Zero-carbon Britain

A week or so ago I discussed an also-recent post by George Monbiot, who had reviewed a handful of research papers (etc.); they all had pointed to a great deal more that governments could do for cutting back on carbon emissions.

One of those was the report Zerocarbonbritain: an alternative energy strategy, by the Centre for Alternative Technology (aren’t they clever? You will notice I used proper English in my blog post. I mean, ‘blog post. Dammit!). At the time of my writing , it had not yet been released – Monbiot having gotten a sneak preview, because he’s smart and famous, the bastard – but, now, it has. The full report can be downloaded here.

Alternatively, if you just don’t know whether or not it is your bag, you can watch a trailer for the report (no, seriously. What? Stop laughing!):

As it is laid out, the report is excellent (and colourful). The contents:


The report details Britain’s becoming carbon-free – and the world with it:

This strategy explores a scenario that leads from the status quo to a zero-carbon Britain in a zero-carbon world. The pursuit of such a strategy will entail a challenging period in the country’s history. The necessary rate of change will require rapid decision making and an urgent sense of common purpose, more akin to that which pertained during World War 2 than in any period since.

According to the idea of contraction (when all of our emissions are decreasing) and convergence (some date and point to which those contracting emissions will converge, on an equitable foundation depending upon our economies), the report discusses: the measures our economies must put in place to secure this; the measures our governments must undertake when our market fail to act, or act quickly enough; measures we can/must undertake to ‘power down’ our energy-utilisation building, motoring, manufacturing, etc.; and how to ‘power-up’, i.e. how best to utilise renewable (including nuclear) energy to replace our super-charged carbon-burning fascination of today.

In terms of ‘powering down’, the report coins the marvellous term energy-obese, in describing current-day England. I love it. The thesis is that England shall, by 2027, need to require half the energy it currently does. The report actually simplifies the British energy economy to a closed one: it operates as a closed island economy, meaning it must learn to work with no imported energy (not at all a bad idea, in this day and age). Building, consumption/consumers, transport and industry are dealt with individually, with discussion of structural market and governmental strategies that can be employed to bring energy use down. The keys are internalising the costs – the costs of production and of externalities – to ‘force’, if you will, England’s component energy-users to respond to the need to power down.

One of the big changes in use by industry/economy is in what we call ‘tele-commuting’. So much energy is burned through just getting to and from work – not to mention keeping two sets of buildings heated or cooled. Utilising telecommunications technology to do more and more of our work from home, including from farther away from the city, will alter the intensity of energy needed in our current supply.

Another is agriculture, specifically carbon sequestration. This is brought up as an alternative way of considering agriculture, relative to the silliness of biofuels.

In terms of ‘powering up’, the assumption then is that energy needed has been halved through the pursuit of such policies. This simplifies the problem considerably (and is exactly why debate about new sources of energy that do not address the escalating energy demand of today are doomed to hopeless failure).

Of most pleasing nature is how down on nuclear power the report is (because I am, too). It contains a very great, all-encompassing quote about the politics of relying upon nuclear energy:

“If the UK cannot meet its climate change commitments without nuclear power, then under the terms of the Framework Convention on Climate Change, we cannot deny others the same technology.”

– UK Sustainable Development Commission


The report favours (obviously) renewables. Which is where my previous mention of the report comes in. Wind, Solar (photo-voltaic), Marine (wave, tidal) and Heat (geo-thermal, solar-thermal) are all mentioned. Key, though, is matching demand. Currently the big problem with electricity-production is being able to meet the insane spikes in demand (at, say 8.30 when the Big Game kicks off, or right at half-time when we all go to make our cup of tea. Sorry, Americans. That must sound incredibly un-Manly*).

This is where some more speculative technology comes in. A lot of our ability to ‘do’ this lies with being able to store much greater amounts of electricity, for longer periods, and with an ability still to get it to housholds/offices when demand spikes. The good news is, that too is eminently do-able. Switching between different sources is one of the keys, localising storage is another. It needs to be devloped, but the reports uses dates like 2014 and 2027, so. If we’re not belted to hell by an asteroid by then, what’s stopping us?

Check out the report. It isn’t long, and it isn’t technical. It is interesting.

* Australians: I just remembered a joke told to me by my Uncle: “I have a ‘Coogee Chest’: it’s a long way from Manly.” Still makes me laugh.


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