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The UK Grows its Economy as it Replaces Coal with Renewable Energy

by John Brian Shannon

Great Britain has come a long way since the Industrial Revolution when it was almost completely dependent on coal.

The snapshot in time (below) covers the period May 1, 2019 through May 8, 2019 showing which energy producers contributed to the UK national energy grid and how much they contributed.

The UK was once 100% dependent on coal, but it now uses 5% coal, 19.5% nuclear, 33.3% renewable energy and 39.4% natural gas.

Image courtesy of BBC.

But in 2018, the UK met total electrical demand with 5% coal, 19.5% nuclear, 33.3% renewable energy and 39.4% natural gas. 2019 looks set to be even better from a clean air perspective. Burning coal to meet UK energy demand might reach 1% in 2019.

Every month, more wind turbines are installed and connected to the UK grid. About half of them are installed offshore (out of sight and out of mind) where they produce almost constant power 24/7/365 and are shut down only one day per year for inspection.

The other half get installed in farmers fields where they add energy to the grid day and night. Farmers like this arrangement because it adds to their bottom line as the utility companies rent the land upon which the wind turbines sit.

For example, if a farmer has one wind turbine mounted on his property, he or she will receive approximately £4000. per year from the utility company — but if the farmer has 20 wind turbines on his or her land, he or she will receive £80,000. per year for the land lease and 24-hour-per-day access rights.

In the case of larger farms, this amount could equal his/her annual spend on seeds, or in the case of ranchers, it could meet their annual veterinarian bill plus whatever the rancher spends on medicine and other treatment for their animals.

Although not as profitable as offshore wind turbines, having many electricity generators near demand centres is a definite benefit for utility companies.

The moral of this story is, adding one million wind turbines to the UK grid over the next 10-years (half of them onshore) would work to increase the profitability of farmers and ranchers, and could save them from insolvency during years of drought or flooding.

When did coal ever do that for farmers and ranchers? Never!

Wind power generation in the UK

Wind power generation in the UK theswitch.co.uk

That’s why the UK must commit to adding one million wind turbines over the next 10-years — thereby turning the UK into a major energy exporter to the EU, as the cables to transmit electrical energy are already installed and in use daily to import (expensive) gigawatts of power from the EU annually. See where I’m going here?

Adding half a million onshore wind turbines would dramatically empower farmers and ranchers, most of whom spend their profits close to home; Making land-based wind turbine economics an important force for good in local economies.

Siting those wind turbines so that they don’t trash-up the UK’s Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) will of course be an important consideration going forward.

It’s important to locate the turbines in natural wind corridors, sure, but installing them within sight of Castle Howard for one example, or within sight of major residential areas is a bad idea no matter how good the wind potential there. Careful siting of wind turbines is a must to… prevent… (wait for it!) ‘blowback’ from NIMBY communities. Hehe.

READ: The UK Has Gone 6 Days Without Burning Coal Now, And Guess What, The World Didn’t End (Science Alert)


The UK Economy Continues to Grow In Spite of the Overly-Extended Brexit Negotiating Period

UK GDP between 2014 and 2018

The statistic shows the GDP of the United Kingdom between 2014 and 2018, with projections up until 2024, in US dollars. Image courtesy of Statista.com

Say what you like about Prime Minister Theresa May (or, ‘Theresa the Appeaser’ as she is known to Brexiteers) and Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond (possibly the most risk-averse man on the planet) they did a good job running the UK economy, although in the end, they couldn’t secure a decent Brexit agreement with the EU; Which is the only reason that both of them are soon gone from their present jobs.

Ultimately, the 3-years of economic uncertainty in the UK caused by the overly-extended Brexit negotiation period prompted the removal of Theresa May from the PM’s chair, and Philip Hammond from the Exchequer’s chair once the next PM is chosen.

But imagine how the UK economy would’ve accelerated had May and Hammond accepted the ring of destiny handed to them by 17,410,742 UK voters in June 2016.

Still, when you can grow the UK economy while removing coal and adding huge quantities of renewable energy to the grid — right in the middle of Brexit — you’re obviously doing something right.

But The People called for Brexit, and Brexit it will be.


Plan Your Work, Then Work Your Plan!

Someone should thank the best Environment Secretary in Britain’s history for the massive renewable energy capacity addition to the UK grid in recent years in locations where renewable energy does make economic sense, for the astonishing CO2 reductions, and for backing energy conservation programmes that reduced energy costs £2 for each £1 of programme spend.

This is where the UK must continue to focus its greatest efforts. Where its cheaper to install renewable energy, then install renewable energy; Where its cheaper to spend on energy conservation programmes to lessen demand, then spend on conservation; And where its better to locate energy producers near energy demand centres, then locate energy producers nearer demand.

READ: Study: UK leads G7 at cutting emissions and growing economy (BusinessGreen) You must register at their site to read the article. Here’s an excerpt though: “Report shows that in the 25 years since the Rio Earth Summit the UK has delivered the best economic performance and the deepest carbon emission cuts of any G7 state.”


The UK Could Lead the World in Local Clean Air Improvements and Increased Renewable Energy Exports

On a county-by-county basis, replacing coal-fired power generation with natural gas-fired generation supplying 15% of total demand in every UK county, 65% of total demand in every UK county met via wind and solar, and hydropower and biomass covering the remaining 20% of total electricity demand in every UK county… is the fastest way to clean energy, lowered healthcare costs and increased energy exports to the continent, which should be Priority #2 of any UK Prime Minister. (Brexit is Priority #1 for now, and being a democrat, I get that)

But next on any PM’s list after the Brexit item must be growing the UK economy while replacing coal and natural gas via generous energy conservation programmes and massive renewable energy capacity additions.

READ: UK Leads G7 in the Combined Metric of Economic Growth + Carbon Cuts (LetterToBritain)

Let’s hope the UK continues its great track record in lowering CO2 emissions, lowering its annual healthcare spend on respiratory disease, and growing the economy.

The only component missing in the UK’s clean air goals are the mind-boggling opportunities that await UK energy producers to export gigawatts of renewable energy to the EU in exchange for billions of euros annually.


Bonus Graphic

Here’s a great resource where you can track in realtime, how much energy the UK is purchasing from the EU.

When the snapshot was taken, the UK national grid was purchasing 3.3 gigawatts of energy from France, the Netherlands, the Republic of Ireland, and other EU energy producers.

Snapshot of UK electricity demand

Snapshot of UK electricity demand on June 23, 2019 at 2:45pm. Click the image to access the realtime dashboard at any time.

Keep in mind that 14.70 pence per kWh is the average cost for electricity in the UK. So, yes, UK energy consumers spend billions to purchase electricity from EU utility companies annually — instead of EU utility companies purchasing billions worth of electricity from UK utility companies annually. Facepalm!


Notes:

  • One Gigawatt (GW) is equal to one million kilowatts (kW)
  • One MegaWatt (MW) is equal to one thousand kilowatts (kW)

For More Information

The U.K. Cut Emissions to the Lowest Level Since 1888. Here’s How (Fortune)

What will it take for the UK to reach net zero emissions? (The Guardian)

Floating wind farms just became a serious business (Quartz)

UK Leads G7 in the Combined Metric of Economic Growth + Carbon Cuts

by John Brian Shannon

A new Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit report confirms that Britain has been the most successful G7 nation over the last 25 years on the combined metric of growing its economy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In the 25-years since 1992 when clean air and the corresponding lowering of healthcare spending became an important policy for the United Kingdom, the country grew its per capita GDP by 130% while lowering GHG emissions 33% — proving that a country can simultaneously grow their economy AND lower greenhouse gas emissions.

In the same timeframe, Japan grew its per-capita GDP by 83% while increasing its per-capita emissions by 10.5% — making it the worst performer of all the G7 nations. (Not to pick on Japan which has the most difficult population pyramid demographic problem of any nation on the planet)

“It’s really time to slay once and for all the old canard that cutting carbon emissions means economic harm.

As this report shows, if you have consistent policymaking and cross-party consensus, it’s perfectly possible to get richer and cleaner at the same time. Britain isn’t the only country that’s done it – it’s true for most of the G7 – but we’ve clearly been the best of the bunch.

There are signs that these successes are now transferring to the rest of the world. Globally, emissions have been flat for three years while world GDP has grown by 8%. But science indicates this isn’t enough to fulfil the objective of the UN Convention and prevent ‘dangerous’ climate change – for that, emissions need to start falling soon. This study should give confidence that with good policies, it’s achievable.” — Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit

And in the United Kingdom, Scotland has led the way on the switch from coal to renewable energy and it rightly deserves much of the praise handed to the UK over the ongoing clean air success story, while England and Wales deserve much of the credit for growing the UK economy. As usual, Northern Ireland is ‘holding its own’ and although it is presently caught in the middle of an election cycle it seems that it might ramp-up to follow Scotland’s environmental success, post-election.

Scotland sets 50% renewable energy target (BBC)

Pre-Brexit, UK Leads G7 In ‘Conscious Decoupling’ Of Economic Growth & Carbon Cuts (CleanTechnica)

The Road to Decoupling: 21 Countries Are Reducing Carbon Emissions While Growing GDP (World Resources Institute)


By far, the biggest reason UK emissions have dropped in every decade since WWII is a HUGE shift away from coal. At one time almost 100% of Britain’s electricity was sourced by brown or black coal. Some of which was replaced by hydro-power, and later, by nuclear. Eventually, even more coal-fired capacity was replaced by natural gas, and most recently, by renewables.

The inexorable march away from coal-fired generation in the UK has resulted in cleaner air. It is by far the biggest factor in Britain’s ongoing clean air success story.

Still, it’s not enough progress. Scotland has set the standard that the rest of the UK should follow — which will take strong leadership in the House of Commons.


The Way Forward for Clean Air, Lower Healthcare Spending, and a Thriving Economy for Britain

There are many ways to accomplish those goals and everything has its own particular cost. But two pathways jump out as the most beneficial per pound sterling.

ONE: Continue to replace coal-fired power generation with any other power generator. Yes, everything else burns cleaner than coal! Burning home heating fuel is cleaner than coal. Natural gas-fired power generation can be up to 1-million times cleaner than burning some grades of brown coal. Even upgrading coal-fired power generation from brown coal ‘lignite’ fuel to black coal ‘anthracite’ fuel results in astonishing improvements in air quality.

Fortunately, this is the (unevenly applied) default in the United Kingdom, which, when combined with the solid and thoughtful policies of Scotland and Wales, results in cleaner air, lower healthcare costs, and boosts economic growth via lower energy prices.

Record UK wind generation lowers electricity prices (Power Engineering)

TWO: In addition to everything mentioned above, the other low-hanging fruit leading towards cleaner air, to lower healthcare spending, and to boost economic output (by lowering energy costs) is via energy-efficiency.

Prime Minister Theresa May should recognize that no matter how cleanly we can generate one GigaWatt of electricity — energy-efficiency savings (demand reduction) that are equal to one GigaWatt are many times cleaner — and energy-efficiency improvements are typically simple and cost-effective.

Imagine a UK government policy that lowers primary energy consumption (demand) by 30% across-the-board over the next 5-years.

That’s possible with the right policy, and infinitely cheaper than adding the exact same amount of energy production capacity to the grid.

Cheaper, by orders of magnitude. In fact, the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant construction could be cancelled AND other proposed power plant projects could be shelved for at least a decade with that much efficiency added to the grid.

Simple programmes get the best results

If the UK government added an energy-efficiency programme shared between three government entities, costs and (importantly) accolades would be shared.

The Department of Energy & Climate Change, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and the Department for Communities and Local Government, would gain support from voters and expats by supporting a national energy-efficiency programme consisting of a £100 per capita credit on energy-saving electronics and materials.

For a business that employs 5 people, that’s a one-time credit of (up to) £500 towards energy-efficiency at that business, which will buy A TON of efficiency and thereby lower energy consumption/energy bills for that company.

All else being equal; Are those business owners more likely to vote Conservative in the next election? I would have to say, Yes.

Obviously, those 5 employees also live near their workplace and use electricity at home. Therefore, they too should receive a one-time (up to) £100 per capita credit at the hardware store for the purchase of LED or other energy-saving lights, smart thermostats, weather-stripping, insulation, receptacle gaskets and other energy-saving electronics or materials.

Each of those 5 people will now save significant amounts on their monthly electricity bill.

Again, all else being equal; Are those homeowners or tenants more likely to vote Conservative in the next election? The answer is likely to be affirmative if the present government decides to save each one of them, tens or hundreds of pounds per year on their annual electricity bill.

It sounds expensive until you consider the cost of adding 30 GigaWatts to the UK grid to cover wasted energy vs. spending a much smaller amount to conserve the same amount of energy.

There is simply no comparison. Energy-efficiency wins every time, and is dirt cheap in relation to the costs of building new power generation capacity.

A £100 per capita energy-efficiency credit is the way forward for clean air, lower healthcare spending, and a thriving economy for Britain (via lower energy costs) and pound for pound, nothing else comes close to accomplishing those goals at such a comparatively low spend.