Monthly Archives: April 2012

Getting real about decarbonisation involves deploying technologies now and at scale

This is a link to an excellent blog post from one of my former lecturers in environmental energy policy at Imperial College. It makes a strong case for picking winners. Something the UK has been scared of since the 1970s. Getting real about decarbonisation involves deploying technologies now and at scale.

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Breathtaking arrogance

Just saw a presentation of a desk study on potential of PV in the UK. They took a two step approach, firstly calculating an absolute technical potential and then applying a set of socioeconomic filters.

I was mostly fine with the technical estimates. There was room for improvement but with the data that was available they did a decent job.

It was when they got onto social and economic factors that my jaw dropped. The renewable energy industry is largely populated with bleeding heart liberals so to see “desire factors” (i.e. the likelihood that people will be interested in installing PV) used in the model being education level and local recycling rate was horrifying.

Let’s deal with the second one of these first. Local recycling rate was used as an indicator of general environmental consciousness across a city population. In fact, in the UK, variation in local recycling rates has as much to do with the set of waste streams separated for kerbside collection by the local authority as anything. Specifically, there are authorities which fail to even recycle obvious materials like glass and some plastics like polypropylene (doesn’t weigh much so makes little impact on a weight-based target), meanwhile other authorities recycle food waste which can add double-digit percentage points to a municipal recycling rate.

Education level. There are actually two issues here.
The first, and that which I found deeply offensive was the implication that people who do not have a degree level education couldn’t care less about the environment. While there may indeed be a correlation between uptake and education level, this is likely to be a consequence of earnings potential and ability to pay considerations which were addressed elsewhere in their model. I’m sure the researchers wouldn’t have been so crass as to make the claim that religious or ethnic minority groups were not interested so why pick on the less educated. It’s because you’re working on your second degree and you think everyone else is too thick to understand why we need to move to a renewable world. It strays dangerously close to Orwell’s vision of the proles in 1984.
The other issue around using education level is that there is plenty of evidence that there is no firm correlation between a high level of education and a commitment to pro-environmental causes. I hardly think Nigel Lawson of the (ahem) Global Warming Policy Foundation is open to solar power and yet he had the intelligence to run HM Treasury (no comment on his achievements in this role, just pointing out that cabinet level politics usually demands an Oxbridge degree).

The third missing plank of the presentation (though it is partly addressed by the paper) was the absence from the discussion of free PV social housing schemes where a housing association provides PV to tenants who receive the free electricity while the housing association takes the FIT subsidy to recover the cost of the systems. These schemes are currently not viable after the reduction of the FIT rates however it has been widely acknowledged that this regressive change to the FIT system was not ideal and work is underway at DECC to introduce a tariff specifically to re-create this segment of the market.

Update: the paper I am discussing here won the best paper award at the conference. I laughed heartily.