Offshore wind design

Sustainability – when a sustainable kick up the backside is good news

Which is better? A short sharp shock or an extended trauma? The world has warned us recently to take the planet’s low-carbon transition more seriously. We still have many opportunities. But a deep cultural change is needed to keep us out of trouble.

( Text content written by Twenty6 for Danny Bonnett, LIC Energy )

Reinforcing the hot air message

It often takes dramatic events to spur us into action. Low-carbon is an example where mounting evidence suggests we are not moving fast enough against rising risks. But as I would also like to explain, we still have many positive ways to fight back as individuals, businesses and governments, though the longer we wait the deeper we’ll have to dig!

In June, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) welcomed the fact that a 43% fall in UK emissions over a 1990 baseline had been achieved with significant economic growth, but added that without improvements in key sectors like transport ‘the UK is not on course to meet the fourth (2023-2027) or fifth (2028-2032) carbon budgets’.

However, this was before the Government’s new ‘Road to Zero’ strategy was released in July which I think is an opportunity for concerned citizen-motorists to actively support the UK’s low-carbon transition.


Deep down I believe that most of us want to do the right thing, and so do our bit against global warming. The inconvenient truth is that good intentions often fade quickly – along with news headlines. However, several ‘red warnings’ over the summer have helped to up the ante.

The first is a string of heat-related extreme weather events that – rightly or wrongly – are being linked directly to global warming. The worst monsoon rains in a century have left more than 1,000 people dead and 800,000 stranded in southern India. Elsewhere, heatwaves from the UK and Europe to the US, Japan and Australia have led to water shortages and wildfires.

The second is the ‘hothouse earth’ scenario that has gained media traction recently. An existing literature study by its authors speculates whether a threshold tipping point could be reached where the planet is no longer able to repair itself. They suggest this is possible even if 2015 Paris climate agreement aims are met of limiting temperature increases to no more than 20C, or less. In other words, the physical earth processes could take over control of the climate and start to move the temperature equilibrium upwards.

Their concern is that man-made warming could turn natural carbon sinks – such as soils, leaf moulds, forests, oceans, sea ice, frozen tundra and trapped methane hydrates – into unstoppable and irreversible carbon sources. Once started, the process would self-perpetuate in a positive feedback mechanism. But with a likely timeframe more than a century away, again it is easy to put off urgent action today.

The third could be much closer to home. The years 2018 to 2022 may be anomalously hot a new analysis of existing statistics predicts. Will that be enough to spur us into decisive action? I would like to hope so. But the precautionary principle suggests that we need a better Plan A.

Far too little much too late

The group of European academics who authored the hothouse study worry that tampering with nature’s ability to store 4.5 billion tonnes of carbon could lead to searing temperatures, towering seas and severely limit our ability to live on the planet. Geo-engineering artificial protection from the sun’s rays and developing workable machines to suck carbon back out of the atmosphere would be essential, they suggest. At the very least we would have to redefine our human values, modify our behaviour fundamentally and rely on a new generation of unproven technologies to survive.

However, they share my view that much more can be done before these disaster scenarios are reached to end fossil-fuels use by mid-century, or preferably earlier. Here, our track record is better.

The good, the bad and the promising

The renewable energy sector, is a good example. Over the last half decade, the offshore wind and solar industries have systematically forced down sustainable energy production costs while simultaneously increasing generation capacity. Energy storage technologies are also coming on in leaps and bounds, with increasingly efficient and cost-efficient battery solutions of all sizes for homes, electric vehicles (EVs), large industrial and utility use.

Methane emissions from landfill waste have fallen by some 23%. Farming, where methane from fertilisers and animal dung spreading have dropped by just 3%, will be brought closer into the fold.

Construction meanwhile has shown limited progress. Building methods and materials are still seen to be carbon intensive. However, change could be coming from an unexpected quarter. Institutional investors are now acutely aware that global warming and potential climate change risks could jeopardise large capital investments. In response, they are putting financial pressures on large infrastructure constructors who in turn are leaning on their supply chains.

A new road map

However, transport is now a major villain of the peace with annual emissions that have actually risen by 4% recently. As a committed and very satisfied EV owner and driver myself, I would like to make a strong case that this is where many of us can take control of our own long-term carbon footprints.

Incidentally, another efficient area is ground source heating. We dug up our field recently for heat-collector pipes to be laid, harvesting heat energy with efficient use of electricity at a ratio of about 5 to 1 (the Co-efficient of Performance, COP). Absorbing free heat from the ground via an underground heat-exchange water loop is cheap, green, low-maintenance and invisible. It’s something I would like to discuss at another time. Meanwhile, back to transport.

When CCC chairman, Lord Deben commented in June that, ‘Although the UK seeks to lead the world in tackling climate change, the fact is that we’re off track to meet our own emissions targets in the 2020s and 2030s’, he said Road to Zero strategy’s absence was blocking the CCC’s advice to government. Now the Government has unveiled its 1.5 billion strategy for EV R&D and the innovative new infrastructure needed to phase out petrol and diesel sales by 2040, or earlier.

Unveiled in Parliament

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling explained to MPs in June how 46 new policies are designed to collectively ‘put the UK at the forefront of the design and manufacturing of zero-emission vehicles’, adding that it is ‘one of the most comprehensive packages of support in the world’ that will help the UK to ‘win a substantial slice’ of the global EV market by 2050 worth up to 7.6 trillion!

The strategy shows how the Government plans to phase out new petrol and diesel car sales, with low-carbon fuels and hybrid vehicles as temporary bridging solutions up to 2040. It wants more than half of new cars and 40% of new vans to be ultra-low emission by 2030.

Whilst the end goal is spot on, the urgency is a long way wide of the mark. And the transition could be much faster because of the sensational motoring experience ‘EVs’ offer. They have some 25% of the moving parts of a petrol-car, are three times more efficient in converting chemical energy to forward motion, and accelerate hard and seamlessly with no gears and virtually no engine noise. Driving an EV is like having your own magic carpet. Honestly, with a little more push from government, it’s hard to see why all new sales could not be electric by 2025.

Greening existing vehicles

There will also be measures to improve fuel efficiency and make existing petrol and diesel vehicles greener. The aim is to more than double low-carbon fuel-use nationwide. This is matched by a 15-year legal commitment to improve the supply and sustainability of such fuels which should account for 7% of all road fuels by 2032. A crackdown on garages and individuals who remove emissions-reducing technology from vehicles will be supported by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA), plus vehicle OEMs.

The existing Clean Vehicle Retrofit Accreditation Scheme, which currently only applies to buses, HGVs and coaches, will be expanded to include black cabs and vans. Retrofits to large vehicle fleets can be a cheaper and quicker way of reducing emissions that buying new vehicles.

Incentives to buy EV cars and vans will continue beyond 2020. To lead by example, 100% of the Government’s central fleet will be ultra-low emission by 2030. After leaving EU, vehicle emissions regulations will remain ambitious and may be strengthened post-Brexit.

Heavy goods with no heavy emissions

The electric vehicle revolution has also reached the heavy goods vehicle sector; ultra-low emission standards are being developed for HGVs. How zero-emissions technologies work best for HGVs is being studied with Highways England. A voluntary commitment will be introduced to reduce HGV greenhouse gas emissions by 15% by 2025 based on a 2015 baseline.

The Government also wants EV R&D to rise substantially by 2027, with a 12% tax break for qualifying projects, plus initiatives to source UK parts and raw materials. A new supply chain competitiveness and productivity improvement programme is due to be launched to help the UK’s EV R&D industry compete with European rivals. Training for mechanics to repair EVs and other low-emission vehicles could be included in the strategy.

Hot years ahead

Earlier, I mention that 2018 to 2020 could be “anomalously warm”. This conclusion is based on new university research that has developed a statistical method of searching through 20th and 21st century simulations of climatic conditions for comparable conditions today. Man-made warming does not increase at a perfectly steady rate. The team says its new algorithm is “learned” within minutes and allows predictions to be made within a ‘few hundredths of a second’ on a laptop that could take supercomputers a week using traditional simulation methods. They stress however that this is the reworking of existing information rather than creation of original new data.

As a final footnote, Ofgem believes smart and vehicle-to-grid charging will make a 60% increase in EVs connected to the existing grid possible. It says ‘flexible’ charging will be even more beneficial if and when fast chargers are commonplace. At that point, there will be a six-fold increase in EV-grid connections. This will cut costs for consumers by reducing the need for new energy sources and extra grid capacity.

Let’s hope that future news headlines are all positive. And buy EVs!