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Polls show shale gas is more popular in theory than practice

  • 03 Feb 2014, 15:30
  • Robin Webster

Public opposition to shale gas could be rising, despite the government's attempts to promote the fuel, according to recent UK polls. The closer the industry gets to reality - and to people's homes - the more worried the public gets. 

Politicians are waxing enthusiastic about the prospect of a new UK shale gas industry. But protesters are worried about the environmental impacts of fracking for shale gas, and what it will mean for the health of local communities. 

Media outlets and industry lobby groups have commissioned a welter of polls to find out what the public thinks. We take a closer look. 

Approval for shale gas extraction falling 

People's support for shale gas is wavering, according to a long-running  tracker poll commissioned by the University of Nottingham. 

Pollsters YouGov first asked respondents: "Should shale gas extraction be allowed in the UK?" just under two years ago. In March 2012, 52.6 per cent of those surveyed answered yes. By July 2013 this had risen to 58.3 per cent. 

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In brief: Why the UK's new nuclear deal may fall foul of EU law

  • 03 Feb 2014, 15:00
  • Mat Hope

PD-USGOV

The UK's plan to build a new nuclear plant has hit a fresh stumbling block after the European Commission sent the government a letter questioning the deal's legality on Friday. We summarise the commission's  "damning critique" of the UK's new nuclear deal.

In October, the government signed a deal with energy company EDF to build a new nuclear power plant - the UK's first in 20 years. But the commission is stalling over the deal as it is unconvinced the plan is fair, or that the new nuclear plant will help the EU meet its broader goals.

The deal

If built, the new power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset could generate about three gigawatts of nuclear power - enough to power around five million homes,  according to EDF. The government says the deal is central to its plans to decarbonise the UK's energy sector, while providing a reliable source of electricity.

As such, it agreed to:

  • Guarantee EDF will receive around £90 per megawatt hour for power from the plant through the wholesale price and a top-up paid through customers' bills.
  • Underwrite the loans needed to build the plant to the tune of £10 billion.

(See this blog for much more detail on the deal).

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How much energy did the Young Ones use? Home energy use through the decades

  • 31 Jan 2014, 09:00
  • Mat Hope & Christian Hunt

Credit: Lifeofgalileo

A lot has changed in 40 years. Disco is now retro, flares are set off at football matches, and the Good Life is a vague aspiration, rather than a TV show. All this you already knew.

But did you also know that carbon dioxide emissions from heating, lighting, and electrifying an average UK house have almost halved in that time?

A new  study by design consultancy Cambridge Architectural Research, done for the Department of Energy and Climate Change, sheds light on how household energy use has changed over the last four decades.

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Carbon Briefing: Who killed the EU’s transport fuel standards?

  • 30 Jan 2014, 13:00
  • Ros Donald

Credit: National Wildlife Federation

Is the fuel that powers our cars set to get a lot dirtier? After 2020, the European Union is to drop the Fuel Quality Directive, a measure designed to help clean up transport fuels. Environmental and business groups have called the decision a coup for Canada's tar sands industry - but who really engineered it? The answers may be subtler.

The fight to make fuels cleaner

While the EU's emissions in other sectors are going down, emissions from transport keep growing. The EU has introduced measures to tackle this trend, such as standards for new cars and including aviation in emissions trading.  But it also wants to make sure EU vehicles are using the least polluting fuels.

In 2009, the EU announced the  Fuel Quality Directive (FQD), which requires a six per cent reduction between 2010 and 2020 in the greenhouse gas intensity of all the petrol, diesel and biofuels used for transport.  The measure is part of the EU's current suite of climate and energy targets, which create an emissions reduction pathway up until 2020.

When petrol combusts in a tank, the emissions tend to be similar, no matter where the fuel comes from. So cleaning up fossil fuels requires taking a look at the processes used to extract the fuel.

Under article 7a of the law the EU is expected to calculates fuels' emissions intensity on a lifecycle basis, starting from when fuels are extracted and ending when they are emitted as exhaust from cars and lorries.

But although the directive has existed for nearly five years - and is used to calculate biofuels' overall emissions - it has never been used to regulate fossil fuels. That's because member states can't agree on a methodology for calculating lifecycle emissions.

Greener-minded politicians and environmental campaigners have been  urging the commission to adopt a directive. They are concerned that without it, the EU will start to get a lot more of its transport fuels from much more carbon-intensive sources like oil derived from  oil sands.

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The UK was an offshore wind leader in 2013, but how long will it last?

  • 30 Jan 2014, 11:20
  • Mat Hope

Credit: Andy S-D

The UK was a world leader in offshore wind in 2013, but a new report casts doubt on how long that might last.

The  research by industry group, the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA), shows the UK has the most offshore windfarms and turbines of any country in Europe. Moreover, almost half of the wind turbines installed in Europe last year were placed off the UK's coast, according to the report.

But despite the new developments, the EWEA says the government's current policies may slow the industry's growth in 2014.

New capacity

Offshore wind is arguably one of the UK government's renewable energy success stories.

According to the EWEA's data, 47 per cent of new European offshore wind power was installed in the UK in 2013. Those turbines were added to what was already Europe's largest offshore wind market.

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How the cost of energy in the UK compares to other European countries, in five graphs

  • 30 Jan 2014, 11:00
  • Robin Webster

The cost of energy in the UK is rising, creating concern about the effect on  vulnerable households, and prompting calls for  government intervention.

But do our European neighbours have even bigger problems? As energy prices increase across the European Union (EU), consumers in some member states are paying considerably more for their energy than us, according to a European Commission study released last week. 

We've summarised how the UK is doing on the costs of energy, from gas and electricity prices, to subsidies for energy, to fuel poverty and energy efficiency.

Gas - the UK pays less than Japan, but more than the USA

Energy prices are rising as a result of increased demand, changes in trading patterns, and a link between gas and rising oil prices. 

These have pushed up the price of gas globally since 2007, according to the report. In Japan, gas demand "skyrocketed" after the Fukushima disaster prompted the country to abandon its nuclear programme and turn to other fuels instead.  On the other hand, North America is the exception to the pattern - access to indigenous supplies of shale gas has kept gas prices low. 

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Experts unconvinced latest reforms will save the European carbon market

  • 29 Jan 2014, 12:00
  • Mat Hope

Credit: Karlis Dambrans

Policymakers have long asserted that making polluters pay is an effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But with Europe's carbon market floundering, the EU is having to rethink how to go about setting a carbon price.

Carbon pricing only works as a climate change policy if the cost of emitting carbon dioxide is high enough to make companies change their behaviour.

But the European carbon price has rarely been high enough to make that happen, and has plummeted in recent years. That means polluters have had little incentive to reduce their emissions.

With that in mind, the European Commission last week announced the next in a series of reforms it hopes will boost the carbon price and save the carbon market. But is it too little, too late?

Plummeting price

A year ago, the European carbon price hit a  record low of €2.81, damaging the effectiveness of the scheme.

Companies buy credits to emit through a mechanism called the emissions trading scheme. If a company emits less than the number of credits it holds, it can sell them - setting a carbon price. In theory, the higher the carbon price, the more companies will do to reduce emissions.

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Decoding Obama’s climate and energy rhetoric in 2014's state of the union address - in three charts

  • 29 Jan 2014, 03:35
  • Mat Hope

Credit: US Army

President Obama has promised the US government will undertake a "year of action", and that includes tackling climate change.

For the last couple of years, the president has used his annual state of the union address to nudge climate change up the government's agenda. His latest speech on tuesday evening was no different.

We break down the key climate and energy messages from President Obama's sixth state of the union address - from facing climate facts, to addressing "carbon pollution".

Climate change is still on the agenda

President Obama doesn't always mention climate change in his state of the union addresses.

The term was absent from his 2011 speech, with some commentators accusing the president of  running scared over an issue that had become  ideologically tinged.

This year - as with the last two addresses - he did mention it, however.

We searched for the term 'climate' and its variations (such as 'climatic') across Obama's last six state of the union addresses. The results show Obama has used the early addresses of his second four-year term to promote climate action, in contrast to a dip at the end of his first term:

Obama climate line chart
This year, the president equalled his past record of mentioning climate change 3 times.

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Mail takes gloomiest view of how windfarms affect house prices

  • 28 Jan 2014, 09:00
  • Robin Webster

A draft study is "proof" wind turbines could slash local house prices by 11 per cent, according to the Mail - that's £27,000 off the price of an average home. But the figure only applies if a house is nearly in the same field as the turbines, according to the research. 

The question of whether windfarms impact on house prices is politically controversial. It's also not that clear. Some reports  claim windfarms could increase the value of nearby homes - while others say the opposite. 

Professor Stephen Gibbons, director of the spatial economics research centre at LSE, is in the process of producing a new analysis. His draft paper finds that if more than 20 wind turbines are erected within two kilometres of a house, its value is reduced by about 11 per cent. But it also notes that this is an "extreme case" because homes are rarely situated so close to windfarms.

An 11 per cent reduction in house prices? 

Gibbons's  draft paper hasn't been published yet, but was highlighted in a recent  article in the Environmental and Social Research Council's magazine. It examines all the house sales that took place within 14 kilometres of a windfarm between 2000 and 2012. In total, his data analysis includes 1.5 to two million transactions. 

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Resources, reserves, exploration wells and onshore licences: a glossary of shale gas terms in the UK

  • 27 Jan 2014, 12:00
  • Robin Webster

Confused about the difference between conventional and unconventional gas? Can't tell your resources from your reserves? Here's Carbon Brief's guide to the key terms in the shale gas debate.

Shale gas: Shale is a sedimentary rock formed from deposits of mud, silt, clay and organic matter. According to the British Geological Survey (BGS), it makes up 35 per cent of the world's surface rocks - but until recently it wasn't that easy to extract gas trapped inside it. That's because shale gas is very fine-grained, so the gas sticks to the rock. 

Fracking: The process of  hydraulic fracturing involves pumping a fluid made of water mixed with chemicals at high pressure into a well that has been drilled. The fluid creates fractures in the rock, making it possible to get the gas out. Fracking has been used in the oil industry since the  mid-nineteenth century - but only applied to shale gas extraction in the last couple of decades. 

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