Hinkley delayed….again…best get used to hearing that!

FACADE DES IMMEUBLES DECATHLON ET EDF

Figure 1: EDF HQ, where trouble is brewing!

The government’s policy regarding nuclear energy is at risk of unravelling. The final okay for Hinkley C has now been delayed by EDF energy. Despite the masses of money thrown at them by the government, EDF are hesitant because it represents a massive financial risk. Many of the company’s leading creditors, workers and shareholders have urged them to pull out of the deal, pointing to the similar train wreck in Finland. That project is now nine years late and at least three times over its original budget.

Hinkley C has already been delayed multiple times (a 2025 startup is now seen as optimistic, 2030 is more likely) and already the budget has ballooned to £24.5 billion. Indeed, the recent delay is largely because EDF simply doesn’t have the cash reserves to finance the project and is having to scramble around looking for more before they can make the final decision (….as to whether or not to embark on the biggest white elephant in European history!)

While the expectation is that the project will go ahead anyway, but this is more because there’s so much riding on it, that neither EDF nor the government can really back out with consequences. It is basically a shotgun wedding. Put quite simply the Tories entire energy policy will collapse if Hinkley C isn’t built and work doesn’t start on it soon. However, what I’m hearing from those in the energy trade is that its doomed anyway.

One of the reasons for EDF’s hesitations is that its share price has nearly halved in a year. This is likely because there is a brisk business in short selling of its stock and several analysts have told investors to dump EDF stock. Now normally a state owned company sitting on a massive government subsidy would not be vulnerable to such tactics. But most company’s would be able to tell the markets how much the project was going to cost and how long it would take, something EDF can’t do here, hence their vulnerability.

Previously the UK government tried to get the banks to pay for Hinkley C without any form of subsidy and they pretty much got laughed out of the room. So you can understand both EDF’s vulnerability on this issue (it could literally bring down the firm if things go badly wrong), market scepticism towards nuclear energy and why the short sellers are having a field day exploiting all of this.

Hinkley is quickly becoming the beast that will not die….and they haven’t even started building it yet! But its when the plant is actually built that the fireworks will really start (or so I’m told). Hinkley C will be selling electricity at well over the market rate, but why would the traders actually bother to buy it? In theory under the proposed CfD system its electricity will be sold via a government quango the LCCC. In return for buying power off this firm, the companies will receive credits, which will count towards meeting their supplier obligations (called ROC’s).

CONT_DECCGovNatGrid

Figure 2: The CfD system, how it works [Credit: EMR, 2012]

However, the problem with this system is that there are other ways for suppliers (that is the people who pump electricity into your home) can meet their obligations. Obviously they can achieve the same credits (sometimes more per MWh) by buying renewable electricity, which is often cheaper. They could simply opt to use fossil fuel based power and pay a fee to buy their way out of their ROC obligations. And at current market prices, it would be cheaper to do this than buy Hinkley’s electricity. Obviously one assumes EDF will use Hinkley’s power, but if all the other company’s avoid Hinkley (except when they are desperate for power) then EDF’s electricity prices will soar, customers will flee, EDF goes to the wall and Hinkley will be mothballed after perhaps a few years operation.

Obviously the above will explain why the government recently cut renewable subsidies and announced the closure of coal plants by 2025. The economics of Hinkley C only work if there’s an artificial shortage of power in the UK. But if this is indeed the government’s plan, then its a very dangerous one. As noted, its unlikely Hinkley C will be operational before the bulk of the UK’s nuclear fleet hits the end of their service life. This will create a very large gap in the UK’s generating capacity, with no easy way of filling it in the short term….other than to reverse policies on renewables or fossil fuel plants or building large interconnectors with other EU countries. Of course once that infrastructure is in place, the need for Hinkley C evaporates.

And of course we are assuming here that Hinkley C will be profitable to operate at this strike price of £92.50 (inflation adjusted). Some authors suggest it would likely need to be closer to £164, once the inevitable overruns and inflationary cost increases are factored in (while the strike price accounts for inflation changes to electricity price, it does not factor in say, concrete prices going up by some amount in the next ten years, increasing the cost of building Hinkley C) as well other off the books costs (decommissioning for example). This implies that a future government might be forced to increase the strike price yet further, or abandon the project half built.

harris_etal_2012_table 6

Figure 3: Estimated levelised cost of electricity for new nuclear plants in the UK [Credit: Harris etal (2012)]

The government also seems to be assuming that the market traders are a bunch of Buddhist monks, who won’t dare do anything like manipulate electricity prices to boost profits. However, as events in the Californian energy crisis show, there are a host of ways traders can manipulate energy supplies (e.g. shut down key pieces of kit “for maintenance” at inconvenient times, buy time on a crucial inter-connector and use it to send power out of a region where prices are high, so they can push the price further) . We could actually see a situation where there’s a power crisis in the UK, yet Hinkley C is turned off for a combination of safety reasons (nuclear reactors need a reliable grid input to operate safely and would be the first things to trip in the event of a major energy crisis) and economic factors related to market manipulation by traders.

And keep in mind that many of these traders (being the types who dislike government subsidy or interference) really don’t like Hinkley C one little bit and would be delighted to profit off the back if its demise. And of course some of them (the aforementioned short sellers) already are profiting quite handsomely. I was asked a few years ago by someone who works in the city whether it would be possible to profit from new nuclear power. My response was along the lines of “not legally” (I’m sure ISIS would give you a few million for some fissile material!). Well it would seem they managed to find a way after all. Which is just as well, as it probably makes them the only people who will actually make money out of Hinkley C.

Posted in economics, energy, France, nuclear, politics, power, renewables, subsidy | 2 Comments

A soggy Yuletide Roundup

Recently posted this on my other blog, thought I’d put it up here too, happy new year!

daryanblog

The failings of Paris

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While I’m pleased that the agreement in Paris yielded some positives, however it suffers from a major problem – it is distinctly lacking in specifics. There are no set targets nor timetable in terms of at what pace emissions should be cut, no clear policy for enforcing such cuts, no penalties to countries who renege on their commitments at Paris.

Much of the debate seemed to be as to whether a threshold of 1.5 degrees or 2 degrees should be accepted. Why didn’t they just go the whole hog and make it -1.5 degrees and commit to cooling the planet slightly for all the good it would have done! Because without some sort of concrete measures its inevitable that cutting emissions will quickly fall to the bottom of the political agenda, particularly when there are populist parties on the rise in many democracies who believe they can…

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Why pro-nuclear preaching undermines the case for climate action

With climate talks ongoing in Paris, we have another “plea” from various climate scientists for action. Most notably a claim by James Hansen, Kerry Emanuel, Ken Caldeira and Tom Wigley (the gang of four as I will henceforth call them) for more nuclear power. Unfortunately, like many nuclear energy supporters they merely succeed in showing how naive and ill-informed they are regarding the topic. It does worry me when I hear such things from eminent climatologists, as it does suggest somewhat faulty logic on their part, something which we are fortunate no deniers have thought to point out.

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Figure 1: Pro-nuclear arguments in Paris may well serve as a distraction

The gang of 4 call for 61 reactors per year for the next 35 years to replace fossil fuels for electricity generation and 115 to replace all fossil fuel consumption. They don’t define what a reactor is, but let’s assume 1 GW. By contrast, something I discussed in a prior post, the IAEA seem to be aiming for a more realistic target of 6.65 GW/yr, or perhaps 21 GW/yr if we ignore certain economic constraints. So this would imply that even the pro-nuclear IAEA believe that our gang’s numbers are off by a factor of between 9 and 6.

However there are many critics of the nuclear industry, notably the authors of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR) who argue that if anything nuclear is now in a state of terminal decline and any form of growth is unlikely. They argue that the legacy issues, the fact that so many of the world’s nuclear plants are ageing and rapidly approaching retirement (and thus will need to be decommissioned), means that any new reactor construction will simply be eaten up replacing outdated equipment. And as I discussed in a recent post, the data seems to support the WNISR position rather than of the IAEA’s.

wnisr_2014_fig11

Figure 2: A sobering vision of nuclear’s future, if present trends continue [Source: WNISR, 2015]

In the UK for example, all but 1 of the country’s reactors will hit the end of their service lives within the next decade. While they may get a life extension, this will be a tricky affair and a sudden shutdown will be a constant threat, much how the Forth road bridge in Scotland was suddenly closed this week for the rest of the year, with barely a few hours notice. This is unfortunately an all to common threat when you operate anything beyond its natural service life.

So any new reactors in the UK, or indeed most western nations for that matter, will merely be replacements for plant already retired or shortly due for retirement. These legacy issues are why in recent years the rate of new reactor construction is lagging behind the rate at which reactors are retired, hence why the WNISR talks of the nuclear industry being caught in a downward death spiral.

By contrast renewables are growing at a rate of 550-590 TWh/yr, roughly equivalent to 69 GW’s at a 100% capacity factor. Note that this 550-595 TWh/yr figure accounts for the effect of low capacity factors on certain renewables. In terms of GW’s total growth for all renewables worldwide is closer to 134 GW’s electricity and 42 GW’s of heat. So renewables are already growing at the sort of rate they call for, although this is (as I will explain in a moment) not nearly fast enough.

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Figure 3: The three main low-carbon technologies, note that “modern renewables” includes solar (PV & thermal), wind energy, geomthermal (direct only) and modern biomass (traditional biomass excluded) [Source: Author’s but based on IEA, REN and IAEA data, as outlined in a prior post]

Indeed promotion of nuclear energy, as recent events in the UK demonstrates, threatens to torpedo this high growth rate of renewables. Hence a focus on nuclear is probably counter productive and will likely have the opposite effect intended. Consider, that the UK government has now as a result of its pro-nuclear and anti-renewables stance just committed to a whole new fleet of gas fired power stations, while the renewables industry is talking about a complete halt to all work. This is why a number of pro-nuclear greens in the UK have had something of a road to Damascus moment recently and now oppose the building of Hinkley C.

Furthermore, the figures quoted earlier for nuclear from our gang of 4 seem to assume 100% capacity factors, and that we are only talking about baseload electricity. However only about 17% of global Total Final Energy Consumption is electricity (according to the IEA), and only a portion of that is baseload. While nuclear may have some advantage over certain types of renewables when it comes to baseload, for the remaining 90-85% of energy consumption we are faced with seasonal and daily fluctuations in demand as well as cycle efficiencies due to the need for energy conversion from one form to another.

Overcoming these factors means either building large energy storage systems, which given that renewables are much cheaper to install would kind of defeat the purpose of such a reactor building program. Alternatively, if you believe large scale energy storage is impossible, then massive overcapacity would be needed (as you need enough GW’s available to meet peak demand). Many of these reactors would have relatively short capacity factors (given that the load they are feeding isn’t on all of the time). Keep in mind that the average capacity factors for a peaking load power station is between to 25-40%, for a domestic boiler 10-20% or for cars under 10% (although electric vehicle chargers are likely to be a bit higher).

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Figure 4: An infographic detailing the UK’s total final energy consumption (TFC) broken down into the three critical pathways of heat, electricity and transportation fuels [Source: Sheffield University, 2015]

Factoring in all of the above and suddenly the number of reactors for our nuclear only scenario balloons massively in size, well into the hundreds of GW’s per year. Far in excess of any fantasy nuclear energy project we could ever envisage building. This is why I’m sceptical of nuclear energy. Because once you do the maths you realise the numbers simply don’t add up. So it is very worrying that such eminent scientists seem not to have done this.

The fast reactor delusion….again!

Indeed, our gang of 4 double down by then going on to advocate fast reactors. If building this vast fleet is likely impossible with existing LWR and Gas Cooled reactors, how likely do you think a program centred on reactors with even more challenging operating conditions (higher operating temperatures, increased radiation bombardment, corrosive coolants) and less of a proven track record (e.g. capacity factors less than 10%) is likely to be?

Oh, plus you’ll be needing an attached reprocessing plant, traditionally the whitest of nuclear white elephants. This is why the bulk of the nuclear industry, save a few on the fringes, is focused on sticking with what we know for the time being.

Both the Harvard study by Bunn etal (2003) and the MIT study by Kazimi etal (2011) concluded that fast reactors would only be viable if energy costs became substantially more expensive, probably well beyond the point of economic viability. And as this article by Jim Green (2014) discusses, more recent analysis by both the UK and US governments have highlighted “significant technical risk” with Fast reactors (read, they may not work and we’ve no idea how much it would cost to try and find out).

Furthermore, there is a misconception that fast reactors are some sort of magically disintegration machine. That waste placed inside will somehow “burn up”. I’m sorry but Dr Hansen needs to go back and revise physics 101. While a tiny quantity of matter within a reactor is converted into energy, the vast bulk of the matter remains, and will still be intensely radioactive when it comes out (generally the advantage is that its half life will be much shorter).

The reality is that fast reactors would, in the best case scenario, mean swapping a modest reduction in HLW for a significant increase in the volumes of ILW and LLW. And all of this assumes that this largely unproven technology actually works….and that the public would be willing to pay the enormous costs and take all the risks associated, which I’m doubtful.

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Figure 5: Inventory of nuclear waste resulting from the use of Fast Breeders [Source: UCSUSA.org 2011, based on DOE data]

In short, such nuclear fantasy delusions are very worrying as they threaten to undermine the case for climate action, as well as forcing us to question the credibility of some climate scientists. And such talk is likely to be simply used by those in power as a ploy to curb the growth in renewables. As events in the UK prove, it gives them the excuse to build more fossil fuel plants, throw a bone the way of the nuclear industry and then when they fail to deliver (as expected), they just keep the fossil fuel plants going and global warming be damned.

While nuclear may have some role in future, its likely to be minor and there’s not a lot that we can do about that. The bulk of any future cuts in carbon emissions will have to come from a combination of more renewables and greater energy conservation.

Posted in clean energy, climate change, economics, energy, fossil fuels, Global warming denial, LFTR, nuclear, politics, power, renewables, technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Who is Britain’s energy minister?

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I’ve been spending the last few months warning of the fact that the energy policy of the new Tory government was completely unworkable and at odds with proposed action on climate change. It would almost certainly lead to the UK missing its green energy targets and create a strong chilling effect that would imperil investment in the UK’s ageing electricity network. The Energy minister assured anyone who dared to ask, that this wasn’t the case, that she was confident that the UK would meet its commitments.

Well a recently leaked letter reveals a very different story. It suggests that while Amber Rudd been presenting a brave face in public, letters have been exchanged between ministers all but admitting that the UK will now miss its green targets. Worse still, this will trigger billions of pounds in fines from the EU (as these targets are part of legally binding cuts the EU agreed to as a successor to the Kyoto protocol). She suggests host of fairly desperate measures to resolve this, ranging from a massively expensive interconnector with Norway or even the government financing the installation of renewable energy in other countries (imagine what the tabloids will make of that, us paying not for wind farms in the UK, but in Romania or Poland!).

Obviously this is a telling insight into how the Tory government functions. Lies and spin in public and desperate running around with their hair on fire in private. A fire they are forced to put out with large amounts of public money.

Take this idea of an inter-connector to Norway. While this is actually something I’d favour, as it would offset the need for more energy storage in the UK to even out the peaks and troughs in renewable generation (particularly if the Norwegians convert their large hydro capacity to include more pumped storage).

However I would envisage this as part of a long term plan, with as much power flowing from Britain to Norway (or the other nations its connected too), than we buy back off them. The Tory plan proposed  by Amber Rudd would be very expensive to implement in the short term. And at times of peak winter demand, the power being sold by such interconnectors will be very expensive. And to be blunt other EU states are more used to higher energy prices and will likely win the bidding war over the UK.

And in further developments, the energy industry seems to be loosing confidence in the UK government. The world energy council has cut their rating for the reliability of the UK’s grid. Until recently, the UK has been considered a fairly safe bet, given its access to North sea gas, good interconnection with European neighbours and any gaps in UK generation being filled by a rapidly expanding renewables sector.

However the cuts to subsidies and the single minded obsession with Hinkley C seems to have shattered market confidence. Recently EDF was advised by its own employee shareholders that the companies future would be at risk if they press ahead with Hinkley C. Both Standards & Poor and Moody’s have threatened to downgrade the companies credit rating if the project goes ahead. And market traders have been advising clients to dump EDF stock.

Weighting all this up one is forced to one of two rather worrying conclusions. The first is that Amber Rudd and her advisers (in the pay of certain pro-fracking lobbyists I might add) are actually more clueless and incompetent than we thought. That the penny only dropped for them recently. Her letter reminds me of the sort of e-mail I’d get from a student whose not attended lectures (or texted on her phone through them) just prior to an exam along the lines of “I don’t understand any of this” and they basically wants someone to dig them out of a hole of their own creation.

The other conclusion is slightly more worrying. That the energy minister of the UK is not in fact Amber Rudd, but in fact is Osborne. In essence Rudd’s job involves turning on and off the lights in her office and upping the gender balance in Cameron’s cabinet. In truth she has no real authority to implement policy. The letter might have been forwarded on to several minsters, but the tone of it was clearly directed at Osborne. Obviously, given the chancellors single minded obsession with austerity, its doubtful any sort of meaningful policy will emerge….until the lights go out …but then its going to be too late!

In essence, much like the rest of the economy, Osborne has created a regime of energy haves and have nots. Massively expensive and lavishly funded fracking and nuclear operations (who may generate some power at some distant future date), with renewables and old coal fired stations (both vital to keeping the lights on today) who are now living hand to mouth.

As with other recent revelations (which I take as a sign that civil servants are becoming increasingly disgruntled…and where not even a year into the present government!) this shows the level of bungling incompetence at the heart of the UK government. And why the country is well on the way to becoming a basket case as regards long term energy policy.

Posted in budget deficit, clean energy, climate change, economics, energy, fossil fuels, nuclear, peak oil, politics, power, renewables, Shale Gas, subsidy, sustainability, sustainable, technology | 5 Comments

What Exxon knew…..

Figure 1: Evidence is emerging that Exxon, and perhaps other oil companies, knew about climate change since the 70's [Credit: Inside climate news (2015)]

Figure 1: Evidence is emerging that Exxon, and perhaps other oil companies, knew about climate change since the 70’s [Credit: Inside climate news (2015)]

A story that’s been brewing for the last few months has been the extend to which Exxon Mobil’s position on climate change may not be entirely honest. Evidence is surfacing that Exxon funded its own private research into climate change starting in the late 70’s (i.e. before climate change even became a public issue). The research revealed much of what we now know regarding climate change. However rather than take action, the company instead buried the data and threw millions the way of the climate change deniers.

Figure 2: An example of some of Exxon research, predating official research on climate by many years [Credit: Cleantechnica.org (2015) http://cleantechnica.com/2015/09/22/exxonmobil-boasts-climate-science-obscures-masquerade/ ]

Figure 2: An example of some of Exxon research, predating official research on climate by many years [Credit: Cleantechnica.org (2015)]

The story has been circulating on the blogs for several weeks now, but as more and more evidence emerges, its starting to break through to the mainstream media. Suffice to say this is pretty serious stuff. To be clear we are not talking about some minor paper study, we are talking about a major survey involving a large number of scientists, a budget in the millions (back when that was a lot of money) going out in the field and taking measurements. They even modified an oil tanker and rigged it with instrumentation because the scientists wanted to get an accurate measurement of carbon dioxide levels over the oceans.

And this program of research lasted for several years, perhaps until the 1980’s. Obviously there’s no way that level of funding could not have been allocated without some sort of nod from the very top. Which means this scandal likely goes all the way to the top.

Figure 3: The Exxon Atlantic, one of the tankers fitted with carbon dioxide levels over the world's oceans [Credit: Inside climate news (2015)]

Figure 3: The Exxon Atlantic, one of the tankers fitted with carbon dioxide levels over the world’s oceans [Credit: Inside climate news (2015)]

It should be remembered that Exxon, like many oil companies, has lot’s of the world’s top geologists on the pay roll. These geologists often have to walk the tightrope of getting the goods for their employer (i.e. go out and find oil) and remaining true to the science (some of the best evidence for global warming comes from geology). So it has always been a bit difficult to believe that the oil companies didn’t know about climate change, that this was something that popped out of the blue. Its a bit like a firearms salesman not being aware that guns shoot out dangerous chucks of hot lead.

Crucially, this scandal is reminiscent of a similar controversy regarding cigarettes. The tobacco companies had conducted much research into cigarettes, their health effects, their addictive nature, the link between cancer and second hand smoking. Yet rather than try and use this information to reduce the harm their products caused (e.g. those smokeless cigarettes we see going around), instead they did the opposite (as this piece from the 60 minutes archive reveals). They actually went out of their way to make smoking more addictive, fully aware of the consequences to their loyal customers. And they responded to increasingly government scrutiny by funding bogus research to cast doubt on research that showed the harm smoking could do, even thought they knew the government backed research to be true and they knew their products were killing their customers.

You literally cannot get any worse than what we are seeing. For of all the oil companies Exxon stands out for its single minded opposition to any sort of action on climate change. They have consistently been one of the most prominent funders of climate change deniers and of lobbyists in the US congress to block any action. Exxon could have easily started research into alternative energy sources, or carbon capture and storage, which given that renewables is now a $300 billion a year industry won’t have been a bad investment. But instead, they took the same route as the tobacco lobby, to lie, mislead and deceive the public.

Figure 4: Some quotes from Exxon officials [Credit: Climatecrocks http://climatecrocks.com/2015/10/23/newest-entry-in-inside-climate-news-exxonknew-story-is-a-doozy/ & Inside climate news (2015)]

Figure 4: Some quotes from Exxon officials [Credit: Climatecrocks & Inside climate news (2015)]

And of course we all remember how it worked out for the tobacco companies. Once word leaked out the extend to which they knew about the dangers of cigarette smoke was exposed, they were promptly rendered liable for the damages and sued for it…..$368 billion worth of damages! Unfortunately, the tobacco lobby were let off lightly, after they agreed to pay a fine and never do it again….when we ignore the lessons of history, we are doomed to repeat them…..

An urgent investigation is needed to get to the bottom of these allegations. And I don’t mean a couple of lawyers in suits. I mean FBI agents with a badge and a gun. If these rumours are true, then I say that the oil companies should be made financially liable (and hint, even a fraction of the costs of climate change are enough to bankrupt the oil companies several times over!).

And given that the fate of the tobacco lobby didn’t seem to scare them, I say no out of court settlement, no going easy on them, take them for every penny, then go after the major shareholders one by one. Furthermore, any executives found responsible for it should be made criminally liable for the death and serious injury climate change has and will be responsible for. After a couple of retired oil chief’s get prep walked into court in handcuff’s that should serve to scare the rest straight pretty quickly.

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Vorsprung durch cheatnik

I’ve avoided commenting on the whole VW scandal because A) I was busy and B) I was waiting for the other car makers to get caught out, as it would be unfair for us to focus on the one who got caught.

Figure 1, There's trouble in Wolfsburg

Figure 1, There’s trouble in Wolfsburg

Was I surprised by this story? No! Its been long established in the scientific literature that there is a large gap between how vehicles perform in lab tests on a rolling road and how they perform on the actual road in real world conditions. There’s a whole section of research into reconciling the differences between these two.

In part this gap is because real world driving conditions are quite variable. There’s a big difference between how a car performs in say stop go city traffic or on a motorway, or on a rural country road. Particularly when we throw in issues such as the weather conditions and driver behaviour (some people accelerate more aggressively and use the brakes more, others are more gentle, some break the speed limit, others don’t) and vehicle condition (e.g. the air pressure in the tire’s, oil, air filter, battery condition, loading, etc.).

Certainly, it has been long assumed that the car makers were optimising their vehicles to pass emissions tests and carbon dioxide limits. Which is a problem because beyond a certain tipping point reducing pollutants (Nox, CO, particulates, etc.) can conflict with reducing carbon emissions. Much like students swot up to pass an exam, the assumption was that the carmakers did likewise. However its all too likely that some crossed the line into outright cheating. The allegation is that the VW diesel’s could detect when they were being tested and set themselves up to reduce pollutants.

I would be very surprised as noted if VW was alone in this, while its not entirely my field, I have seen enough test data to guess that other manufacturers are pulling similar tricks. The BBC has an interesting bit of analysis they have performed on this and it does seem likely that this goes beyond a few diesel cars in the US.

But before we start ripping into the carmakers it is worth recognising that even when we factor in this “cheating”, cars have got a lot cleaner and a lot more fuel efficient over the last few decades. There is ample data to support that fact. However they are bound by legislation on the one hand and customer demand on the other. Inevitably they have to design on that basis.

Figure 2, Air pollution levels are generally falling in many cases, in this graph LA one of the America's most polluted cities [Source: Grantz and Shrestha (2005), http://californiaagriculture.ucanr.org/landingpage.cfm?article=ca.v059n02p137&fulltext=yes]

Figure 2, Air pollution levels are generally falling in many cases, in this graph LA one of the America’s most polluted cities [Source: Grantz and Shrestha (2005)]

Is this crisis likely the work of a handful of rough employee’s, as VW claim? I doubt it. In a modern car company no design changes get implemented without a nod from someone in management and some sort of paper trail. Certainly not a German company. If this is true, it imply’s that VW have very sloppy procedures and I sure as hell won’t be buying one of their cars, when I can get one from a better organised company in, say Italy or France.

Does this crisis mean its unethical to buy a diesel? I would argue no, it depends on what you do with the car. If you spend most of your time in stop go traffic in town, a petrol powered car will have lower pollution levels (although higher carbon emissions). However if you do a lot of country driving the situation is very different and you are probably justified in getting a car with lower carbon emissions and greater fuel economy. And of course arguing against someone buying a small diesel car is being “unethical” when you drive a massive petrol powered 4×4 is just plain silly.

Climate deniers would of course now claim that this push towards lowering carbon emissions has “cost lives”. Well not really. The problem has been that improving the fuel economy of vehicles is a bit like trying to make a silk purse out of sow’s ear. All forms of fossil fuels are dirty, they will generate pollutants, they will produce greenhouse gases. I’m all for trying to improve vehicle fuel economy, but these are measures that merely buy time. Ultimately we need to radically change how cars operate.

Switching to electric vehicles or fuel cell vehicles will help. However, that only works if the electricity grid is cleaned up and a carbon free source of hydrogen can be developed. Otherwise the gains are marginal. And I would argue for this reason, we need to think beyond simply changing what’s under the bonnet.

We need to make cars smaller too, as a small car will automatically use less fuel, regardless of how you choose to power it. Part of the problem is that many “size” their car on the basis of that once a year trip to France or the odd time they move a sofa, then spend the rest of the time driving around alone in a massive estate, complaining about petrol prices and how difficult it is to find a parking space. If instead they bought a smaller car, then hired a larger car (or a van) for that one time they need a larger vehicle, they’d be much better off.

This also leads to the concept of ditching the individually owned automobile altogether, which are then hired on a basis of need would mean less vehicles and allow the fixed costs of them to be spread amoung more people. An important consideration when you realise that the issue with alternatively fuelled vehicles is that they cost more to buy and maintain, although the running costs per mile (e.g. electricity or hydrogen) are much cheaper than with conventional vehicles.

Figure 3, Certainly it is strange the Americans making a big deal about “dangerous” European diesels, when guns are just fine!

Figure 3, Certainly it is strange the Americans making a big deal about “dangerous” European diesels, when guns are just fine!

So let’s not turn this crisis into an excuse for American car makers to bash a German one for the “crime” of stealing some market share from its Mexican built vehicles. Of course my fear is that this is exactly what will happen and the real issues will be ignored.

Posted in cars, climate change, fossil fuels, politics | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Don’t mention the climate deficit

Figure 1, There's something ironic about a Tory energy secretary who has committed to a policy that is unworkable and all but guarantees future power cuts standing under a banner labelled “stability”.

Figure 1, There’s something ironic about a Tory energy secretary who has committed to a policy that is unworkable and all but guarantees future power cuts standing under a banner labelled “stability

At the Tory conference there was an awkward moment when Amber Rudd was required to speak of the Tories recent “achievements” in her field. Of course, she had very little that one could put a positive spin on, given that the Tory party has in the space of a few months reneged on everyone of its commencements on environmental issues. Even some of the few positives from the Thatcher era, the NFFO (non-fossil fuel obligation) has essentially gone.

So she spent most of the time pointing out that the Tories weren’t as bad as UKIP (who are at least honest enough to confirm their climate denial credentials, unlike the Tories who like to pretend otherwise). Commentators noted that the speech was not well attended and that crucially Amber Rudd did not mention once the upcoming Paris climate summit, nor the Pope’s recent message on the need for climate action. This is akin to Miliband’s now infamous conference speech, where he neglected to mention the deficit. Similarly the Tories don’t dare mention the climate deficit they’ve now committed the country too.

Amber Rudd followed the Republican line of trying to make a half baked claim’s about “value for money“. However, this assumes that allowing climate change to happen is a risk and cost free option, which it isn’t. Earlier this month the Bank of England boss made clear the risks to financial stability brought on by climate change. And it was no surprise his audience that night was the insurance industry, as they have long worried about the financial destabilising effects climate change could have.

And it is deeply ironic her moaning about the tiny subsidies renewables receive compared to the massive historical subsidies given to nuclear or fossil fuels. Or indeed the vast sums they have committed to paying for Hinkley C. All of which will not deliver value for money and will certainly push up bills for “working families”. By contrast falling costs for renewables would mean that they should help to stabilise prices in the long term.

In short the Tories now have a climate policy that, in practice, is little different from that of the Republican party. A party who has a policy essentially at odds with all but a handful of the world’s more nutty and extremist regimes.

To the right of Reagan

And speaking of the GOP, there was a few awkward moments for them in a recent debate in Califorina  when climate change came up (hardly a surprise in a state suffering a massive drought) . One question in particular was from Ronald Reagan’s foreign secretary George Shultz who asked if the GOP is at odd’s with Reagan on climate. When his administration heard from scientists about the risks relating to the ozone hole, Reagan moved to take action on it, while the present GOP instead howls in protest and tosses their toy’s out of the pram.

I would ideally note that Shultz’s question was a slightly loaded one, the bulk of the discussions and ultimately action on CFC’s occurred under the term of Reagan’s successor, G. H. Bush. But certainly his point is that there is a marked contrast to how the present GOP is handling the situation. I might further throw in the point that the Clean Air Act and the founding of the EPA occurred under the tenure of Nixon.

Of course, the result was the Republicans candidate’s squirmed along, with the same lines as Amber Rudd, what about the costs to “working families”. Ignoring the costs to those same “working families” when rising sea levels wipe out much of Florida, or drought wipes out much of the country’s farms. Nor indeed the massive amounts the US government spends on climate change mitigation.

Figure 2, The US Republican party has now moved so far to the right Bush Snr. and Reagan come across as practically liberal

Figure 2, The US Republican party has now moved so far to the right Bush Snr. and Reagan come across as practically liberal

The reality is that the Republicans have moved so far to the right on certain issues, be it gay marriage, climate change, or gun control, that some former Republican Presidents now come across as bed wetting liberals by comparison. I’m not sure that if Nixon, Reagan, Eisenhower or either of the Bush’s were to stand in the current GOP they could get the nomination. They would be seen as “too left wing”. And of course what’s driven this craziness in the GOP is the Tea Party wing. And where has pandering to the mob got them? The very strong chance of Donald Trump as their nominee, all but guaranteeing another democratic win in 2016.

And in the UK too, the Tories are following the same script. On welfare, healthcare, immigration, Europe and climate change, they have allowed themselves to drift so far to the right, I suspect Thatcher or Churchill would probably feel more at home in the lib dem’s or labour.

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