Wednesday, 5 April 2006

No time to give up, Iain. Time to get revolutionary.

I am grateful indeed for the time Iain Dale spent reading and commenting on my renewable energy post, but the result is simply to drive me on to make the case more strongly.

Iain is partly right. We have thrown an amount of money at the problem – but that’s all we’ve done, and like so many other problems this Govt has tackled, throwing money DOESN’T WORK. What the Govt have not done is encourage a market that makes sense of that investment and drives it on to advance the technology until it becomes universal.

Let’s put to rest Iain’s primary argument – that wind power cannot make any impact on our CO2 emissions. The fact of the matter is simple, if I place two houses side by side, one fuelled by domestic oil and the other by a domestic wind turbine, funnily enough the wind powered house WILL EMIT LESS CO2.

If I have two villages and one is powered by the oil and coal fired national grid and the other is powered by a neatly concealed biomass plant, the renewable energy village WILL EMIT LESS CO2.

If I have two cars sitting side by side and one is fuelled by petrol and the other by bio-diesel or hydrogen fuel, the renewable energy powered car WILL EMIT LESS CO2.

These are irrefutable facts. The issue is simply about scale.

The question we must ask, and this is where Iain and I part company, is not ‘Will the technology work?’ (Iain) But ‘How do we make the technology work?’ (Richard). Iain argues that you cannot achieve the scale to make the contribution worthwhile, but I argue that the contribution is undeniable and that we haven’t even tried to achieve the scale.

I’m picking on Iain a bit here, but his attitude is defeatist and arrogant. He says we have tried, it didn’t work, so we’ll stop and give up. It is rather like suggesting that when the first bloke built a computer the size of a house, everyone thought “Give it up mate, that’ll never work. It costs too much and look, it’s huge.” Or when Clive Sinclair brought out his fabulous ZX Spectrum which could just about make a small blob bounce across the screen, everyone thought “This’ll never catch on. What are these things ever going to do for us?” The initial investments and outlays are comparable. The difference is that the market place dragged computers forward.

So how do we get the renewable energy off the ground (and renewable energy does not simply equal wind):

1. Start with cars. The vast majority of drivers would actively and immediately seek to change their cars if they saw biodiesel for sale beside their unleaded for 15p a litre. The Govt must just get it there and the market will start lifting. The revenue raised by those prepared to take the hit in their car's performance will drive the technology forward to create cars that perform better. There is a 'way', you just the need the economically driven 'will'.

2. Next our houses. If big wind turbines were accompanied by free power for those in their wake, opposition would evaporate thus allowing more to be built and more power to be generated. Then we would start to make wind power a net contributor. People would excuse them willingly and the phrase “they’re much better than those hideous pylon lines” would spring into common parlance.

3. Biomass energy stations can be introduced to the mix so easily and be discretely placed on the outskirts of most small towns and landscaped the same way as waste treatment plants for example. Agriculture would get a great boost by having an energy market to feed and again those receiving such renewable energy would have it at a very much reduced rate.

4. Once you’ve started this process, the money will start to feed back and drive the technology towards smaller domestic wind turbines, which can become no more or less a part of our lives than our satellite dishes. It is quite possible that a few big turbines would be replaced by lots of smaller ones over time. Big turbines could have 10 year licenses to ensure that their existence was continually questioned and reviewed. They can be taken down as well, you know!

The Govt has to incentive and penalize. You reduce the cost of renewable energy so that it becomes irresistible (and everyone has their price) and you raise the cost of fossil fuels so that they are painful. Faced with the choice of wiping 2/3rds off my combined car and home fuel bills or increasing it by 2/3rds – well I know what I and millions of other people are doing.

Indeed, none of this is costed and sure it will cost money. I do however point out that any subsidising you make to get the market off the ground can be weaned out within 10 years. So lets think, spend billions on a pointless and illegal war designed to increase our dependence on oil or spend billions replacing oil? Spend billions giving me a second passport, or spend billions subsidising renewable energy and reducing my living costs? It’s a toughie!

Last brief point. Many finally argue that our efforts are pointless whilst the rest of the world belch out fumes in pursuit of either world dominance (USA) or national development (China). Sure, in 2006 our efforts would be entirely self serving and fairly inconsequential on a global scale. But the advances in technology made here serving our market would be very quickly exported to these developing and developed countries once they realised how bloody simple it all is and how much cost can be wiped off the price of development. China and India are not stupid, they just can’t afford to be clean in their perfectly acceptable race to catch us up industrially. If we do the donkey work and bring the technology into a favourable price bracket they will happily install it. Oh and guess who gets the contracts – that right, us.

Please lets stop being so defeatist. Going renewable will be no greater a step that covering our beautiful landscapes in 100ft steel pylons and in fact can probably be done much more sympathetically.

Just remember – oil will run out one day soon (probably within the next 100 years, i.e. probably within my children’s lifetime). This is also an irrefutable fact. That fact that we will almost certainly fight the 3rd World War over the final supplies is incidental.

Just contemplate for one brief moment what actual impact to your daily life would occur if the oil tap were to dry up RIGHT NOW. This is not the moment to give up – it is the moment to become revolutionary.


Magnus said...

What about wave power, it is a natural for the UK being surrounded by water. I was reading about how the UK has dabbled in it but not really committed to it. It would take up less land space than wind turbines for one thing.

Serf said...

My problem with this approach to renewable power is that inevitably the government chooses a technology (in this case wind) and backs it heavily.

Now this may be the right thing to do, but we won't know until billions have been poured into it. As Magnus says, wave power might be better, or something else that we haven't thought of.

I tend to think that small, and niche are beautiful, in this respect. Tax breaks for any clean energy source would be one approach. Heavy taxation of CO2 another (offset by other tax cuts)

David Cameron mentioned heat pumps in the garden in some speech or other. Heat pumps are by far the most efficient way to heat and cool a house, and efficiency is even better than additional clean generation.

I guess what I am trying to say in short is that there is not one single solution, and that any government programme based on the assumption that there is, will ultimately fail.

Ellee Seymour said...

My MEP Robert Sturdy is very much into renewable energy. The hardest new legislation to introduce is that which has a fiscal element, and losing out on the oil tax revenue will never be supported by this government.
Robert knows of a German MEP who is a farmer and runs his car on biofuels made from the sugar beet he grows.
And if Brazil can do it so brilliantly, why can't we?

Tommy G said...

"Big turbines could have 10 year licenses to ensure that their existence was continually questioned and reviewed."

We made that mistake with the trains. If you tell a company their licence could be revoked so soon, they have no incentive to invest in research and development.