Why sanctions against Russia just won’t work

The European Union are thinking of imposing sanctions on the Russian Federation as a response to Russia’s activities in Georgia. It is a curious idea, because it seems to me that the EU has more to lose if there were economic sanctions than does Russia.

There are always two sides to every story, and the Russian activity in Georgia is not a clear cut well defined issue. Even if it were, the purpose of sanctions would be to impose economic hardship on Russia as a means of bring them into line with what the European Union thinks they should do. Continue reading

Solar panel statistics energy gained and carbon avoided by solar panels

Solar thermal panel statistics are quite hard to find and when you find them you have to treat them even more carefully than you treat other statistics. The International Energy Agency commissioned the Institute for Sustainable Technologies in Austria to provide the figures for solar thermal installations and output in the world.

What is the big picture? What kind of role does solar in the world play in meeting the world’s energy requirements?  The big picture is that there are around 180 million square metres of solar collectors in the world of all types.

These range from simple rubber tubing to heat pools, through thermo siphon systems in very hot countries as a cheap way of securing hot water all the way through to large sophisticated systems that provide heat energy for large enterprises. Capacity is in excess of 126,000 MWth of heat each year spread over 34 million solar systems.  The energy produced is equivalent to 12.4 billion litres of oil each year which is about 75 million barrels of oil equivalent. This is just a bit more oil than the world uses in one day. Around 30% of the world’s energy comes from oil, so as a fraction of world energy use, solar thermal panels provide just a world solar capacity in Mwth, merely a few hours of one day in every year.

What contributions do solar panels make to carbon dioxide emission reduction? These solar systems save around 35 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. It is clear that the opportunities for using solar panels as a a form of renewable heat have barely scratched the surface of their potential.

It is interesting to look at figures provided for the United Kingdom, as at the end of 2006. Here they show that we have about 250,000 square metres of panels with a total capacity of 175.6 MWth in around 62,000 installations. These save the equivalent of nearly 12 million litres of oil and avoid 32,656 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Does that sound impressive? If we compare the UK to Germany we see that the UK is far behind Germany. Germany has 8,804,000 square metres of solar panels installed over 1,171,043 systems saving over 457 million litres of oil and 1.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

China does even better, as you might expect given the size of its population. There are 93 million square metres of panels, over 22.6 million installations saving 6,369,175,000 litres of oil and 17.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

As you would expect hot places like Australia, Israel, Greece Turkey and Cyprus all have many solar water heating systems. Some countries like Spain, Portugal, France and Italy have relatively few, but they are expanding their use of solar, growing at tremendous rates and all of them have more panels and are growing their use at higher rates than the United Kingdom.

 Some small countries are also growing solar very rapidly. Switzerland has nearly 50% more solar panels than the United Kingdom.  Slovenia has 50% of the United Kingdom’s panels installed.

Solar, form the figures is not just for traditionally hot climates; tiny Denmark has more solar panels than the United Kingdom, as does Holland. Virtually every north European country has more solar panels per capita than the United Kingdom. New Zealand has about half the amount of the UK.

There are I suppose perhaps only two possible conclusions to draw from these solar panel statistics. One conclusion is that the United Kingdom knows much more about solar panels than the rest of the world and that is why it does not encourage or incentivise them. The other conclusion I shall leave for you to draw for yourself.


Arctic ice cover is reducing, how this will affect the climate and hope for the future

There is depressing news that the Arctic sea ice has now fallen to its second lowest level since satellites records began in 1978. The lowest level was recorded in September 2007 and it is now possible that 2008 will see that dismal record broken. Even if the sea ice cover falls below last years level by September that in itself not what gives cause for concern.


What really matters is the trend of the ice cover. This century summer ice coverage has been less than the average of the previous 22 years, and that trend is worrying. Continue reading

Energy companies, banks and windfall taxes

Should energy companies have to pay a windfall tax? There are many people, including a significant number of Members of Parliament feel that the energy companies should pay a windfall tax. The argument goes that the energy companies have to pay 30% more for their wholesale costs and they are imposing a 30% price increase on their retail prices to their customers, which means that they are getting a greater profit per unit sale by imposing a price increase on retail charges which significantly exceeds what they have to pay on whole charges.

Similarly the banks are now into windfall territory, but not in order to make larger profits. They are exploiting their position to bolster up their reserves having lost vast amounts of money in buying dud subprime mortgages which were not worth anything like the sums they paid for them. Continue reading

When is the most cost effective time to install solar panels?

Many people do want to have a thermal solar system installed. They give you some energy independence and they reduce your household carbon emissions effectively. They offer you a payback, for a front end investment, unlike oil, gas or electricity, but there is the front end investment that you have to find. Is there a way of reducing that initial investment for the average householder? Continue reading

Biofuels and solar energy decisions that are hard to understand

Politicians are always talking about “hard decisions”. Mr Blair and Mr Brown criticised their political opponents for what they claimed was an inability to take “hard” decisions. By “hard” decisions they usually meant “unpopular” decisions, sometimes those where innocent people in the world outside the United Kingdom would lose their lives.

  Continue reading

lobbying for biomass

If I want to meet a Government Minister to explain a proposal or to influence some item of policy, I write a letter. I rely on the Minister’s civil servants to read the letter, assess its importance compared with the Minister’s overall tasks and job requirements and then to compose a reply which in accordance with the ministerial objective either grants me access or not.

I do understand that Ministers are bombarded with requests for access. They cannot see everyone and there has to be some objective system of granting access to those that want to explain or ask for a policy or a change of policy. It seems to me that Ministers have no confidence in their own civil servants to make the appropriate judgements. The proof lies in the existence of paid lobbyists. Continue reading

Has global warming stopped?

Is global warming being reversed? The United Kingdom’s Metrological Office has said that 2008 will be the coldest year, calculated on an average basis, since 1999 by 0 .01 Celsius. Should we all celebrate and forget about green house gas emissions? Have we licked global warming? Continue reading

Payback of solar panels – a case study

Two years ago one of Genersys’s customers, R M Solar, put out a leaflet about solar water heating which roused the ire of an individual because the individual thought it was misleading. The objection was a passage which stated that you must take account of the length of guarantee that you were being offered because “it takes at least six years to repay your investment” in the solar panels. Continue reading

Carbon dixode in the atmosphere and its effects

Carbon dioxide has the greatest effect of all the greenhouse gases on climate change, simply because it is the most prevalent. Methane has a greater effect per volume, but there is simply so much carbon dioxide around that its effects overweighs all the other greenhouse gases combined.  That is why measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide are probably the most significant indicator of the effect of human activity on climate change, because one way or another, humans cause the emissions of carbon dioxide more than any other climate effecting substance. Continue reading