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Showing posts from 2012

Solar salvation for Rio climate woes?

See that shiny new smartphone in your hand - I had one of those 10 years ago.  Granted it was big, ugly, slow, buggy and furiously expensive, but at the time it was at the cutting edge of mobile technology.  Now of course smartphones are powerful, ubiquitous and above all cheap. This is largely thanks to continued technological advancement that’s made electronics cheaper and better year after year, a process known in the industry as Moore’s Law.
The reason I mention this is that the world desperately needs energy technologies that are following a similar ‘better, cheaper’ path.  The lack of any meaningful media coverage of the current Rio+20 conference is making a rather telling point -  the media and the world’s leaders are squarely focused on our economic woes. Environmental concerns are, it seems, yesterday’s news.  Against this harsh backdrop green energy will start having to pay its way in cold hard cash, rather than avoided external costs added in a cost-benefit analysis.
Into…

CLG Outlines How Local Authorities Might Share the Pain

‘With great power comes great responsibility’. Those of you who’ve seen Sami Rami’s 2002 Spiderman film may remember these warning words delivered by the web slinger’s uncle shortly before his unfortunate demise. The Government must have been watching, as similar sentiments are now being voiced through the Localism Act and via a follow on consultation from the Department of Communities and Local Government (CLG) entitled ‘Proposed policy statement for Part 2 of the Localism Act 2011’.

The Localism agenda brings a dramatic shift in power from central to local Government. Under the previous Government local authorities were assigned more and more mandatory responsibilities and performance indicators until they became little more than agencies for delivering central Government policies. Late in the day the Labour Government began to reverse this trend and devolve more powers to local authorities, a process accelerated under the Localism agenda of the current coalition Government.

But this …

2011 UK Energy Figures – Oil and Gas Production Plummet but Low Carbon Generation Grows

Provisional 2011 UK energy figures have been released today by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC). Conventional energy gives little cause for cheer with the news that the production decline in North Sea oil and gas has accelerated. On the positive side low carbon electricity generation has climbed, whilst total energy consumption had continued on its declining trend.

The energy consumption figures probably give most hope for environmentalists. UK energy demand has been falling now for over 5 years, although the economic downturn has done much to drive this trend. DECC’s figures show 2011 total energy demand was down a whopping 7% from 2010, however much of this was thought to be due to the mild weather and on a temperature adjusted basis the figure was a more modest (but still significant) 2%.

Low carbon generation also provided some good news. Wind’s share of generation by major power producers has grown from 2.4% to 4.0% since 2010 due to greater capacity and windier …

A Healthy Direction for Local Air Quality Management

With climate change hogging the headlines work on air quality in the UK can sometimes feel like a bit of a backwater. Major policy announcements are few and far between, so it's surprising that when a significant shift in air quality policy happens it slips out quietly rather than being shouted from the rooftops.

The policy shift in question was contained in the dry sounding 'Public health outcomes framework for England, 2013-2016’ released by the Department for Health earlier this week. To give a bit of background here the document supports the Government’s earlier decision to hand back public health responsibilities to local authorities. This will take place via the appointment of Directors of Public Health in English county and unitary level authorities, who will be provided with ring-fenced funding to support their work.

The new document sets down the indicators by which public health will be defined and measured. The indicators span 4 categories, and focus on the fact…

A High Speed Future or an Expensive White Elephant?

So High Speed 2 (HS2) has been approved. Come 2026 we’ll be able to travel from London to Birmingham on fast, punctual services with the promise of high speed extensions to Leeds and Manchester to come. The media is full of contrasting opinions on this development, with some proclaiming the benefits of a sorely needed new line and others deriding the project as an expensive and environmentally damaging white elephant. So who’s right?

If you’re pressed for time the simple answer is ‘who knows?’, but if you’re after a bit more of an analysis read on. The arguments for HS2 rest largely on its abilities to reduce journey times and increase capacity on the UK’s railways. The first of these arguments is the best known due to the impressive 225 mph planned top speed for the line – that’s a good 100 mph faster than current West Coast Main Line (WCML) that HS2 will mirror. But, whilst impressive, speed is not necessarily a benefit in itself.

The first reason why faster may not be necessarily (mu…

Good News is No News for Environmental Campaigns

Today the Mayor of London launched a ‘no idling’ campaign, designed to encourage drivers in the capital to switch of their engines when parked. The campaign features cleverly designed adverts urging drivers to help prevent asthma attacks and other undesirable health impacts by switching off their engines and reducing air pollution.

It’s a great promotion to see up and running, it’s just a shame they ‘key messages’ accompanying it almost immediately shoots the whole campaign in the foot. The briefing accompanying the campaign gives two key messages, the first of which proudly states 'London’s air quality is hugely better than it was 50 years ago but there’s still room for improvement'.

You’d be excused if you didn’t get past the first few words. Whilst the message that air quality is better now than it has been in the past is undoubtedly true it’s hardly a rousing call to action. Faced with a campaign that proclaims things are getting much better most members of the public would …