Mindless Renewable Energy Targets

In the almost mindless race to meet the United Kingdom’s emission targets the government has decided to subsidise, at taxpayer’s expense, the generation of electricity in a way which will mean the creation of far more greenhouse gas emissions. Continue reading

A Road Map Leading Nowhere

Today the European Commission explain its policy (these days called a road map) on reducing emissions. The target is to reduce emissions by 20% (compared with 1990 level of emissions) and many people will be disappointed that the target has not been raised to 30%, or at least 25%, claiming that it will not cost significantly more to reduce emissions by the extra 5% or 10%. The road map leads nowhere. Continue reading

Save our forests

When the Romans first set foot in England they found a country that was virtually covered in trees. Apart from marshlands, which were subsequently drained, and grassy chalk down lands, forests were the prime feature of the English countryside. Today if you travel from London to the north along the M1 motorway it can be hard to imagine that great forests covered the countryside that you see today. By the time the Normans landed in 1066 the forest were still the predominant feature of the landscape. They were so large that outlaws could hide in them. The forests of England were deciduous woodlands, mainly oak. Continue reading

The Renewable Heat Incentive and clean and dirty renewables

The Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) is a critical environmental measure. Heat for homes, businesses commerce and industry produces about half of the United Kingdom’s building emissions. There have been a number of measures concerning electricity, but heat was left on the back burner by the last Labour government and the present administration has by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change and the Minister in charge of the RHI, Mr Greg Barker, all promised that the Renewable Heat Incentive should be in place by 10th June. Continue reading

The United Kingdom’s lost decade on climate change

“The last 10 years have been a lost decade for renewables. Labour’s tragic legacy is that we are 25th out of 27 EU member states on renewables. We have been playing as amateurs when we should have been in the Premiership.”

Mr Huhne, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change made this comments in response to a Report by the Committee of Public Accounts which criticised the United Kingdom’s record on Climate Change measures. Mr Huhne simply speaks the truth; in the past decade the United Kingdom’s climate change ambition has not matched its measures. Continue reading

Certification of biofuels and biomass

I have written a number of times about the problems with biofuels and biomass. Most governments seem to accept that these are “renewable” fuels and because of that associate them with low carbon fuels. They fail to understand that not all the carbon dioxide is taken up with new growth and in some cases, like ethanol made from corn, the net carbon dioxide emissions are higher than those created by burning oil. For that reason I have classified biofuels and biomass as “dirty” renewables.

The message is beginning to sink in. The European Union is now encouraging (but not mandating) member states to set up certification programs for biofuels, including wood and wood chip. I do not know yet how the certification system would work – no one does – but we can only hope that the standards would be stringent and genuinely address the problems that certain biofuels create, by banning them, or at least withdrawing all energy subsidies for them. Continue reading

A stitch in time saves nine; the cost of climate change adaptation

Imagine eating in an expensive restaurant. The food and wine is very good and you and your party have eaten and drunk far more than you need, and in some cases far more than you enjoyed. You are sipping your final drinks but the waiter is about to present the bill. You were not careful about what you consumed and imagined that you could afford to pay it. The bill comes, and it is far more money than you imagined. It is even more money than you have.

That is the position of the world today with climate change; Continue reading

Using clean renewables, dirty renewables or partly renewable technologies for renewable heat

The United Kingdom’s Department of Energy and Climate Change seem to need consultants to provide fundamental advice. That is fair enough, providing that they use consultants with genuine expertise. Unfortunately the past few years has seen the growth of many firms consulting in renewable energy that do not seem to have the expertise that they need. Continue reading

Geo engineering the climate – big on promises but…

Once in a while someone thinks of a bright idea without thinking it through properly. The idea is to cure some ill, but sometimes the cure may we worse than the disease. At the heart of these bright ideas is an endeavour to do good, but often there are other motives. Continue reading

Biofuels – their water footprint

We are now growing crops for energy. Some places (such as the European Union) even have targets specifying a given proportion of fuel energy from crops. This practice of growing more and more biofuel has led to food prices of some staples, like maize and rice, becoming very expensive in some places. Using land that presently produces food to produce biofuels is wrong. It is immoral and it is also unsustainable, and one important reason as to why this is unsustainable is the amount of water that these biofuel crops use – known as the water footprint.

The amount of water that crops contain compared with the amount that use is negligible; a water footprint of a crop has three components. The first is the “green water” which is the amount of water evaporated by the plant mainly during growth. The second is the “blue water which is the surface and ground water used for irrigation during growth. The third is “gray water which is the water that becomes polluted during the growth of the plant, or perhaps more accurately the water that is needed to dilute pollutants associated with the crops.

Some Dutch researchers (Winnie Gerbens-Leenesa,1, Arjen Y. Hoekstraa, and Theo H. van der Meerb Department of Water Engineering and Management and Laboratory of Thermal Engineering, University of Twente) have been calculating the water footprint of the more common biofuel and bio energy crops. They have made some interesting findings.

  • Producing bio ethanol uses less water than producing biodiesel
  • Sugar beet, maize and sugar cane are the most favourable crops for producing bio electricity, with a water footprint of 50 cubic metres per gigajoule.
  • Rapeseed and jatropha, typical energy crops, have a massive water footprint of 400 cubic metres per gigjoule.
  • For ethanol production, sugar beet, and potato (60 and 100m3/GJ) are best followed by sugar cane (110 m3/GJ); sorghum (400 m3/GJ) is the worst
  • For biodiesel production, soybean and rapeseed are best averaging 400 m3/GJ; jatropha (beloved of Air New Zealand) has an adverse water footprint of 600m3/GJ.

At the moment 86% of the world fresh water supplies are used for food production and for fibre production. Demand for food is increasing and will increase as the world’s population increases.  The fresh water supply is finite and we must have concerns over whether growing bio fuels particularly for fast cars and small jet aircraft is right, when the same crops could sustain life.

Biofuels are effectively being marketed as a source of renewable energy and as one of the ways of reducing human greenhouse gas emissions. They are marketed as “green, clean and renewable” and therefore as a way to reduce anthropogenic climate change.

They are certainly renewable; with proper land husbandry you can keep growing crops. They are perhaps green in the sense that they comprise vegetation, but in no other sense. They are certainly not clean. Biofuels are made from crops that need vast amounts of precious land and water. With more self control and modest amounts of self denial humans would not need the energy in such quantities.

Large scale growing of biofuels will inevitably affect fresh water supplies. We are not making much new land and we are not making much new water, so biofuel production will take place on land that we need for food crops and water that we need for food crops.

The World Bank has stated that in its opinion the growth of the biofuel industry and the making over of food producing land for biofuel production created the basis for 75% of the food price increase in the past six years.

In my classification of energy fuels (https://robertkyriakides.wordpress.com/2009/06/05/classifying-energy-fuels-and-clean-and-dirty-renewables/) I classify biofuels as dirty renewables. They are not only dirty but have another effect; they cause us to throw out the baby with the bath water. Literally.


You can read the Dutch study at: