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Author Topic: UK switch to low-carbon energy will cost £5,000 per person a year  (Read 4430 times)
martin
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« on: December 29, 2011, 09:07:57 AM »

from - http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/dec/28/uk-switch-low-carbon-energy

Prediction using unique calculator challenges view that sustainable energy means higher costs

"Every person in Britain will need to pay about £5,000 a year between now and 2050 on rebuilding and using the nation's entire energy system, according to government figures. But the cost of developing clean and sustainable electricity, heating and transport will be very similar to replacing today's ageing and polluting power stations, the analysis finds.

The forecasts come from a unique open-source analysis package, called the 2050 pathways calculator, which was created by Professor David MacKay, chief scientific adviser to the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

The predictions challenge suggestions that the costs of embracing low-carbon energy and meeting the UK's legally binding commitments to tackle global warming will be higher than the bill would be for using traditional energy sources. They are also supported by a major EU project that found developing renewable energy was no more expensive than alternatives.

"The calculator takes the poison out of the debate," MacKay told the Guardian. "The key thing is that any scenario you choose has to add up." He said the tool, constructed with the help of hundreds of experts and a thorough literature review, is used to enable "open source policy making", where anyone can see and challenge the assumptions made and the data used. "You can play at being secretary of state, and you have to make a plan which is not too unpopular."

The calculator was used to create the three scenarios set out in the government's official carbon plan, which shows how the UK could meet its emissions targets by 2050 while keeping the lights on, and to test a "cost-optimised" scenario, ie the cheapest.

Doing almost nothing to develop low-carbon energy systems – and busting the UK's carbon targets – would cost £4,682 a year, spent on imported gas for electricity generation and heating and oil for all vehicles. That is 13% of the expected £35,000 average income over the period. By comparison, the least-cost 2050 scenario is £84 (1.8%) a year less expensive, and envisages a mix of electricity generation comprising 42% renewable energy, 31% nuclear power and 27% gas plants with the carbon captured and stored underground (CCS). It also envisages improvements in energy efficiency, with demand from lighting and appliances having fallen by 60% compared with 2007 levels.

However, the cost of the "do nothing" option does not include the damage to the economy expected as a result of climate change, and the calculator notes that, according to the landmark Stern review: "This is the equivalent of up to £6,500 per person per year on average, on top of the cost of the energy system."

The government's "higher renewables, more energy efficiency" scenario, in which wind delivers 55% of the total electricity supply and all cars and buses are fuelled by batteries or hydrogen fuel cells, is forecast to cost £368 a year (8%) more than the "do nothing" scenario, if climate change damage is ignored.

The "higher CCS, more bioenergy" scenario is £470 (10%) more than doing nothing, and assumes the successful deployment of CCS technology at commercial scale, as well as being used with sustainable and plentiful biomass supplies to generate "negative" emissions.

The final scenario, "higher nuclear, less energy efficiency", is the most expensive, £499 (11%) more than doing nothing.

Some experts argue the analysis cannot take into account key future developments though. Professor Dieter Helm, at Oxford University, is unconvinced that the costs of low-carbon and high-carbon energy scenarios will necessarily prove to be similar. "This [similarity] is indeed the result you get if you take conventional wisdom on fossil fuel prices and assume no major technical progress. But these are precisely the two assumptions which would make a difference." Helm says gas may turn out to be cheap and abundant, but also that technology advances in batteries, the electrification of transport, breathroughs in solar power - such as the harnessing of photosynthesis - and the use of smart grids could cut the costs of low-carbon energy too. "The calculator is very interesting," Helm says. "My own view is that making detailed cost estimates is a heroic and potentially very misleading exercise."The nation's energy use splits roughly into three, MacKay says: transport, heating and electricity. But the biggest costs come from transport, as the "millions of individual, little power stations driving around" – cars and lorries – use energy far less efficiently than large power stations.

The new version of the calculator is the first to include costs, an essential component, says MacKay: "You can't have a grown up conversation about this issue without costs." He says the tool is now being used as the basis for equivalents in China, Portugal and Belgium.MacKay believes the calculator has an essential role to play in assessing the feasibility of different energy choices. He describes the government's current policy of backing multiple technologies as a sensible "hedge". Groups from National Grid to Friends of the Earth have already posted their preferred scenarios on the calculator website.

As an example, MacKay says: "An interesting question is what is the trade-off between energy efficiency and building more generation capacity? Do you want really good retrofits of homes, or just build new nuclear plants. In the calculator, people can choose."

However, he notes that the lowest cost options do involve a very strong effort on increasing energy efficiency and cutting waste, as this is a cheaper overall than building new power stations. Another example, included in the government's Carbon Plan, is "How could the cost of a pathway change if, say, nuclear costs are high and the cost of, say, renewables are as low as credible experts believe is possible?"

Shale gas, which is currently being explored in Lancashire and has driven prices down in the US, is not explicitly included in the calculator. But can be easily incorporated, says MacKay, by choosing a low gas price in the model. There is a possible "positive future" when domestic shale gas cuts prices and CCS is working, he says.

MacKay, a professor of physics at Cambridge University, was appointed to government in 2009 shortly after publishing a surprise bestseller book called Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air. "I was irritated by all the twaddle being talked about energy and the misleading comparisons made. I just wanted the numbers without the hype," he said. "I am just the numbers guy, trying to be helpful."

From numbers guy to publishing sensation

:

"I was distressed by the poor quality of the debate surrounding energy. I was also noticing so much greenwash from politicians and big business. I was tired of the debate – the extremism, the nimbyism, the hairshirt." That, Prof David MacKay told the Guardian in 2009, was why he wrote a book in his spare time called Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air. He published it as a free pdf on his website, from where you can still download copies without charge. Yet this expertly written but amateurishly published book has now sold over 40,000 copies in print and been downloaded about 400,000 times. "The Guardian made us a star," he says.

It has also been translated by volunteers into Japanese, German, Spanish, Hungarian, Polish and French. An Australian "translation" also exists, which sets the energy questions in a specifically Australian context. Very few areas have needed changes since, he says now: "The book was mainly about the laws of physics and they have not changed." A reanalysis of the land area needed for wind turbines was an exception, after he was accused of being "anti-wind" and "pro-nuclear", though the numbers changed only a little. He is neither, he said, being "pro-arithmetic" instead.

MacKay, a physics professor at Cambridge University, says he did not write the book to make money. However, it did land him a job: nine months after the book was published, he was appointed chief scientific adviser to the Department of Energy and Climate Change"

http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/tackling/2050/calculator_on/calculator_on.aspx
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martin
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« Reply #1 on: December 29, 2011, 09:27:44 AM »

A swift fertle shows that the pro-nuke brigade are talking through their hats when they claim they are "indispensable"  - far from it, I've just had a scenario onscreen with twice the power we need being generated with all nukes phased out............. ralph

This is of course assuming the calculator is correct........ whistlie
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« Reply #2 on: December 29, 2011, 02:20:19 PM »

Yet another report stating the obvious.  Still, the report probably only cost everyone £100.

The increase in energy use will continue and is largely in the hands of the generation growing up.  I know how to un plug things at the wall.  I dont replace things until they're completely useless.  I dont feel the urge to use an iphone which needs charging EVERY night?Huh

Call me tight.  Call me planet friendly.  Call me what you like.  The cost of energy and usage of energy is going one way.
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« Reply #3 on: December 29, 2011, 11:52:42 PM »

am I the only one who thinks £5k per person per year for 39 years seems like a hell of a lot of money? Works out at over £12 trillion, which is around 7.5 years of the entire UK GDP, or nearly 20% of the entire UK GDP being spent on this every year for the next 39 years.

I may be missing something here, but I hope someone's cocked up massively with reporting these figures.
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« Reply #4 on: December 29, 2011, 11:54:59 PM »

Well, they are looking to include nukes, and it is Mackay............ ralph

The title has been changed since first published - and now reads

"UK switch to low-carbon energy 'no dearer than doing nothing'
Prediction using unique calculator challenges view that sustainable energy means higher costs'

but still says -

Every person in Britain will need to pay about £5,000 a year between now and 2050 on rebuilding and using the nation's entire energy system, according to government figures. But the cost of developing clean and sustainable electricity, heating and transport will be very similar to replacing today's ageing and polluting power stations, the analysis finds......" (etc)

and the Torygraph is saying pretty much the same - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/greenpolitics/8980982/Greener-energy-will-cost-4600-each-a-year.html
« Last Edit: December 30, 2011, 12:23:18 AM by martin » Logged

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« Reply #5 on: December 30, 2011, 02:12:01 AM »

Excellent - they've finally got costs into the pathways spreadsheet. It was interesting before that when it was just outputs, but you couldn't really inform policy much if you had no clue what your choices cost. This is a real step forward.

No doubt we can all argue about the costs used (projecting costs out to 2050 is indeed 'heroic' in some areas), but this is a real step forward. Now we can all set the calculator to our favoured schemes and get some vague idea how much that might cost, or at least see where the main uncertainties lie.

Gavin, yes I was surprised at £5 grand each, but then it is a big deal decarbonising our energy economy. How much do we each spend at the moment on fuels+power infrastructure? It's probbaly rather more than we realise. Plenty of people spend a grand/yr on personal vehicle fuel. Include all the secondary fuel in products and food and that'll be a load more, plus a few hundred more for domestic heat+power and work heat/power/cooling, plus whatever govt support goes to grid development and energy efficiency/low-carbon measures. That starts to sounds like 'at least a couple of grand'.

In fact I've just had a look and:
* "It is the cost of everything the UK buys that makes, converts, saves or uses energy: from kettles and insulation foam to trains and power stations.",
* "The cost of not tackling climate change is not included in the Calculator. The Stern review estimated that failing to tackle climate change could reduce global GDP by up to 20%. This is the equivalent of up to £6,500 per person per year on average, on top of the cost of the energy system."
* "Some other important effects have been excluded from the Calculator. The costs of travelling less or with different modes of transport, having colder homes or fewer goods, and changing the appearance of our houses or landscape are not included. Nor are profits, taxes, subsidies or economies of scale driven by pathway choices. The Calculator includes only the physical costs of constructing, operating and fuelling equipment."

You can vary the cost sensitivities and all the data is in the wiki: http://2050-calculator-tool-wiki.decc.gov.uk/

Martin, what cost per person do you get for your favoured no-nuclear arrangement?

And why not stop sniping at McKay - few people are doing anything this useful in terms of getting the problem both explained and solved. You should be pleased that we have scenarios with 60% energy efficiency reductions in real govt docs. Isn't that what you've been campaigning for for years? (mind you, checking in detail that seems to be just in appliances and light bulbs, not people's overall consumption).

Any scenario including CCS (and there is one) has to have pretty random costs as no-one has even built a pilot plant yet (SFAIK), so cost estimates are going to have big error bars.

Still, time to have a play.  I see that even extreme action on air travel will result in an 85% increase in miles travelled. I'd like to think we could do better than that, but it may be hopelessly optimistic. My first stab comes in costing a smidge more than the CPRE's.

Now I wonder if they fixed the spreadsheet for Libreoffice - they did say they planned to if it ever got cell variable labelling.
« Last Edit: December 30, 2011, 02:41:52 AM by wookey » Logged

Wookey
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« Reply #6 on: December 30, 2011, 06:07:33 AM »

Out of interest, has anyone created their own scenario with an 80% C)2 reduction?

I did in the end but it was bloody tricky, spent hours on it.
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« Reply #7 on: December 30, 2011, 09:54:33 AM »

So £5k per year per person.

4 person (2+2) household on an average income leaves £20K disposable income

= £20k per year

Doesn't leave much then
for Pensions
for Saving to pay for education
for Housing

very little of which will be in the £5k per person per year


Confused? Huh
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« Reply #8 on: December 30, 2011, 10:08:27 AM »

Don't forget the vast "hidden" sums that the government sees fit to take off you in all forms of taxation (both from your pay packet, and everything you buy/do)
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« Reply #9 on: December 30, 2011, 11:36:24 AM »

So £5k per year per person.

4 person (2+2) household on an average income leaves £20K disposable income

= £20k per year

Doesn't leave much then
for Pensions
for Saving to pay for education
for Housing

very little of which will be in the £5k per person per year


Confused? Huh

The £5k per person per year cost is misleading, I think (and inaccurate - £318 p.a. more than the result of the calculation - why do journalists think we can only understand round numbers?)

It probably means that a portion of economic activity, the value of which equals the total annual investment (£4,682 x population), will have to employed to make the changes.

It's unlikely to mean that the £4,682 comes out of our annual personal income.
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« Reply #10 on: December 30, 2011, 12:27:04 PM »

Aye - I twigged that it wasn't intended to mean WE woul individually be paying £5k from our disposable.

However - I am not sure that making this CLEAR is what the headline writers intend............!

Your average headline reader I suspect doesn't do the calcs - and work out how much of the £5k actually comes from Govt spending (which of course comes from their Tax contributions) - whether through Direct or Indirect payments for goods and services).

And of course if you have an angle to punt on the story - it really helps to obfuscate.... Lips Sealed
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« Reply #11 on: December 30, 2011, 01:05:57 PM »

well, if this is the true figure or anything like it, then I can confidently predict there's not a hope in hell of us achieving the target while the current government, or any government with this line of economic thinking is in power.

IF we got a decent Keynesian government in power that recognised the economic stimulus effect of all this investment, then we could both achieve this target and have pretty much full employment for the next 40 years doing it, with initial additional debt recouped from increased tax revenue and reduced social welfare spending. But in the current climate that's a big IF.

My personal hope is that this will go like the 30s, with the governments policies going so badly wrong that they and their ethos is kicked firmly into touch for a generation, but that we skip WW3 and move straight into a phase of major investment in the low carbon economy to kick start the UK and world economy, create huge numbers of jobs, and use GDP growth, increased tax revenue and reduced dole spending to move the government into surplus over time and pay down the debt pile over a generation or so.

Problem is that the EU, IMF, World Bank, WTO etc are all fully focussed on driving the world in the opposite direction, and we're all pretty much locked into them, so it's going to be an up hill struggle. I'm hoping though that at some point we'll all take a proper look around the world at the policies that are working vs those that aren't, and realise that this austerity ethos is/has failed time and again, whereas the countries that have used government spending as an economic driver are the ones with sustained high levels of economic growth. This does unfortunately rely on the press and politicians having not lost the ability to critically appraise a situation rather than parroting the same old lines for fear of rocking the boat, but at some stage surely someone's got to point out the obvious before we head too far up sh*t creak without our paddle.
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« Reply #12 on: December 30, 2011, 04:42:03 PM »

Hear hear Gavin, all this "we have to get the debt down at any cost" bullshyte is the most short sighted twaddle ever invented. When we are all unemployed how the hell do we pay anything back??

Desp
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« Reply #13 on: December 30, 2011, 05:08:44 PM »

not entirely sure where that minor rant just leaked out from, but it was obviously dying to escape from my head into the wild and chose this thread to do it on.

glad you agree anyway desp.
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« Reply #14 on: December 30, 2011, 10:23:37 PM »

An applaud from me too, Gavin.
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