The UK’s economy would be £20 billion better off by 2030 under a scenario in which offshore wind investment continues steadily, rather than investing heavily in gas, according to a report commissioned by WWF-UK and Greenpeace.
The study, written by Cambridge Econometrics, maps out two scenarios; one of which sees the UK offshore wind industry maintain its growth between now and 2030, while the other sees no new investment in offshore wind past 2020, and instead, gas is relied upon significantly more.
As well as outlining the long-term economic benefits of continued investment into wind – the UK’s GDP would be 0.8% higher than in a ‘dash for gas’ situation – the report also highlights that 70,000 more full-time jobs would be created if this were the case.
And carbon emissions in the energy sector would also be two-thirds lower in the offshore wind scenario than the gas – something that would help the UK meet its legally-binding emissions reduction targets.
“Much of the debate around the choice between gas-fired and offshore wind electricity generation in the years post-2020 assumes wind is more expensive. This study presents powerful evidence to the contrary”, said Paul Ekins, professor of resources and environmental policy at University College London, who added that the lack of a decarbonisation target in the government’s recently-published energy bill is a big error.
“The results show it is a great economic, as well as environmental mistake not to include the 2030 target in the energy bill. Such a target, by giving greater assurance to investors of the post-2020 direction of travel of UK energy policy, is a no-regrets option, encouraging investors to locate their wind supply chain in the UK, but representing the right economic choice even if this does not happen.
“The results are robust even to assumptions of lower than expected gas prices, and pessimistic assumptions about offshore wind supply chain development in the UK.”
Meanwhile, David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK, said that the report outlines that the UK needs investment in wind to ensure its economy prospers in the future.
“With the right long-term policy signals for investors, offshore wind could provide more jobs, more prosperity and lower carbon emissions than gas”, he said.
“The International Energy Agency and [the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC)] are both forecasting continued increases in the price and imports of gas over the next 20 years, so too much dependence on gas would leave the UK very exposed to future price shocks.
“With the energy bill now before parliament, it’s high time for the government, and especially the chancellor, to open their eyes to the benefits that wind and other renewables will deliver for both the economy and the environment, and seize this opportunity before it goes elsewhere.”
Despite the publication of the report, The Telegraph revealed today that by 2030, the UK could have 30 extra gas-fired power plants on the grid. DECC’s strategy is expected to include a target of 26 gigawatts (GW) of new gas infrastructure – a 6GW increase on current plans – while another scenario outlines the possibility of 37GW of gas plants, which would see the fossil fuel account for almost half of the UK’s energy by 2030.
This is regardless of the fact that the government’s official climate advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, warned in September that a so-called ‘dash for gas’ could in fact be illegal in a letter to energy secretary Ed Davey.
“Another dash for gas in the UK will be a mistake, for there are reasons to question the idea of low global gas prices over the long-term, as well as the supposed benefits of shale gas in terms of lower life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions”, said Ben Caldecott, head of policy at Climate Change Capital.
“In heavy coal users, such as the US, China, India, and South Africa, efforts to switch from coal to gas could make a significant dent in global emissions. But in countries like the UK, Germany and Japan – all undergoing structural energy reforms – more gas might not just displace coal. Instead it could end up displacing renewables, which would make tackling climate change more challenging, not less.
“While some gas in the UK will be needed for flexible generation capacity, higher levels of penetration will hold back the development of the low-carbon technologies needed to ensure cleaner, cheaper and more secure power over the long term.
“What we need is a more robust, future-proofed energy strategy, so that Britain can manage long-term uncertainty and volatility. Going for gas in a big way fails this test, as it shields us from nothing, but exposes us to a wide range of risks that the UK has little or no control over.”
Meanwhile, Friends of the Earth’s executive director Andy Atkins called the strategy “reckless”, adding that a dash for gas would “send the nation speeding in the wrong direction”.
The Treasury’s gas plans, which are expected to be officially revealed in George Osborne’s autumn statement tomorrow, come as a Bloomberg New Energy Finance study claimed that investment into renewable energy has halved in just three years, amid uncertainty in government policy.
But the energy bill, which was published on Thursday, went some way to installing much-needed stability for renewables investors, despite the lack of a decarbonisation target.
“Investors are waiting to press play on billions of pounds of investment in renewable energy technology – all they’re asking for is long term certainty. The government’s energy bill doesn’t currently give it”, said Greenpeace executive director John Sauven.
“Investment in wind energy will allow us to kick our expensive and polluting gas habit.
“We already give billions to Qatar every year for gas imports – this report proves it would be much more prudent to invest that money in UK renewable energy instead.”
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
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.
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 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.
New Zealand to Switch to Fully Renewable Energy by 2035
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.
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