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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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What the papers say: The EU’s 2030 target

  • 23 Jan 2014, 15:00
  • Ros Donald and Mat Hope

Credit: Roland Unger

The EU aims to reduce its emissions by 40 per cent and increase the amount of energy it gets from renewables to 27 percent by 2030.  No strong storyline emerged from the media: news coverage of yesterday's announcement ran the gamut: informative, positive, negative, outraged - and occasionally incorrect. 

The gory details 

We  summed up the announcement. It breaks down to a pledge to reduce EU-wide emissions by 40 per cent on 1990 levels. It also contains a target to get 27 per cent of the EU's energy from renewable sources by 2030 - though in a change from the 2020 package, the new target doesn't require countries to take on individual targets. Though how the EU will reach the 27 per cent mark without individual targets is  a question yet to be answered

You know what they say: If you like climate targets, don't watch them being made. The  Guardian gives readers a glimpse at the EU sausage-making apparatus, reporting that negotiations to reach the agreement ground on until the eleventh hour. The source of the conflict was the UK's opposition to a new renewable energy target, the paper reports: 

" Ed Davey, the UK's energy and climate change secretary, bitterly opposed the renewable energy target, but was overruled as big member states including Germany, France and Italy backed it." 

The BBC also lays out the details of the package, and the  FT provides a useful Q&A. 

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Can EU member states be trusted to fulfil 2030 climate promises without a country-specific renewable energy target?

  • 22 Jan 2014, 09:00
  • Mat Hope

Credit: Yukiko Matsuoka

UPDATE, 22/01/14, 11.10: The European Commission has just announced it will be backing a climate target to reduce emissions by 40 per cent by 2030. It has also recommended a binding target to get 27 per cent of the EU's energy from renewable sources by 2030. This target is not country specific, however. The text below has been amended in light of the announcement.

The European Commission has today decided it's time for member states to make up their own minds about how best to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But does the decision place too much faith in countries' desire to decarbonise their economies?

Months of internal squabbling came to a head today as the European Commission published a White Paper outlining its position on the EU's 2030 climate and energy targets. The commission recommended a target to reduce EU emissions by between  40 per cent by 2030 - the upper end of what was expected.

It also backed an EU-wide target to get 27 per cent  of the region's energy from renewable sources in 2030 - roughly in line with what the commision  expects to happen if countries continue to implement decarbonisation policies.

The renewable energy target does not obligate individual member states to ramp up generation to that extent, however. That makes it slightly weaker than the EU's previous goal.

Act of faith

Today's decision represents a significant change in approach from when the EU originally agreed its climate goals.

European policymakers agreed three targets in 2007, dubbed the 20-20-20 goals. Those targets required members states to reduce emissions by 20 per cent, get 20 per cent of electricity from renewable sources, and increase energy efficiency by 20 per cent, all by 2020.

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