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Green deal changes put pressure on carbon reduction

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The government’s new green deal initiative will lead to renewed pressure on carbon emissions reductions, according to new calculations.

The Association for the Conservation of Energy (ACE) reports that the Green Deal Home Improvement Fund (GDHIF) announced in the past month can replace only 15% of the emissions reductions lost through the budget changes to the energy companies obligation (ECO).

That shortfall is a little shocking, particularly when viewed in the positive context of the EU announcing in Athens last week that it will cut its carbon emissions in 2020 by a bigger margin than pledged under UN climate change treaties.

Hans Bruyninckx, executive director of the European Environment Agency, says, “Europe will be overachieving in 2020.”

The EU has unilaterally pledged under the UN Kyoto Protocol for Climate Change to reduce its emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by 2020.

While this is heartwarming news, some commentators suggest that structural improvements to housing stock are moving nowhere near fast enough in order to meet climate-focused targets for 2050, when every home in the UK should be zero-carbon.

The whole context once again confirms for us that it is ‘wake-up’ time for government. It is puzzling, if not ridiculous, that full financial support for a wholesale country-wide programme of LED lighting retrofits, together with water-saving installations of eco showers, eco taps and tap aerators is totally missing.

This is precisely where the quickest, longer-lasting and highly effective impacts on carbon emissions can be achieved.

Reflecting on this, the government’s short-term aid for the energy companies, by reducing ECO demands, is more than a little disturbing and goes against the prime minister David Cameron’s promises on carbon emissions reductions.

From June 1, the £150m GDHIF will be launched for homeowners and social landlords who can apply for thousands of pounds to cover costs of carbon cutting measures like insulation and new boilers.

The GDHIF aims to support the ECO initiative, which compels utilities to insulate particularly energy inefficient homes. The carbon cutting initiative was weakened when the coalition last year to cut so-called ‘green levies’, blamed by some critics for forcing up domestic energy bills.

These “hard to heat” properties account for around 17% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

Energy efficiency and insulation industries protested at the time of the ECO move last November that extending energy companies’ insulation deadlines by two years is in effect a cut to the scheme, with higher bills and reduced emissions results.

However, the government pledged that the ECO changes would be offset by improvements to other schemes, with official figures estimating an extra 2.9m tonnes of CO2 would be emitted than under the scheme’s original parameters, but balanced by new scope within the green deal, energy efficiency improvements in the public sector and savings from transport policies.

The GDHIF can cover three-quarters of solid wall insulation costs up to a £6,000 limit. But even if all the total cash pot was allotted to solid wall installation, this would cover just 25,000 installations a year – that’s 33% fewer than the 75,000 solid wall homes treated in 2012.

ACE director Andrew Warren says, “The government has long conceded that the immediate impact of the ECO changes would lead to an annual savings shortfall of 600,000 tonnes of CO2. But it is clear that the new scheme can replace only 15% of the losses. It would be quite miraculous for it to replace a large proportion of the 2.9m tonnes of lifetime carbon dioxide savings, which the government has acknowledged the truncated ECO programme will no longer be able to deliver.”

The national energy strategy is under fire particularly in the past two months from a range of influential voices, including supportive newspapers – the Times for example. A leading article last week condemned the coalition policies as incoherent and called for a new, clear direction.

If the government is serious about being a leading part of the carbon reduction community, it needs to embrace the widest range of energy-saving solutions, promoting and financially supporting these, and go beyond the poverty mentality on energy strategy that has attracted such widespread criticism.

Mark Sait is managing director of energy efficiency specialists SaveMoneyCutCarbon.

Photo: ramzi hashisho via freeimages

Further reading:

Commercial property sector faces £29bn green refurbishment bill

Care homes should focus on energy savings and water management

Pressure on energy bills rises as national renewable power policy gets a makeover

The real green deal: bringing energy, water and waste under control

Why energy saving, cutting bills and reducing carbon footprint will stay centre stage

Mark Sait is managing director of SaveMoneyCutCarbon, a uniquely positioned full-service efficiency partner to organisations and homes that want to reduce energy, water and carbon to improve sustainability. Clients include major hospitality groups, property ownership groups, distribution centres, theme parks and corporate offices as well as SMEs and private residences.

Economy

Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?

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self-driving cars for green environment
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Zapp2Photo | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/zapp2photo

Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?

But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?

The Big Picture

The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.

That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.

Driver Reduction?

One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.

There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.

As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.

Deadheading

Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.

Make and Model of Car

Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.

On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.

The Bottom Line

Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?

Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.

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Economy

New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035

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renewable energy policy
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Eviart / https://www.shutterstock.com/g/adrian825

New Zealand’s prime minister-elect Jacinda Ardern is already taking steps towards reducing the country’s carbon footprint. She signed a coalition deal with NZ First in October, aiming to generate 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

New Zealand is already one of the greenest countries in the world, sourcing over 80% of its energy for its 4.7 million people from renewable resources like hydroelectric, geothermal and wind. The majority of its electricity comes from hydro-power, which generated 60% of the country’s energy in 2016. Last winter, renewable generation peaked at 93%.

Now, Ardern is taking on the challenge of eliminating New Zealand’s remaining use of fossil fuels. One of the biggest obstacles will be filling in the gap left by hydropower sources during dry conditions. When lake levels drop, the country relies on gas and coal to provide energy. Eliminating fossil fuels will require finding an alternative source to avoid spikes in energy costs during droughts.

Business NZ’s executive director John Carnegie told Bloomberg he believes Ardern needs to balance her goals with affordability, stating, “It’s completely appropriate to have a focus on reducing carbon emissions, but there needs to be an open and transparent public conversation about the policies and how they are delivered.”

The coalition deal outlined a few steps towards achieving this, including investing more in solar, which currently only provides 0.1% of the country’s energy. Ardern’s plans also include switching the electricity grid to renewable energy, investing more funds into rail transport, and switching all government vehicles to green fuel within a decade.

Zero net emissions by 2050

Beyond powering the country’s electricity grid with 100% green energy, Ardern also wants to reach zero net emissions by 2050. This ambitious goal is very much in line with her focus on climate change throughout the course of her campaign. Environmental issues were one of her top priorities from the start, which increased her appeal with young voters and helped her become one of the youngest world leaders at only 37.

Reaching zero net emissions would require overcoming challenging issues like eliminating fossil fuels in vehicles. Ardern hasn’t outlined a plan for reaching this goal, but has suggested creating an independent commission to aid in the transition to a lower carbon economy.

She also set a goal of doubling the number of trees the country plants per year to 100 million, a goal she says is “absolutely achievable” using land that is marginal for farming animals.

Greenpeace New Zealand climate and energy campaigner Amanda Larsson believes that phasing out fossil fuels should be a priority for the new prime minister. She says that in order to reach zero net emissions, Ardern “must prioritize closing down coal, putting a moratorium on new fossil fuel plants, building more wind infrastructure, and opening the playing field for household and community solar.”

A worldwide shift to renewable energy

Addressing climate change is becoming more of a priority around the world and many governments are assessing how they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and switch to environmentally-friendly energy sources. Sustainable energy is becoming an increasingly profitable industry, giving companies more of an incentive to invest.

Ardern isn’t alone in her climate concerns, as other prominent world leaders like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron have made renewable energy a focus of their campaigns. She isn’t the first to set ambitious goals, either. Sweden and Norway share New Zealand’s goal of net zero emissions by 2045 and 2030, respectively.

Scotland already sources more than half of its electricity from renewable sources and aims to fully transition by 2020, while France announced plans in September to stop fossil fuel production by 2040. This would make it the first country to do so, and the first to end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles.

Many parts of the world still rely heavily on coal, but if these countries are successful in phasing out fossil fuels and transitioning to renewable resources, it could serve as a turning point. As other world leaders see that switching to sustainable energy is possible – and profitable – it could be the start of a worldwide shift towards environmentally-friendly energy.

Sources: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-06/green-dream-risks-energy-security-as-kiwis-aim-for-zero-carbon

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-hydrocarbons/france-plans-to-end-oil-and-gas-production-by-2040-idUSKCN1BH1AQ

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