Wednesday, 25 February 2009

The Energy problem

We're making progress. President Obama in America has clearly set the agenda on renewable energy as the nation's priority. Since America is the second biggest polluter in the World anything that reduces the impact it has on the Planet is good news.

We have a massive problem with energy, it's not just the lack of or insecurity of supply, it's the use that we're making of it. Most people can easily see that their cars pollute through engines that burn fossil fuels but I wager most would be surprised to know that car pollution, as bad as it looks actually creates less pollution than cattle and the energy used in our homes. The dirtiest type of energy we use to generate electricity is coal. Coal generates twice as much pollution per kilowatt than the average of all the other forms of generating energy we use. 36% of our electricity comes directly from coal. Such is the urgency to reduce our emissions that this figure should already be zero. Our priority has to be to get rid of coal as a means of generating electricity ASAP.

It is very surprising on that basis that Eon is advocating building a coal power plant in Kingston. You can oppose this by visiting: Don't believe the stories in the media about clean coal generation, there is not one power plant in the UK that generates clean coal or sequesters the carbon it emits. Clean coal is an oxymoron.

Instead we need to focus on massively increasing our investment in renewable energy. Renewable energy represents only 1% of the UK's energy capacity. Don't count on government to turn things around. I refer you to the book Heat by Monbiot to get an understanding of just how useless the UK government is and will continue to be at reducing emissions unless its citizens push for change. The only entity we can count on to pioneer change is ourselves. We are extremely fortunate in the UK to have a company that has understood the challenge we face and offered us an opportunity to change our ways. This company is Ecotricity. I believe it is the only company in the world that offers what it does.

There are 6 major players in the energy supply market and none of them is making an effort to increase the nation's renewable energy capacity. The government has requested 5% of their energy come from renewables and only one of these companies has 7% of their energy coming from renewables. They are heavily advertising themselves as being at the forefront of the green revolution!!! 2% more than the rest...

There are 3 key companies in the renewable energy supply sector: green energy, good energy and ecotricity. Of these 3 companies, Ecotricity is the only one that is directly investing in renewable energy. As a matter of fact, they are the only company in the UK that reinvest 100% of the client's spend into building new renewable energy capacity. This is no short of incredible; for someone seeking to reduce their carbon footprint, becoming an Ecotricity customer can make a huge difference.

The average UK citizen's carbon footprint is 12.5 tonnes in direct and indirect emissions. The footprint from electricity per home is only 1-2 tonnes a year whilst the average home generates about 6 tonnes of carbon a year. In 2008, ecotricity was able to remove an estimated 1.75 tonnes of carbon per customer from the atmosphere. This year however, based on the figures on their website and assuming a growth of 1000 customers per month, the average removal of carbon per customer will work out at 5.4 tonnes per customer, almost equivalent to the home's entire carbon emissions. That's an offset of 2 to 3 times more than the actual average household electricity consumption. It almost solves the problem of having to use gas for heating (for the time being only).

I can't stress how impressive that is. I've been investigating the possibilities to reduce our global emissions and the installation of renewable energy to replace coal use is by none the most effective and most realistic option we have available at this point. I had a high opinion of trees but unfortunately trees will not really sink a significant of carbon until 40-50 years in the future whilst they are very useful to fight the future flood problems we'll have along with generating oxygen that will gradually disappear as the rainforest gets the chop, they're not the solution to the drastic and immediate changes we need to make to avoid the catastrophe of runaway global warming (by this expression, we mean that above 2 degrees, nature will start producing vast quantities of carbon in an unstoppable loop and by 2100, will produce more carbon than human beings do thereby exacerbating global warming). Even the Energy Saving Trust recommends that if you are trying to offset your carbon footprint, you need to look at renewable energy projects where the carbon emissions reduction is visible rather than anything else. Find out more about carbon offsets here.

At this point, an important question must be raised: why is it that for the last 10 years Good Energy and Ecotricity have been around, their customer base adds up to less than 70000 homes?
Green electricity is a little more expensive than traditional energy but not massively. Why then? For one, these companies lack a direct sales force. For two, the average UK citizen just does not understand how serious the global warming problem is and they lack the understanding of what they can do to turn things around. It's down to individuals to change the world not governments or companies. Governments follow individuals, they don't take risks. It takes a massively charismatic leader to take political risks and one that can withstand the full blow of the media frenzy and voter loss of support when taking challenging decisions. I can't see one of those in the UK political landscape. Don't count on an Obama down here anytime soon. Understandably, politicians prefer not to gamble away their careers. They are after all in the majority, not idealists but negotiators and in the end, career people.

So unfortunately, Ecotricity has failed to meet its goal of supplying 1,000,000 customers by 2010 by a landslide and generating 500 Mwh of capacity. It's not too late, we can all support Ecotricity, all we have to do is become a customer.

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