Genuine Skepticism.

A week or so ago, the Berkeley Earth project published a preliminary report on their findings as relates to land surface temperature data.

I think it is a wonderful example of how science works. The group of scientists, led by Richard Muller, that conducted this work were suspicious about claims made about the increase in average global surface temperatures since pre-industrial times.

They were not disputing that the numbers in the records were not going up, but that the methods used to derive those numbers were perhaps subject to some systematic errors. Their first cause of suspicion was that cities are warmer than the countryside. This is an issue with the temperature record because many of the weather stations that feed into most climate datasets were established in the countryside, just outside of towns and cities which over the decades and centuries have grown to surround and envelop the surrounding countryside and its weather stations. As an example, here are two maps of London showing how much it has grown (look at the Thames for an idea of scale).


London in the 1820s (British Library)

So this growth of cities might have made it look like temperatures are going up when actually all that’s happening is that weather stations are coming under increasing influence of their host cities.

The other thing the Berkeley Earth team thought might be going on is that the records have systematic errors. Temperature measurement equipment has improved alot over the past 150 years. As weather stations upgrade their equipment, they might find that the old kit was systematically reading too low or too high. At the times where the equipment is changed over for different (hopefully better) devices, the old data has to be tweaked to make the records with the old kit line up with what those measurements would have been if the new kit had been there all along. This isn’t cheating, it’s not a dastardly trick on the part of climate scientists, it’s just something they do to give themselves a consistent dataset across time. The problem was that these tweaks to the existing climatological datasets were not applied automatically according to carefully crafted algorithms but by human researchers who could perhaps be making the data look how they want it to look, not how it really should look.

So the Berkeley Earth guys (with some of their funding from heavyweight fossil fuel bods) got enough data and enough computing power together to make a much bigger dataset that takes account of these growing cities and inconsistent records phenomena. They wanted to know if one or both of these effects were at play in the climate records to see if there wasn’t as much climate change as we keep hearing or even any at all.

What the data they produced actually showed was remarkably consistent with what the consensus view on climate change: Getting on for 1 degree C of average global surface temperature rise on pre-industrial levels, almost certainly attributable to human activity (i.e. deforestation and especially burning long dead things).

It is to their enormous credit that the scientists who conducted this work have published and publicised it. It is a fine example of how science is supposed to work. You see what others have done, you are maybe not convinced they’ve done things right and think you have a better method that could maybe lead to a different conclusion, you go away and try your method and you accept the results of your analysis.

Now if only we could get the same kind of scientific rigour out of the guys who gave them money…

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Go. Green.

Green.

Word association.

Plants. Hippies. Pacifism. Snot. Mould.

Save.

Word association.

Scrimp. Poor. Cheapskate. Miserable. Goalkeepers. Jesus

Bruce Oreck gave a talk about the power of words and what they mean yesterday at WREF2012.

He excoriated our industry for our unceasing commitment to two fundamentally unattractive pictures. Nothing wrong with green as a colour (some of my best friends are green) but if you are trying to get your energy project financed and you go tell your bank you want money for a green power initiative, you create in their mind a picture of a bunch of filthy hippies. This makes them think you are a BAD investment.

The other word he hated was Save. So if you give someone two choices. One they can save $100, two they can earn an extra $100. Whichever way you cut it the impact on their life is exactly equal. People want to earn the extra $100 not bank the savings.

So where Bruce didn’t go so much was what terms we should be using. If saving is about as sexy as a weatherized house, what makes me think energy efficiency is any better…

Efficiency.

Word association.

Mechanical, automated, soulless

How can we sell the idea of not being so profligate with energy as we have been since we started burning extremely decayed animals and plants?

I think clean is a good replacement for green. Sustainable is a meaningless term that I don’t really like. It’s an ad agency word like Smart. Because it means nothing, it means everything. Anyone can use it. Do you want a sustainable world or an unsustainable world? Do you want your kids to be smart or do you want them to be dumb? How do you objectively know our world is sustainable? How do you objectively know your kids are smart?

I think on the production side, we can make a good go of telling the world that solar, wind, renewable power is clean energy, clean electricity, clean generation.

But on the other side it comes back to George Monbiot’s Riot for Austerity. How can you make people think that less is more? Hey, maybe that’s it – less is more. We need to start branding our efficiency programmes with that line.
Make the switch to clean energy.
Less is more (in your wallet).
Why are you still paying a hundred dollars a year with those crummy old lightbulbs that Edison would have recognised? Your neighbour has got LEDs now. They won’t change a bulb again in their life and they are paying ten bucks a year on their lighting. The spare $90 went on a family trip to the movies.

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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.

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.

Because I haven’t written about transport yet…

This isn’t a great post. It’s disjointed and a bit rambling. I mostly wrote it because I’ve been having a really bad day at work and needed to change my mental scenery for a bit. I’m really passionate about sustainable transport. Particularly bikes, trains and NOT flying or driving much and I have a bunch of thoughts on how to get from a world where we drive way more than we ride and where we fly when we could be taking the train. It turns out they’re not very structured and that I should put them into a whole series of posts rather than bounce around between them like some kind of sustainable transport pinball. So I apologise but this one’s really for me, not you.

I get most of my clothes from the marvellous people at howies. Their philosophy is that getting out there and doing things is brilliant and you should be able to go play in whatever you happen to have put on so alot of their clothes are designed with being active in mind. They also like cheery/quirky/motivational messages (though my favourite t shirts of theirs that I still have just say Aberteifi and Thanks respectively). I mention them because they made the picture here and put it on t shirts.

 

Now, I’m from West Yorkshire. I went to primary school at the top of a hill. One of my worst memories from that time was having to get off and push to get to school when we were doing our cycling proficiency (and being told off for an inadequately oiled chain – some things never change). Point being, I understand that Britain isn’t the Netherlands or Denmark but plenty of people live where it is more than flat enough to use a bike as one of their main modes of transport.

In transport circles, there is an idea that there is a critical mass around cycling. Once enough people start to do it, it becomes mainstream. Councils have to start providing decent infrastructure, drivers start to look out for cyclists in their mirrors because the chances are there will often be one there. Of course, in Britain we don’t have a very good cycling for transport network so there are alot of places where to get from A to B on a bike you have to share the road with motor traffic. This is where it gets a bit chicken-and-egg because while cyclists have to habitually share road space with things that can kill or seriously injure them, many people will give it a miss thanks.

My mum for example lives just a mile and a bit from the school where she works. If she wants to ride there she would have to take to the road, a fair bit of which is 60mph national speed limit zones. Unusually, the town where she lives is laid out with plenty of open space next to most roads and space to put a separated cycle path between the road and the pedestrian pavement, just like you see in places like Copenhagen which are always being praised as shimmering beacons of cycling infrastructural achievement.
If these were there, A nice, dignified sit-up-and-beg with a step through frame and the weight of a baby elephant would be perfect for getting from home to school in fifteen minutes without working up a sweat (you can’t go fast enough on those, believe me I have tried) and with a basket on the front or a pannier at the back to carry lunch, laptop and maybe some papers.
Instead, she takes the car. She has just a little more than would be comfortable to carry on foot but on a bike would be able to let the wheels take the strain.

This is a pretty typical example of a journey that could be made by bike. If the infrastructure was there, some people who are too sensible to mix it with the cars would be able to switch their journeys over to the bike. Over 80% of journeys of between two and five miles in the UK are by car. That’s journeys of between ten minutes and half an hour on a bike. In 80% of cases, we are using cars to make a journey that would take half an hour at most on a bike. Most of those journeys don’t need a car. They aren’t ferrying more than one or two people about and they aren’t moving loads of stuff. When I do my weekly shopping I bang my big panniers on the back of the bike and ride to the supermarket. Now I’m only buying food for myself but if it was for a family then I’d either go along with the missus or take a tag-along trailer to give me the extra capacity I need.

There are reasons why even with decent infrastructure you wouldn’t want to swap bike for car. In winter it can be pretty horrible – dark, cold, wet even with the right clothes it’s not alot of fun and being overtaken by a gritting truck is one of life’s less pleasant experiences. If it’s raining you need waterproof clothes or a stoic constitution and sometimes it’s just a bloody long way.

So cycling isn’t for everyone and it doesn’t have to be for life, if you only want to ride when the weather’s nice that’s fine too but we need to get to a point in this country where riding bikes is something you don’t stop doing when you discover girls and cider but is another good alternative to taking the car.

 

Every once in a while, there’s a stupid story in the media about “zombie cyclists” riding around with their iPods on terrorizing pedestrians. Now, I know there are some cyclists who do this but they are completely mental! If you haven’t got eyes in the back of your head, the only way you know if something is coming up behind you is to use your ears. Hearing is almost more important than seeing when you are riding in traffic. So while I love music and I love riding bikes I never mix the two because it is a really bad idea.
The same goes for driving. Sure, you have the car radio and you can listen to music or teach yourself german tapes or whatever but you sure as hell can’t read a book or a magazine or check Facebook or Twitter while you’re driving any more than you could while riding a bike (unless you are a showoff like this guy). That’s what public transport is for! I take the train alot and I get through my morning skim through the BBC News and the papers and what have you and then I get on with the book that I’m reading, all the while trapped in my own headphoney world of music.

So:

  • Bikes are for anyone who isn’t going far, who maybe has to carry a bit more stuff than they could on foot and who either has a decent local bike path network or is willing to play in the street like when they were young.
  • Buses and trains are for people who want to read and get knowledge and culture while travelling.
  • Cars are for people who have to go really far and who can’t or won’t do exercise and read books.

 

 

The Anti-Wind Lobby: Classic NIMBYism

In the renewables industry we have a perjorative, NIMBY which stands for Not In My Back Yard. It conjures the image of small minded, irrational opponents of renewables based solely on narrow, local objections.

A week or so ago, it was widely reported that 106 MPs (almost entirely tories) have written a letter criticising subsidies for wind power. I have reproduced this letter below (italics) with my own comments added.

“The Rt. Hon David Cameron MP
The Prime Minister
10 Downing Street
LONDON, SW1A 2AA

30th January 2012

As Members of Parliament from across the political spectrum, we have grown more and more concerned about the Government’s policy of support for on-shore wind energy production.

In these financially straightened times, we think it is unwise to make consumers pay, through taxpayer subsidy, for inefficient and intermittent energy production that typifies on-shore wind turbines.

1. These are financially straightened times. Well observed. Consumers pay, not through taxpayer subsidy but through levies on energy tariffs. According to Ofgem’s breakdown of household bills, this currently amounts to 10% of electricity and 4% of gas bills (for all environmental subsidies of which wind energy is only a part).

2. Wind energy is inefficient and intermittent. Really, this old tosh hasn’t died yet?!
These MPs obviously haven’t been reading their POST Notes as #315 states that, over winter, wind has a load factor (defined as percentage of time at maximum capacity) of 70%. Over summer this is lower with figures for favourable onshore locations given as 25-30%. Geographical diversity will help to smooth out the variability of the UK wind supply. RenewableUK, the trade body for the wind industry claims that wind turbines are typically generating for between 70 and 85% of the time. The issue is that for much of this time they are not generating at full power so over a year they produce about 30% of what they would produce if they were operating at their maximum output all the time.
With large quantities of wind power we do need more electricity plant for when the wind output is lower but this does not mean we have large amounts of idling plant waiting for the wind to die down.
Electricity is bought and sold close enough to the time of generation that we have a pretty good idea of how much wind will be available. What this does to the economics of electricity generation is interesting because once the wind turbines are up, any generation is virtually free. We don’t need to provide fuel. What large amounts of wind generation do is reduce how much of the time we need gas power stations to run. This hurts their economics so electricity from gas becomes a bit more expensive per unit but electricity from wind costs virtually nothing once the turbines are up.

3. Efficiency is a concept that hardly matters when your fuel source is free and harmless. But for the record, wind energy is on the same order of electrical efficiency as a conventional gas power station.

In the on-going review of renewable energy subsidies, we ask the Government to dramatically cut the subsidy for on-shore wind and spread the savings made between other types of reliable renewable energy production and energy efficiency measures.

Damian Carrington made a really good point about this one better than I ever could. Wind is the cheapest form of renewable power generation in the UK. If we want X amount of renewable energy (and we do), getting it from anywhere else will cost more money.
What he didn’t say which deserves a mention is that wind energy is getting cheaper. The right level of subsidy is the lowest one that makes industry install the level of wind power that we want and that level is probably lower now than it was when we last decided how much subsidy each form of renewable power gets. A report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance last November projected that onshore wind energy will be fully competitive with gas power by 2016. There will still need to be a subsidy at this point because everything being equal, energy companies want to build gas power stations. They are a technology they know and understand and they slot neatly into the electricity system as they think of it.

We also are worried that the new National Planning Policy Framework, in its current form, diminishes the chances of local people defeating unwanted on-shore wind farm proposals through the planning system. Thus we attach some subtle amendments to the existing wording that we believe will help rebalance the system.

Isn’t this the point of the national planning policy framework? To ensure that when a project is of strategic national interest (so major energy, transport etc projects) then it is less likely to be derailed by local issues. But rebalance away, good luck.

Finally, recent planning appeals have approved wind farm developments with the inspectors citing renewable energy targets as being more important than planning considerations. Taken to its logical conclusion, this means that it is impossible to defeat applications through the planning system. We would urge you to ensure that planning inspectors know that the views of local people and long established planning requirements should always be taken into account.

Perhaps, renewable energy targets are more important than planning considerations?
On a more conciliatory note, here’s a great promo from Ecotricity which shows what we stand to lose and to gain from switching more of our electricity supply over to renewable sources.

It’s not entirely correct as for each gigawatt of power station (say four cooling towers), you would need at least 50 wind turbines to replace them and this is the part which these MPs are really complaining about. It is the part they should be complaining about. It really is a difficult issue to discuss whether large proportions of the upland areas of our country should be covered with wind turbines and we need to consider the effect on the landscape. What annoys me is that they seem to think that this isn’t enough and that they need to offer a flawed economic argument against wind turbines.

Yours sincerely,

CHRIS HEATON-HARRIS MP AND 105 OTHER MPs”

PB

Update (27 Feb): Adair Turner says much the same as my last paragraph in the Guardian. Aesthetic concerns – Yes, Made-up bollocks about effectiveness – No.

 

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Back of the envelope maths

Solar PV capacity registered with Ofgem Oct-Dec 2011: 178 MW

= 59 MW / month

Average annual generation: 800 kWh / kW

Difference between old FIT rate and new FIT rate: 22 p / kWh

Number of households in UK: 20 Million

Cost of leaving the FIT for another month:

60 (MW) x 1000 (MW –> kW) x 800 (kWh/kW/yr) x 0.22 (£/kWh) = £10.5 M

Cost per household = 52 p/year

Feed in tariff review review Part 3: I fought the law and the law(yers) won

Much shorter than the previous two parts as there are fewer issues to point out.

The government has put draft legislation before parliament which means that any installations from March the 3rd will be on the new rates. If they hadn’t been so busy fighting a court case they had almost no chance of winning. If they hadn’t used your money to pay lawyers to argue until they’re blue in the face that up is down. If they’d got on with doing this as soon as parliament re-opened after Christmas they could have brought that deadline forward a couple of weeks.

The government are now pursuing an appeal at the Supreme Court. Given they were told at the High Court that they needn’t bother the appeal courts because they’re just plain wrong and they were told the same thing by the Court of Appeal, we need to ask why they choose to spend tax revenue on lawyers rather than solar power. Is it because most politicians come from a legal background?

Actually no, the whole point of spending tens of thousands of pounds more on a doomed appeal to the Supreme Court is to sow uncertainty. No reputable solar installer can guarantee a customer that their installation will get the existing rates if installed before March the 3rd even though the likelihood of this is near total. The government wants to keep the number of systems being installed under the current rates as low as possible and is using very cynical means to achieve their aims.

Until we see the costs of a legal challenge at the Supreme Court we cannot be sure but I would be very interested to see the figures on the FIT payments to the extra systems that could be installed  in five weeks and a comparison to the legal costs government has given itself fighting a losing battle. Embarrasingly.

Wouldn’t that money be better spent on solar power than legal fees? Or teachers, hospitals, the police for that matter?

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End Use Efficiency is a good idea because…

Occasionally, I hear someone talking about how it makes more sense to make power stations more efficient rather than making incremental improvements to efficiency at the point of use.

Obviously I’m in favour of efficiency improvements anywhere (except maybe in the NHS where they are “efficiency improvements”). I’m going to use what’s called an Energy Flow Diagram (I prefer the other name, Sankey Diagram, it has more character). This one is from the British Government and shows where our energy came from and where it was used in 2010.

UK Energy in 2010

On the diagram, you start on the left with all your energy inputs, 314.7 Million Tonnes of Oil Equivalent of (top to bottom) Gas, Coal, directly produced electricity (mostly Nuclear with a little Hydropower and Wind), Biofuels, Petroleum (oil).
Anything that turns and scoots off the bottom of the diagram is either being exported or represents the energy lost in converting energy into another form. The Green ones at the start are oil exports, the big Light Purple one is power station losses and the Skinny Multicoloured one like an old school data ribbon is losses incurred moving energy around our gas and electricity networks.

Now, moving left to right, you follow the fuel (and electricity) through the system until on the right you reach the 159.1 Million Tonnes of Oil Equivalent of users.
There are two big yellow blocks in the middle. We can pretty much ignore the first one, oil refineries but it’s worth mentioning because this is where the diagram really gets started once we close the system to imports and exports. Our total national demand for energy inputs is 227.5 Million Tonnes of Oil Equivalent.

WARNING: This next bit (the second yellow block, power stations) is me going all information overload and explaining a bit of the diagram I wasn’t going to write about. It explains what it means in interesting but unnecessary detail. If you want to skip it I’ll let you know when it’s over.

The second big yellow block is power stations, people are right to care about this bit. Looking at this diagram they produce 31.3 Mtoe of electricity and waste 46.of Mtoe of the energy that was in the fuel for an average efficiency of about 40%. This seems pretty rubbish but it’s not all that bad. At the moment you can’t get much past 60% efficiency for a gas fired power station. More efficient basically means burning hotter and if we want to go any hotter than we already do, we’ll have to invent some pretty magnificent materials. Coal power stations are less efficient. To start with if someone gives you the choice of coal or gas to burn, take the gas every time. Coal is a solid. If you want to burn it efficiently you have to smash it to smithereens first (think flour, only you wouldn’t want to eat that cake). That process takes energy and even then, coal just won’t burn like gas does so your power station is running colder (remember that’s the same as less efficiently). There are a bunch of improvements you can make to the sort of 1960s and ’70s coal power stations we have in Britain and, if you use them all (expensive) then you might get a bit more than 50% efficiency.

THE BIT WHERE I WENT OFF AT A TANGENT IS OVER NOW.

So here we are at the right of the diagram. As you can see, there are three big end points in the diagram. The first is industry, the second is transport and the third is domestic.
The really cool thing is you can look at the colours of the arrows to see what fuels end up where.
The first thing you will have noticed is that we pretty much don’t use oil except for transport and we pretty much use nothing else for transport (it’s not easy to get the energy sources for walking and cycling onto this chart but it hardly matters, they’re tiny in energy terms).
The second thing I hope you’ll notice is that we use way more gas than electricity. At work it might be about 50:50 but at home it’s more like 80:20.

So there are two points I’ve been taking a while to make. The second has a caveat. Sorry.

1. For every 1% saving in energy consumption at the end of this diagram this amplifies as you go back across the diagram so saving that one percent over here means we save 1.43% of the fuels we need to feed in on the left of the diagram, an extra 0.43%! If we make power stations 1 percentage point more efficient we’d get another 0.78 Million Tonnes of Oil Equivalent out of the fuels we put in, 0.34% of the energy we needed at the start.

2. Our homes are leaky as a rusty bucket. George Monbiot once said they have a thermal performance only marginally better than tents. Sad but true. If we want to reduce our energy usage we need to be looking at heat about four times as hard as we look at electricity. Perhaps, given that it’s relatively difficult to make some of those savings from electricity (replacement of cyclical goods or wholesale lifestyle changes) we should try even harder on the heat side where the answer is simple and it’s keeping the heat in our buildings.

I said there would be a caveat on the second one and here it is: Gas is about three times less carbon intensive (and about the same or even more for money) than our electricity so from an environmental point of view any of these electricity vs. gas numbers can be divided by three. Household greenhouse gas emissions from energy are 57% gas, 43% from electricity and only a quarter of industrial emissions.

What am I doing? Well, I live in a rented flat so I do what I can which is mostly being energy conscious; turning off lights, closing doors to the warmer rooms and replacing old bulbs (there will be a blog about LEDs, my friend solar power’s distant cousin in future). I have learned how to use what passes for heating controls in my house, they’re not the worst but they could be better. But what I need to do that I’ve been lining up is to buy an egg-timer so I don’t spend too long in the shower. It’s probably the easiest change I could make, I’ll get to work earlier and I’ll be cutting down on both gas and water usage so it’s an all round win.

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Feed in tariff review review Part 2

At the end of October came the real bombshell. We all knew that tariffs would come down in April  2012 and, given the cost reductions achieved, we would be looking at at least a third off the tariff levels as they were. As it turned out, they went even lower dropping by just over fifty percent. This on its own wasn’t too bad. We can make that work for a lot of systems, particularly in southern areas.

What it did mean was basically an end to free PV schemes where an installer would provide a PV system in exchange for FIT income. With the right financing in place this was an economically viable prospect. It also meant that those without ten grand lying around could get solar power and was increasingly being adopted by social housing providers to help cut the bills of some of the poorest in our society. Now that won’t work any more and the accusation that solar power is a toy for rich greens holds truer that ever.

The other big change coming in is a double edged sword, households wanting to install solar and claim the FIT need to meet a ‘C’ grade for energy efficiency which rules out about 90% of homes. Nobody disputes that as a carbon saving measure, PV is quite expensive and energy efficiency measures are much more cost-effective. Now encouraging energy efficiency, particularly in the domestic sector is like trying to make water flow uphill. Nobody finds it very interesting, not many will brag to their friends about the foot-deep insulation they’ve put in the loft because it’s not exciting enough. Even the relatively easy things like loft insulation fall victims to our inertia (Where will I put the Christmas decorations while I got the insulation put in? Will I end up setting fire to the insulation around my recessed halogen lights?). And most household energy efficiency measures are to save heat not electricity. The comparison I read today by Erica Robb of Spirit Solar was that to make heat saving home improvements a requirement of the solar FIT would be the same as making it a requirement for road tax reduction for low CO2 cars, it might sound a bit silly but it’s basically correct.

Interestingly, one of the latest lines to emerge from the Government is that for every PV system getting a tariff of 43 p/kWh, two will be unable to get a system installed at 21 p/kWh. Now by my maths, if one system is installed at 42 p/kWh then that’s the same cost to the FIT scheme of two at 21 p/kWh. So for every system that gets 43 p/kWh a whisker over one will not get the 21 p/kWh rate (assuming the overall cost of the scheme is fixed).

There now follows a short list of things the Government did wrong on this FIT review:

  1. They should have looked at reducing all PV tariffs when they reviewed the 50+ kW tariffs back in March 2011.
  2. They tried to make the changes come into effect before the end of the consultation period. This was the key mistake. We all know consultations are largely an exercise in lip service but this was actually pre-empting the consultation and threatened to set a dangerous precedent about retrospective action by government not just for the FIT but for changes to any secondary legislation.
  3. They should have switched to the MCS registrations data sooner (the Ofgem FIT register necessarily lags the MCS register usually be about a month)
  4. Once the consultation had opened, Greg Barker said that he couldn’t prejudice an open consultation by commenting on the 12th December cut-off date before the end of the consultation period. Probably true but on this occasion Greg, two wrongs would definitely have made a right.
  5. Having had their dodgy dates found “legally flawed” just before Christmas rather than moving on and giving the industry the certainty it urgently needs and moving to cut the tariffs as soon as legally possible they have forced further delays and uncertainty by appealing the judge’s decision. So far this has led to a further week of uncertainty and a further week until the earliest possible date the new tariff levels can be introduced.

Randomly, I’ve seen a few things lately about the positive value of acknowledging failure (This TED talk by a guy from Engineers without Borders is great). Basically the message is that we learn better from mistakes than from successes which seems intuitively true. “Why didn’t that work?” is a much easier question to answer than “Why did that work?”. Dwelling on mistakes and trying resolutely to deny that they’re mistakes when deep down you know otherwise doesn’t help anybody. Recognising mistakes and fixing them quickly and without histrionics is almost always far more successful and likely to lead to more respect than clinging hopelessly to an obviously flawed plan.

My faith in politicians has really nosedived over the FIT review. This is a subject where in all probability I know at least as much about the scheme as they do. Almost every statement that Huhne and Barker have come out with has been so warped, so twisted and so totally fantastically disingenuous about what the implications of their proposals and what the industry wants from them that it makes me assume that this is what is happening in every area of government from defence and crime to education and health.

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