for a 2030 energy efficiency target continue. A  leaked impact assessment suggests it favours a binding EU-level reduction of at least 30 per cent with no national targets. But commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and energy commissioner Günther Oettinger are said to favour a non-binding 27 per cent goal.  See paragraph five onwards for updates.

Does Vladimir Putin secretly want you to get your walls insulated? He certainly seems to be doing his best to encourage strong EU energy efficiency legislation.

But if the EU does raise its ambition on energy efficiency as part of its   2030 climate and energy package, UK energy saving policies would also have to become much more ambitious. How big a task would it be to meet an EU energy saving goal, and how would the UK go about it?

Persuasive Putin

EU member states are currently negotiating the details of the 2030 policy package that will set targets for emissions and - maybe - for renewable energy and energy efficiency too.

The UK and many other member states are   against an energy efficiency goal. But Russia's decision on Monday to   shut off gas supplies to Ukraine will have focused minds. The EU currently   spends more than €1 billion per day on imports, a figure that is expected to rise. Russia   supplies about a third of its coal, oil and gas imports. A 40 per cent energy efficiency target   could remove the need to import Russian gas entirely.

European energy commissioner Günther Oettinger is today meeting commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard to discuss efficiency.   Germany and   six other EU member states have backed a binding efficiency target in a   letter sent to the commission. They write:

"The current situation in the Ukraine emphasises the importance of reducing dependence on imported oil and natural gas."

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New statistics show world’s tentative steps towards low carbon energy

  • 17 Jun 2014, 17:00
  • Mat Hope

CC: Walter Baxter

Europe's green fields are becoming dotted with wind turbines, North American cars are chugging biogas rather than oil, and China's rooftops are ever more adorned with solar panels. Everywhere, there are signs that the world is undergoing a clean energy revolution. But for all politicians' talk of the  "promise of clean energy", new data shows the world is still heavily reliant on fossil fuels.

While countries are taking tentative steps down a path to a low carbon energy sector, BP's  annual statistical review shows just how long that road could be. We take a look at some of the potential obstacles ahead.

Curbing consumption

Policymakers are increasingly touting energy efficiency as a strategy to improve  energy security and curb emissions. But BP's data shows that whatever progress rich countries are making to reduce demand is largely being cancelled out by energy-hungry developing economies.

BP says global energy consumption increased by 2.3 per cent in 2013, continuing a long-term trend of growing energy demand - as the grey line on the graph below shows. Emerging economies were responsible for around 80 per cent of that increase, it reports.

BP Stats Global Consumption Blog

The data shows South and Central America, the Asia Pacific and Middle East combined were responsible for about 56 per cent of energy consumption. North America and Europe consumed around 20 per cent of the world's energy each.

The IEA says that if energy demand continues to grow at this rate, the world is on track for almost  four degrees of warming - so implementing energy efficiency policies will be key to curbing emissions. But Europe was the only region to see demand decrease compared to the year before - by about 0.3 per cent.

So as it stands, policymakers must do much more to reduce demand worldwide if energy sector emissions are to be curbed.

Accelerating renewables

As well as reducing demand, policymakers must ensure renewables provide for much more of the world's energy needs. For all renewable energy's growth, BP's data shows most of the world's energy demand is met by fossil fuels.

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