Energy, Technology, and Policy across the Pond

As a British native I would like to write briefly on what is happening on the other side of the pond in terms of Energy, Technology and Policy, and in particular the reduction of Carbon Dioxide emissions. This is obviously of great interest to me but I also believe it is very useful as a comparison to the US.

The United Kingdom has a population of around 60million, around 20% that of the US.  In 2006 the UK was Consuming 9802 Quadrillion Btu of Energy a year, this represents 10% of US consumption of 99856 Quadrillion Btu of Energy in 2006. This was broken down by 1738 thousand barrels of Petroleum per day (US: 20,680), 74.21 short tons of Coal per year (US 1,112.39) and 3,202 billion cubic year (US: 21,653).  While per person use in the UK is less this post is not designed to be a tip of the hat to the UK, nor wag a finger at the US. There a lots of reasons for the lower energy usage, milder climate in both winter and summer, higher gas prices,a  more dense population on a national and city level, an economy with very little heavy industry and factory production, and a smaller GDP per person help to  contribute to a lower consumption level. However even despite this the UK is still 9th largest consumer of fossil fuel energy in the world, and as such is a significant part in reducing global carbon usage.

In attempting to reduce Carbon emissions the UK has many physical limitations when compared to the US. Utility scale Solar is a non-starter with regular cloud coverage across the UK rendering Solar thermal impossible and Solar PV of limited use. This leaves wind, wave, and tidal as the main opportunities in the UK, which as an Island nation there are plenty of resources. However there are further constraints on Wind as there is very little undeveloped land in the UK and many of the windiest locations in the UK are in protected national parks. This leaves offshore wind as the biggest opportunity, along with wave and tidal energy. Offshore wind, wave, and tidal have their own problems as they are inherently difficult to engineer and as such is proving expensive to get to scale, however the UK does have expertise in drilling for Oil and Gas in the North Atlantic and hope to transfer these skills in installing these projects.

The UK has signed up to the European renewable energy directive in 2006, which requires them15% of their energy usage  to be from renewable by 2020. In response to this the recently re-branded UK ‘Department for Energy and Climate change’ published  its Renewable Energy strategy in 2009. This detailed how it expected the UK to achieve 15% of energy usage to be from renewable sources.  To achieve this over 240 TWh will have to be produced from renewables by 2015.

This will be achieved 49% in electricity production, 30 % from heat, and 21% from transport fuel. The biggest portions of this will be from offshore and onshore wind and renewable transportation (Hybrids).

The UK, will leverage its expertise in drilling for offshore oil and gas in the North atlantic to install off shore wind installations on both the West and East coasts of England. By 2015 it is hoped that over 5GW of electricity will be produced by offshore wind installations. With a further round of installations hoping to take that to 10GW by 2020.

There is however hope that we will be able to develop both wave and tidal power at significant scale with 2GW of installed capacity in the Ocean by 2020.

If they are successful the UK is hoping to make significant reductions in the use of fossil fuel usage over the next 20 years to the extent that there will be around a 30% reduction in Gas and Coal and 10% reduction in Oil.

With the failure of the Copenhagen summit to produce a binding agreement, it is going to be up to individual states to manage their own carbon reductions. The UK seems to have a plan to make significant reductions, however the plan also illustrates how carbon emission reduction can only achieved slowly over time. The sheer scale of the reductions being targeted by states such as California is put into perspective by this plan. It also illustrates how different parts of the world require different solutions and technology in order to be able to make these reductions.


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