“global CO2 emissions since 2000 are tracking the high end of projections used by the IPCC, which far exceed 2oC of warming by 2100”.Those are the words of Professor Corrine Le Quere, Director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change. In my words (with a little help from Hobbes), without radical change to our energy production system, life for our descendants is going to become nasty, brutish and short.
Climate change isn’t going to mean more balmy summer evenings on which to enjoy a G&T on the veranda. It’s going to mean hell on earth for billions of people. Desertification, drought, severe and prolonged flooding, several metres of sea level rise. Hundreds of millions of climate refugees will need somewhere to call home. The chances of all this having no effect on Wales? Nil.
So back to our 100% renewable future (because this is the only sure-fire way of Wales playing its part in averting climate catastrophe). I’m not going to go into the tens of thousands of jobs it’ll create, or the economic benefits that’ll flow through our economy as a result. I’ll focus on how we get there, because that’s the job of the here and now.
First, we need to focus on the renewables that are right now able to deliver substantial amounts of energy to the grid. That means wind turbines, and plenty of them, onshore as well as offshore. Not everywhere the wind blows. But in lots more places than are currently being considered. Society has squandered any moral capital we might have had about protecting landscapes through opposing renewable energy projects that could have given us a head-start in our renewable future. Remember Stern? Back in 2006 he said that investing 1% of GDP would be enough for us to stave off the worst impacts of climate change – but we’d need to do it immediately and pretty much forever. Well we went about that with about as much urgency as a banker filling in his tax return for 2012/13. And what happened next? In 2008, Stern said that now it’s going to need 2% of GDP each year.
It also means solar panels on every south-facing roof in Wales, paid for by the Green Investment Bank, with the savings for householders feeding back into a revolving loan scheme.
I was glad to see the focus on marine renewables in the Welsh Government’s energy paper, because in years to come that will help beef up our resilience for the days when there’s less wind and sunshine. And to complement the intermittency of our renewables, we’ll need major investment in energy storage facilities – pumped hydro, batteries of all different kinds (including molten salt), and generation of hydrogen from excess electricity.
We’re not isolated in this renewable energy nirvana. We’ll be connected via a European supergrid to wind farms in the North Sea and solar arrays in the Sahara.
Of course, it’s easier to get to 100% renewables when your consumption is 5TWh than if it’s double that. So we’ll need to have passivhaus standards for all new housing alongside a huge programme of retrofitting energy efficiency measures to every house in Wales (paid for out of the revolving loan).
The Welsh Government’s energy policy has laid some of the foundations for this renewables revolution. But we need ambition increased by an order of magnitude, along with devolution of consenting and planning over all energy projects. So here’s a quick note to Carwyn Jones – if you want to see how things can be done in an ambitious, practical manner, you might want to take a peek at the Scottish Government’s draft energy policy statement.
And for anyone who’s been conned into believing some of the tired fallacies about wind, take a look at Friends of the Earth Cymru's ‘wind myths’ paper.