Category Archives: Energy

Two videos

Two recent video interviews with the author of A Green Deal for the  Manchester-Mersey Bioregion:-
1) 1970s and now (ecological crisis and eco-action)

2) Steady State and “decoupling”

More on the rebound effect

The denialism of progressive environmentalists, – article by Bill Blackwater.

This is very relevant to the last post.  It examines in some technical but readable detail the nature of the rebound (or Jevons) effect, which means that even if absolute emissions reductions were achievable through technological innovation associated with economic growth, the result would be a rebound  in energy use that would wipe out these improvements.  It also makes the important point that improved energy efficiency is only relevant to one of the planetary limits (global warming / climate change) and not to the others (such as nitrogen pollution, fresh water availability, etc etc etc).
It appears in the Marxist journal, Monthly Review, but (if you’ve yet to be convinced by the power of neomarxist analysis) don’t let that put you off.   The article clearly summarises a report by two authors ( Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger) associated with the ‘clean growth’ tendency who amass evidence (and a taxonomy) for the rebound effect but then conclude that growth is still possible.  The article offers a critique of this inconsistency but is perhaps of most value in offering a very clear summary of the rebound  / Jevons argument.
Read the article.

Earth at tipping point – official

Yesterday the UNEP again warned that the earth is at tipping point.    The report reiterates what we already know, that several planetary boundaries have been crossed and others are at the point of being crossed.  That means disaster of course.  It is good to have this reminder from a highly respected body, but will the governments it addresses take any notice (other than the few like Tuvalu and Bolivia that have taken the question of ecological justice seriously)?

See: Morning Star short article.   UNEP pess release and link to the report. Background on Rockstrom’s concept of planetary boundaries: Wikipedia  Nature. Ecology and Society Rockstrom video and transcript.

Click to see diagram to illustrate where we are in terms of current limits.

See this Oxfam paper that combines Planetary Boundaries with foundations for adequate human development – really useful framework.

Worst ever carbon emissions mean 2C target almost out of reach

Today’s Guardian has this exclusive story based on unpublished estimates from the International Energy Agency.
This is profoundly depressing – not only is there systemic failure to ‘scale up’ sustainable practice, but the policies of government are woefully inadequate to the scale of the problem.  Indeed this is not altogether surprising – the governments at Cancun committed the world to a suicidal 4C rise in temperature.
I have recently made some rough comparisons of proposals from various sources at .  Few of them have any emphasis on reduction of energy use and with the exception of Zero Carbon Britain’s excellent work, there is no recognition of the need to exceed international targets here because of our historical and outsourced emissions.
But what is sadly missing from all this is any coherent praxis: how do we get this stuff more squarely on government and party agendas? How do we rapidly build a social movement underpinned by a vision of a better way of living with the strength and capacity to secure real change?  How do we do this in solidarity with people in the global south who are already experiencing the worst of the climate emergency (see the Bolivian government’s work on this)?

Energy and emissions in the NorthWest: comparing ambitions, Jevons paradox and shale gas.

It is interesting to compare proposals for energy use and production as they apply to our region.

In the chart below I have plotted the carbon reduction proposals from the following documents:

1) Sustainable Energy Action Plan for Greater Manchester (SEAP), Commissioned by AGMA.

2) The UK Carbon Budget no. 3 from DECC.

3)  CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain, 2030 (ZCB 2030)

4) The World Wildlife Fund /ecofys Energy report (WWF / ecofys)

5)  The Welsh Assembly’s proposal, cited in the UK Carbon Budget paper.

Thee plans all propose to reduce carbon emissions but they differ greatly in the pace of change proposed.   As we will see they also differ in how they think they will get there.  The figure plotted is the proportion of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions as a percentage of the 1990 baseline.

Carbon reduction according to 5 different plans

click to see larger version

Below is the table of data that sits behind the graph.  To give a common basis for comparison I have had to interpolate some date and also because SEAP uses 2005 for its baseline year I have converted their figures to a 1990 basis.

1990 2005 2020 2030 2050
Carbon reduction target (target CO2e as % of baseline)
SEAP 100 95 62.7 38 11.4
UK carbon budget no. 3 100 95 66 45 20
ZCB 2030 100 95 40 0 0
WWF / ecofys 100 95 70 30 0
Welsh Assembly 100 95 60 44 24

The important points are:-

Both WWF and ZCB2030 propose a reduction to zero net carbon emissions while the three government sources do not envisage this.

As a result ZCB and WWF both have a more rapid decline in emissions, and this is critical – you have to look at the area under the line to understand the continued build up of greenhouse gases.   The ZCB plan notes that in the developed countries we need to go faster than the average because of our per capita higher emissions.

Rather lost in this summary are the assumptions.  ZCB in particular combines an an ambitious reduction in energy consumption (Power Down) with plans to replace the use of fossil hydrocarbons.  They also take account of land use emissions.  The government’s carbon budget does not include clear targets to Power Down.  WWF also propose a reduction, but to 85% by 2050 rather than ZCB’s 50% by 2030.  David MacKay in his book Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air makes an identical proposal to that of WWF – it is good they propose powering down, but this is likely to be too little and too late.  Perhaps someone would like to calculate the difference between WWF and ZCB in terms of CO2e put into the atmosphere?

Neither ZCB nor the WWF propose the use of Nuclear.

Here are some additional comparisons.  They are less complete due to the gaps in some of the plans (to be slightly charitable here, the government has noted that there are a number of possible pathways to its inadequate 80% 2050 target).  I have added David MacKay’s projection on reduced energy consumption and the SNP government’s impressive target for production from renewables (although it would be difficult to generalise from the Scottish case to the NW).

Increase in renewable production
SEAP 2 6
ZCB 2030 100
WWF / ecofys 100
Proportion of energy from fossil hydrocarbons
ZCB 2030 0 0
WWF / ecofys 0
Energy demand (%) of baseline)
UK carbon budget no. 3
ZCB 2030 50
WWF / ecofys 100 85
MacKay 100 85

Here the lack of ambition of the SEAP report becomes clear.  While they do leave out some areas of potential change as outside the scope of the Greater Manchester decision makers / local authorities / AGMA, nevertheless the very limited renewables projection really requires challenge.  Likewise the lack of clear and challenging power down targets.  On the positive side, there are some indicators that if applied will enable us all to track progress within the bioregion.

This point about Power Down is absolutely crucial.  We now know very well that increases in energy efficiency, if not accompanied by clear proposals for powering down will just mean that more energy overall is used.  This is called the Jevons Paradox.  Why so important in the North West now?  Because of the new threat of exploitation of the Bowden Shale for gas.  This involves natural gas,  trapped in shale rock, that has to be extracted by a process of pressurised injeuction of huge quantities of water, sand and solvents, called fracturing.  As this preliminary report from the Tyndall Centre makes clear, exploiting this resource may have some significant risks (although the methods being used in USAnia that have caused such concern will -probably- not all be used here), but most important will (despite the propaganda from the prospectors) have a negative impact on greenhouse gas production, delaying necessary action.

So far as I can see AGMA’s environment commission hasn’t commented on this burning (well not quite yet) issue on our doorstep – further argument for a bioregional approach rather than focussing on the urban conurbation as the definition of the subregion.  However, the Co-op (which funded the Tyndall research), the Green Party and the Labour Party have opposed the drilling (the latter provisionally.  Of course the risks and assessments have been ignored by our golpista prime minister.

Zero Carbon Britain 2030

This major new report from CAT presents an alternative energy strategy for the UK.
It is very well researched and proposes a practical plan for total decarbonisation of the UK energy supply by 2030. It notes that in the UK we need to move faster and sooner than most current plans – it takes account of the embodied energy in our imports and also recognises that nations like ours need to cut more than those still trying to catch up in terms of basic prosperity.
It is also an excellent resource. £40 to buy but here is a (large) download.

“If one day there is no fuel left in this crazy, changing world, we should have our food close by”

Raul Castro reports on progress since his call in July 2007 for Cuba to produce more of the food it uses:

“If one day there is no fuel left in this crazy, changing world, we should have our food close by, to be able to bring it in a cart with horses, an ox, or pushing it ourselves (Applause).”



Moving onto another subject, of the few that I plan to touch on this morning, on July 26, 2007 in Camagüey, I referred to the pressing need for us to return to the land, to make it produce more. At that time, almost half the arable area was idle or under-exploited. We called at the time for generalizing – with the greatest speed possible and without improvisations – every experience of outstanding producers in the state and campesino sector, and to stimulate their hard work, as well as to definitively resolve the state’s damaging failure to make payments in that sector.

The handover of land in usufruct is progressing satisfactorily, although shortcomings persist, in some municipalities more than in others. Of the 110,000-plus applications made, close to 82,000 have been approved to date, covering 690,000 hectares; in other words, 39 percent of idle land.

I believe that it is little. It is not a question now of rushing to distribute it without control; it is doing so more efficiently, it is doing it in an organized way, and it is a task of top strategic priority. One of the speakers who preceded me referred to the fact that it is a matter of national security to produce the products used in this country and on which we spend hundreds and thousands of millions of dollars — and I am not exaggerating — transporting them from other countries.

The land is there, here are the Cuban people, let us see if we work or not, if we produce or not, if we keep our word or not! It is not a question of shouting ‘Homeland or Death!’ ‘Down with imperialism!’ ‘The blockade is hurting us!’ while the land is there, waiting for our sweat. Despite the increasingly greater heat, we have no choice but to make it produce. I think we agree (Exclamations of “Yes!” and applause)

Flying, mostly by helicopter, all over the country, I sometimes order the pilot to take a detour and fly over any town, city, etc. I can assure you that in the majority, there is an abundance of land, and good quality land, right outside our backyards, which is not being cultivated; and that is where a plan is being made to advance, with intensive crops, irrigating wherever possible, where there is water and the resources to do so. If one day there is no fuel left in this crazy, changing world, we should have our food close by, to be able to bring it in a cart with horses, an ox, or pushing it ourselves (Applause).

Of the land distributed, close to half has been declared free of marabú and other undesirable plants, and almost 225,000 hectares have been planted — that is, one-third.

We cannot be satisfied as long as a single hectare of land exists without being usefully employed, and while a person willing to make it produce is waiting for an answer.

Land that is no good for producing food should be used for planting trees, which are, moreover, a great resource. And the person who is talking to you has experimented for many years, especially in recent years, with planting small forests, and I have had the pleasure and satisfaction of watching them grow, and according to the type of tree, sometimes, within five years, I have formed a small forest with several hundred different types (of trees); but every time we talk about this subject, officials from the Ministry of Agriculture appear — the current one, and all the previous ministers of agriculture — with an endless list of millions of pesos or foreign currency requested for the task assigned, and if a little plastic bag doesn’t appear, the planting can’t be done. I don’t know what the hell our grandparents planted with (Laughter and applause), but there they all are, and we are eating the mangos that they planted (Applause).

We are not educating children to love trees, and that they should plant some— where there is land, of course — over the course of their years in elementary and high school. Some of the youth leaders are hearing me here; but planting trees can be done by young people of the third age, like me; in other words, it is not just a task for the young (Applause).

There are encouraging results for the milk distribution process, which has grown by more than 100 million liters annually in the last two years, given that from 272 million in 2006, it went up to 403 million in 2008, and this year everything seems to indicate that the increase will be higher. I spoke about this in 2007 in Camagüey, on a day like today.

I have very briefly addressed two aspects of the decisive issue of food production, which holds great importance in replacing imports, as I was saying to you, and in reducing the country’s hard-currency expenditure.

July 2009


A local renewable energy grid

Scottish island of Eigg wins green energy prize

Hebridean islanders build renewable electricity grid

“The success of the project proves that when communities are incentivised, empowered and supported they become a compelling force in solving some of society’s biggest challenges.”

ALthough the conditions are very different in the Mersey/Manchester bioregion, this kind of intelligent self reliance, reducing our dependence on imported energy and using complementatry sources linked togeher,  is what we are after here.

And in Manchester, One of the actions from ‘A Certain Future’ is to

Produce a Manchester Energy Plan that provides the framework for establishing a city-wide decarbonised energy generation and distribution system and local energy plans supported by the LDF and Strategic Regeneration Frameworks.  Establish the partnerships and investments needed to develop and deliver the Energy Plan and the structures needed to integrate projects sharing heat, power and ‘smart grid’ information, and to manage them.

And did you miss this story last summer? –

Manchester’s manure to fill gas grid from 2011

The figures in this story are interesting – a lot of gas, but nowhere near enough to power all our homes – let alone all the vehicles.   There really is no alternative to reduce reduce reduce our energy horizons.