The government’s energy bill announcement has caused a divide in the UK energy and business sectors. Here’s a rundown of some of the most prominent comments to date.
Andy Atkins, executive director, Friends of the Earth
“The coalition has caved in to Osborne’s reckless dash for gas and banged the final nail in the coffin of Cameron’s pledge to lead the greenest government ever.
“This decision motivated by outdated ideology will help keep the nation hooked on increasingly expensive gas, drive away green jobs and investment and jeopardise UK climate goals.
“But the fight is far from over – there’s huge public and business support for power sector decarbonisation. Politicians from all parties must fight in parliament against Osborne’s fossil-fuel addiction.”
Lord Deben, chairman, Committee on Climate Change
“The agreement on the levy control framework is very positive. This should be sufficient to support investments in renewables required to meet the 2020 EU target and carbon budgets, together with demonstration of CCS and investment in nuclear new build.
“We are disappointed that a carbon intensity target will not be set until the next parliament. This leaves a high degree of uncertainty for investors and does not address widespread investor concerns raised in recent months; it could adversely impact on supply chain investment and development of projects to come on line after 2020.
“It is essential now that delivery of the electricity market reform proceeds on the basis that this is aimed at achieving early decarbonisation of the power sector, which is the economically sensible path in a carbon and resource constrained world.”
Juliet Davenport, CEO and founder, Good Energy
“We look forward to seeing the details of the bill, but the lack of a firm decarbonisation target in today’s announcement is disappointing. It’s a missed opportunity for the coalition to make its commitment to being the greenest government ever clear. However, an agreement on government support for renewables is welcome news and will hopefully help provide greater certainty to the investment community. It’s time to put the confusion of the last few weeks behind us and get on with the job.”
Maria McCaffery, chief executive, RenewableUK
“This is a crucial announcement for the renewable energy sector. The news that there is rock solid support across government for renewable energy, and clear evidence that Treasury and the Department of Energy and Climate Change are in step, provide the industry with exactly the kind of assurances we’ve been calling for. This blows the last few months of political infighting completely out of the water.
“This is proof that the Treasury really does get it – the renewable energy industry offers one of our best hopes for economic recovery. This will stimulate billions of pounds worth of investment in renewables, creating more than 88,000 jobs in wind, wave and tidal energy alone by 2021. It will enable us to hit our 2020 renewable energy targets, and make sure renewables can play their part in protecting UK consumers from unstable international power markets – we’ve seen over the last few years that the cost of imported gas has caused the bulk of energy bill price rises, and developing our own resources helps counter that dependence and vulnerability.
“The UK government is sending a clear message that 30% of our electricity will be from renewable sources by 2020. The lion’s share will come from wind energy, with 31 gigawatts to be installed by the end of the decade.
“The government also clearly understands that there’s likely to need to be a decarbonisation target for 2030. That’s great news, which will retain investor confidence in the long term. Those investors put £2.5 billion into the industry this year – this will now increase exponentially. Now it’s full steam ahead, so let’s get on with it.”
James Cameron, chairman, Climate Change Capital
“The energy bill will finally give government the tools to attract significant investment into our power sector at least cost. Investment can now flow – creating jobs, helping recovery, spurring innovation – while ensuring our long term economic competitiveness.
“Progress will only happen if government wields its new tools wisely. At stake is a vision of the future. One where we are cleaner, safer and more competitive. Or one where we miss out on the clean energy revolution taking place globally, suffer from climate change and regret our exposure to volatile fossil fuel markets. The government will get the power to make the choice, it must pick a clean future over a failed past.
“To achieve progress quickly we also need clarity on how much renewable power should be built and by when to ensure investment in the UK supply chain. We need contracts for new generation to be signed quickly. And we need a national conversation on the strategic implications of our exposure to volatile gas markets.”
David Nussbaum, chief executive, WWF-UK
“The announcement by Ed Davey on the levy control framework is a step in the right direction which will at least give more confidence that the UK will meet its legally binding renewable energy target. This is good for reducing reliance on risky fossil fuels and good for the planet. However, the government should have taken the next step and backed a decarbonisation target in this bill and it is seriously disappointing that they did not.
“Having a 2030 decarbonisation target is nothing that Mr Cameron’s government should be afraid of given that it is a key requirement to deliver the legally binding Climate Change Act commitments, which Mr Cameron played such a key part in delivering almost exactly four years ago. 2030 is only one investment cycle away, and companies like Siemens and Gamesa wanting to invest in the UK’s renewable energy supply chain need to understand the government’s long-term commitment to the sector if they are to invest and create thousands of new highly skilled jobs in the UK.
“Mr Cameron claimed on Wednesday that he is leading a government that is not afraid of taking tough decisions. Yet he has pushed the decision to provide long-term clarity for investors back until after the next election, which will undermine continued growth in the one sector of the UK economy that has been most resilient throughout the recession. We need more courageous leadership than this.”
Mark Kenber, CEO, The Climate Group
“The long-awaited energy bill, despite its positive elements and increased support for renewables, is a missed opportunity. It does not put emissions reduction at the heart of the UK’s energy policy. It does not put the UK on a long-term low-carbon, sustainable, clean energy path. The bill is more of a grand compromise; and like all compromises it deals more with the present and the short-term than with the future.
“Unless there is long-term certainty for investors and clear signals that this country is open for low-carbon business in the long-term the UK will be left behind in the global cleantech race. The jobs that could be coming to the UK are going to go elsewhere. If we do not lead, we are bound to follow others who will.”
James Constant, chair, EnergyForecaster.co.uk
“The impact of these increased costs will be a serious concern for businesses if it is applied to them.
“While the exact rise to business energy bills is currently unknown, we predict the energy bill will continually push bills up for businesses over the next decade. Our most recent Business Energy Barometer showed that as many as up to 300,000 companies could go out of business if energy bills continue to rise by 15% per annum, which looks increasingly likely due to these increases.
“It is admirable that the government is trying to place a greater importance on environmental goals. However, in the face of economic difficulties, it is questionable whether this is the best way to do it when considering the possible negative impact on businesses in the UK.”
John Sauven, executive director, Greenpeace
“By failing to agree to any carbon target for the power sector until after the next election David Cameron has allowed a militant tendency within his own ranks to derail the energy bill. It’s a blatant assault on the greening of the UK economy that leaves consumers vulnerable to rising gas prices, and sends billions of pounds of cleantech investment to our economic rivals.
“The stakes couldn’t be higher for our climate, our bills, and new green jobs, yet politicians could not be making a greater hash of it.”
Gaynor Hartnell, chief executive, Renewable Energy Association
“The commitment of the necessary budget for the renewable power sector to meet its share of the 2020 target, is very welcome news. This should help to draw a line under the recent politicking, which has been so damaging to investor confidence.
“Today’s announcements finally give a suggestion that the government is getting behind the renewables agenda, which promises 400,000 green jobs across power, heat and transport by 2020, along with a much more secure energy future.”
John Cridland, director-general, CBI
“This package will send a strong signal to investors that the government is serious about providing firms with the certainty they need to invest in affordable secure low-carbon energy.
“We now have political agreement on this critical issue and the government should get the bill on the statute books as quickly as possible.
“As more details emerge, the government should ensure that those households and businesses most vulnerable to increased energy prices are protected.”
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.