Today, the government published the banding review for the Renewables Obligation. It says the UK’s economy will get a £20-25 billion boost because of it.
Here’s a selection of the best reactions to the news from some of the leading figures in the shift towards a green economy.
Juliet Davenport, CEO and founder of Good Energy.
“The announcement provides some much needed clarity around the rates, but few can deny that what we’ve gone through to reach this point has been troubling.
“The key principle that’s been at stake is whether the government is committed to an independent, evidence-based process for setting support levels for renewables and whether that process is able to withstand political meddling.
“Whilst question marks do remain for some technologies, today’s announcement shows that that is the case.
Ed Davey has won the battle over wind subsidies – but at what price? – Andrew Pendleton, Friends of the Earth
“The integrity of the rate review has been maintained and it will be used to inform any outstanding decisions. That’s crucial for maintaining investor confidence.
“Perhaps most important for us is that, as the UK’s leading 100% renewable electricity supplier, our existing capacity to generate clean, renewable power remains untouched.”
Martin Wright, chairman of the Renewable Energy Association.
“Government has re-affirmed its commitment to the renewables industry, but we are concerned about the further reviews facing many technologies, which is likely to inhibit investment.
“Business confidence is essential to realise the vast potential of this industry, in which the UK still lags behind the rest of the world.
“Companies will not invest without stable government policy delivered in a timely manner.
“At such a critical time for the economy, this country cannot afford any further political wrangling that puts at risk future investment and job creation.
“The chancellor’s recent letter to the energy secretary showed a serious misalignment between the attitude of Treasury and other government departments charged with delivering a growing, low-carbon economy.
“The Treasury appears to be frustrating the creation of a comprehensive energy policy for short-term economic and political gain. It is time energy policy properly reflected the long-term interests of the nation.”
John Cridland, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry.
“The level of support the government has agreed for onshore wind will help to encourage investment into our energy sector, creating jobs and supporting growth.
“Companies must be able to invest with confidence so that we can have secure, affordable and low-carbon electricity in the decades to come.
“The government is right that gas should play a crucial role in any future energy mix.
“We have argued that there is no need for a false choice between renewables, nuclear, gas, and carbon capture and storage. It’s clear from the evidence that we need a diverse supply.”
Companies will not invest without stable government policy delivered in a timely manner – Martin Wright, REA
Arnaud Bouillé, energy and environmental infrastructure director at Ernst & Young.
“DECC’s banding announcement is great news for the sector and will bring some short-term relief for the industry as a whole.
“For independent power producers however, the availability of long-term off take contracts remain an issue, affecting the availability and cost of financing.
“DECC’s on-going consultation on this matter should not only confirm that this is a significant challenge but also identify the need for a continued obligation on UK suppliers to purchase ‘green’ under the proposed Contracts for Difference/Electricity Market Reform environment.
“For onshore wind especially, the 0.9 ROC decision is a critical milestone and will give the industry some comfort over the government’s commitment to the sector.
Few can deny that what we’ve gone through to reach this point has been troubling – Juliet Davenport, Good Energy
“Nevertheless, the affordability and value for money debate that took place in recent months is not about to go away and will already be on the agenda for the next review in 2014.
“With an oversupply in the wind turbine market, we would expect costs to reduce and the sector to be gradually wound-down off subsidies in the medium term. Onshore wind may slowly be entering the brave new world of mainstream market economics.”
Andrew Pendleton, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth.
“Ed Davey has won the battle over wind subsidies – but at what price?
“Treasury arm-twisting has forced him to give his backing to new gas-fired power stations – which is completely at odds with his fuzzy rhetoric on clean British energy.
“The government’s climate advisors warn that UK climate targets won’t be met unless our electricity system is almost entirely decarbonised by 2030 – Ed Davey must insist that this target is included in the Energy Bill when it enters parliament later this year.
“George Osborne’s plans for more gas-fired power stations would be a costly disaster for households, businesses and the environment – it’s time for David Cameron, the self-styled leader of the greenest government ever, to intervene.”
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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