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Nuclear Power and Carbon Neutrality

Spring and early summer brought unusually generous amounts of sunshine to the UK, with correspondingly high outputs from solar installations. However, calm weather in May resulted in a collapse of wind power on several days. These conditions prompted comment on the relationship between the generation of renewable power in the UK and imports of electricity from Europe (Watson, 2020). His article points out that some of the imported energy comes indirectly from coal-fired power stations, and much from nuclear power stations in France. This post considers some issues concerning the place of nuclear power in a decarbonising society. In a chapter on the future of nuclear power, Dieter Helm wrote that its advocates claim that it provides zero carbon energy, is secure and competitive, and is the only way to “provide large-scale, low-carbon electricity generation” (2012, p.120). In view of the damage inflicted on the industry by low fossil-fuel prices in the 1980s and 1990s, the accidents at …

Carbon and cost

Previous posts have referred to the estimated costs of local decarbonisation programs, such as that of Bristol. A natural response to such plans is to ask what would happen if no action were taken, and to try to express the results of inaction in monetary terms. Unsurprisingly this question is not easy to answer, and this post will attempt no more than to indicate some of the issues and relevant literature.

The costs of failure to control climate change might arise from damage and disruption due to extreme weather events, coastal erosion, the spread of disease, or reduced food supplies, although effects will differ from region to region. One measure that has been used in examining such effects is the social cost of carbon (SCC). This has been defined as “a metric designed to quantify and monetize climate damages, representing the net economic cost of carbon dioxide emissions to society” [1]. SCC figures are intended to help in evaluating whether a policy intended to control climate cha…

Bristol net zero

Bristol net zero by 2030: The evidence base (December 2019) is a report prepared for Bristol City Council by the Centre for Sustainable Energy together with the consultancies Ricardo plc and Eunomia [1]. Some of the main points of the report will be summarised below, and its relevance to other local authorities will be briefly discussed.

Bristol’s ‘net zero’ target refers only to scope 1 and 2 emissions; these are defined in the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories [2]. Scope 1 GHG emissions are those from sources located within a city boundary, and scope 2 GHG emissions occur as a consequence of the use of grid-supplied electricity, heat, steam and/or cooling within the city boundary. Scope 3 GHG emissions are all those that occur outside the city boundary as a result of activities taking place inside it. (Examples might be emissions associated with purchased goods and services, business travel, transportation and distribution). Scope 3 emissions are…

Crowdfunding for the Public Sector

Many projects undertaken by community energy groups require substantial capital, so that business models and fund raising methods can be of interest. Following their declarations of climate emergencies, some local authorities are discussing cooperative action with community energy groups, making project funding an issue of joint concern.

The authors of a report on crowdfunding for the public sector [1] refer to the development of a strong UK alternative finance sector since the 2008 banking crisis, with a significant contribution from regulated investment-based crowdfunding. They note that at the time of writing their report the only local authority to use this form of financing has been Swindon Borough Council, and ask whether the public sector more generally could benefit from it.

Grant funding “enabled a cross-sector research team to work with six public sector organizations to assess the suitability of crowdfunding for socially and/or environmentally beneficial infrastructure proje…

Perspectives on Heat Pumps

A publication by the Energy Saving Trust, The heat is on: phase 2, provides a useful introduction to heat pumps [1]. Its focus is on the performance of heat pumps installed in UK homes during the years 2010 and 2013, both air-source and ground-source types. An earlier trial (phase 1) demonstrated poor performance in some installations, and remedial action was taken prior to phase 2. Several measures of heat pump efficiency - Seasonal Performance Factors - are discussed. For the phase 2 trials the metric SPFh4 was chosen; the calculation of this SPF includes “the electricity supplied to the heat pump, all fans or pumps and electricity delivered to any incorporated auxiliary or immersion heater”.

38 heat pumps were used in phase 2, with average SPFh4 figures of 2.45 for air-source heat pumps and 2.82 for ground-source heat pumps. However, the performance range was wide, with SPFh4 values from 2.0 to 3.6 for ASHPs, and 1.6 to 3.8 for GSHPs. Consequently several of the sites fell below th…

Subjectivity and Climate Change

In her 2016 Ph.D. thesis Gillian Westcott examined the part played by subjective attitudes to climate change in determining the policy and actions of local authorities in South West England [1].The research used interviews with officers and members of seven local authorities in the area, conducted during the years 2010 to 2013. While much has changed since then, the views expressed could well be relevant to today’s community energy workers and others who engage with local authorities on climate change issues.

In addition to its central focus on individual subjectivity, worldview and motivation, the study investigated corporate culture, climate change denial, the influence of central government policy, local political realities, and institutional structure. The thesis is valuable in providing historical and theoretical background to climate change issues at international and national level through its review of the literature, however the emphasis in this article will be on the finding…