New poll reveals support for renewables

Yesterday the Department of Energy and Climate Change published it’s eight quarterly public attitudes survey.

The survey is carried out every three months to monitor the public’s attitudes to the government’s energy policies. Face to face interviews were carried out at 2,110 households in mid December. The published results confirm that the public’s support for renewable energy remains widespread.

77% of those polled stated that they supported or strongly supported the continuing use and expanding development of the UK’s vast renewable energy resources.

This represents a 1% increase on the level of public support recorded in the previous survey. This is despite the long running campaign against renewable energy being carried out by several mass media publications. Not to mention the campaign for shale gas extraction being carried out by several of the same publications. Despite this more than three quarters of the Great British public support the continued and further use of renewable energy technologies.

51% of those people polled signaled that they “support” the use of renewable energy technologies. A further 26% of those polled responded that they “strongly support” the use of renewable energy technologies. In dramatic comparison only 4% of those polled gave the opinion that they opposed the exploitation of renewable energy resources. A further 1% “strongly opposed” the use of renewable energy. This comparison demonstrates that in reality anti-renewable energy sentiments are very much a minority, if not fringe, concern. This contrasts sharply with the picture presented in some avenues of the mainstream press which seek to portray such opinions as being held by the majority of people in this country.

The survey broke down support levels for individual forms of renewable energy generation: 81% stated their support for solar energy, 71% for wave and tidal energy, 72% for offshore wind generation, 64% for onshore wind generation and 60% for biomass. Additionally the levels of “strong support” given for each technology type stands consistently between one quarter and one third of respondents. It has been suggested that the reason  wave and tidal and offshore wind have polled so highly is due their relatively low visual impact as opposed to their cost effectiveness; a standard in which other technologies such as onshore wind rank far higher.

The survey also demonstrated that public awareness of shale gas and shale gas extraction has increased significantly in the last few years. When these quarterly surveys were first carried out two years ago 58% of respondents were unaware of shale gas. As of now this figure has decreased to 30% of respondents. Over the same time scale respondents “who know something” about shale gas have increased from 32% to 52%.

However increased awareness has not translated into increased support. This quarterly survey was the first to gauge public support for shale gas. Despite much coverage in the media and strong messages of support from some senior political figures only 27% of respondents stated that they would support shale gas development. 21% stated that they would not support shale gas development. It is also worth making the point that despite much lobbying in those parts of the UK which have been proposed as areas suitable for shale gas exploration, or fracking, have seen widespread and organised protests against the proposals.

Also this week it was announced that Glasgow City Council is to become the first local authority in the UK to switch to low energy LED (light-emitting diode) street lighting after securing a loan from the Green Investment Bank.

Glasgow City Council intends to convert over 70,000 street lights to LEDs in an effort to reduce costs, energy consumption and light pollution. Street lighting costs Local Authorities in the UK  £300 million a year and produces 1.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually. For some Local Authorities street lighting can account for up to 40% of their energy usage. The Green Investment Bank has voiced it’s hopes that other Local Authorities will follow Glasgow City Council in participating in such schemes.

Indeed to that end the Bank is offering similar loan packages to that given to Glasgow City Council to other Local Authorities. To fund LED street lighting conversion schemes the Bank is offering low, fixed rate loans over a period of up to 20 years. Repayments will be taken from energy bill savings. The Bank is advising Local Authorities that LED switching delivers pay-back within 5 to 15 years. Following this Local Authorities can expect bills to drop by up to 80%.

The securing of the loan was announced with enthusiasm from all parties. UK Green Investment Bank chief executive, Shaun Kingsbury, stated:

“Bad lighting does not come cheap, it carries an electricity bill which can be cut by up to 80 per cent with a move to low energy, LED lighting.  Making the switch saves councils money, increases community safety and dramatically reduces the UK’s carbon footprint.”

“The GIB Green Loan is essentially a corporate loan facility that covers the set-up, capital investment and installation costs of lighting upgrades to LED, with repayments being made from within forecast savings.  Put more simply, local authorities borrow money from the Green Investment Bank, but repay the loan entirely through the money they save by changing their lighting.”

Business Secretary, Vince Cable said:

“Once again the UK Green Investment Bank (GIB) is leading the way in the green revolution. Street lighting across Britain tends to be very costly and energy inefficient, emitting the same amount of carbon dioxide each year as a quarter of a million cars on the road. This investment by GIB into new LED technology could make big strides in saving money for local councils and reducing our carbon footprint. I urge councils across the country to follow Glasgow City Council’s lead and GIB’s new Green Loan can help speed up the take up of this streetlighting.

“So far through the Green Investment Bank – the first of its kind in the world – we have invested more than £750 million in energy projects which are driving innovation and our plans for green growth. For every £1 the bank has invested, £3 has been raised from the private sector for projects in areas ranging from offshore wind to waste to energy efficiency products.”

Councillor Gordon Matheson, Leader of Glasgow City Council, said:

“My vision is to make Glasgow one of Europe’s most sustainable cities. It is our goal to improve energy efficiency, cut carbon emissions and generate savings for the public purse. Glasgow City Council is not only creating a digital and low carbon route out of recession with social justice at its heart, but also ensuring Glasgow is one of Europe’s most sustainable cities.

“Glasgow is leading the way in meeting existing challenges head on to become a smarter, more intelligent city. One of our current measures is set to see us become the first local authority to receive a Green Investment Bank loan as we work towards further embracing low energy streetlighting.”

Support for renewable energy and energy-saving schemes such as that announced in Glasgow yesterday remains widespread in the UK. It is our hope that we at ILI (Renewable Energy) can do our part to increase it.

 

New poll reveals support for wind energy

Last week the Mail On Sunday newspaper commissioned a new opinion poll to find out public attitudes to wind turbine developments.

The poll was carried out by the polling company Survation. The results revealed that the public continue to view wind turbines in a favourable light. In fact it could possibly be said that public support for wind turbine developments is only increasing in the UK.

All of the people surveyed as part of this poll were asked the following question:  “Which of the following statements is closest to your opinion: (a) I would be happy to have a wind farm built in my local area (b) I would not be happy to have a wind farm built in my local area”? The results revealed that a clear majority support not just the concept of wind energy developments being undertaken somewhere within the country but within the local area of those polled. 70.1% of people asked selected answer (a) demonstrating that nimbyism is very much a minority opinion; supported by only 31.9% of people.

Furthermore the poll revealed that public support for wind turbine developments  exists as the majority opinion across the political spectrum. The people surveyed were asked to state their voting intentions in the upcoming 2015 General Election. 60.8% of those who gave their preference as the Conservative Party stated that they would be happy to have a wind farm built in their local area. 74.6% of people intending to vote for the Labour Party were of the same opinion: as were 81.1% of future Liberal Democrat voters and even 57.8% of future UK Indepence Party (UKIP) voters. The polling information therefore suggests that wind power is not the divisive issue that some elements of the press and some politicians would wish it to be.

The second question in the poll asked those surveyed to choose a preferable form of energy generation development to take place in their local area. Specifically they were asked to choose between a wind farm development or a shale gas fracking plant. Again a  clear majority revealed that renewable wind energy was their choice. 68.1% of those polled stated their support for wind power over shale gas fracking. Only 31.9% of those asked gave their support for the controversial new form of fossil fuel extraction. Again this runs contrary to some elements of the press but is a strong indication of not only strong support amongst the general public for renewable energy but also a rejection of the fossil fuel status quo. As with the first question this opinion was reflected by the majority across the political spectrum.

Industry trade body RenewableUK‘s Director of External Affairs Jennifer Webber greeted the poll results positively:

“We’re pleased that a massive 7 in 10 people would welcome a wind farm near them. It goes to show that the loud opposition we sometimes hear just isn’t representative of general people’s views. This vote of support is consistent across age groups, voting intention and region of the country. In other words for politicians no matter which party you represent, or where in the country you are, if you oppose wind you’re out of touch with your voters.

“There’s a lot of confusion about what green levies represent and that makes it difficult for people to know whether they support them or not. What’s clear is when directly asking whether they favour Government spending money into the future encouraging wind, a majority of people say yes. Currently wind adds less than £20 a year to consumer bills, but we’re not taking this support for granted, and the wind industry is going to work hard over the next few years to reduce costs even further, ensuring that we have a clean, secure, affordable energy source which can provide tens of thousands of jobs in areas of the country which need them most”.

In other news this week, turbine manufacturer Gamesa announced that it has developed a new turbine maintenance and refurbishment program. This new program can potentially extend the operational lifespan of a wind turbine by around ten years. Currently wind turbines have an operational lifespan of around twenty to twenty-five years. Given that many other turbine manufacturers are expected to follow Gamesa in developing such programs it could become common to see wind turbines generating electricity for up to thirty fives before requiring replacement. The development of such programs is particularly timely given that many of the earliest installed turbine models are now nearing the end of their operational lifespan. The use of such maintenance schemes as that announced Gamesa could mean that there would be no drop off in installed wind generation capacity levels.

Turbine maintenance is expected to become a growth market in the future as more and more wind turbines are installed in the United Kingdom, Europe and Worldwide. More wind turbines creates an obvious need for more turbine maintenance. Additionally Gamesa announced that it has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Forth Ports Authority to establish an offshore wind turbine manufacturing plant in Leith. Yet another example of the job creation potential of the wind energy industry.

Gamesa’s Global senior vice-president Fernando Valldeperes announced the development of the program stating:  ”Gamesa has been asked by the EC to come up with a standard process for life extensions for the whole of Europe, for which we had the first meeting last month … we’ve also been working with [green energy consultancy] Garrad Hassan to help them with this.”

The polls carried out this week reveal that a majority of the British public, irregardless of their political persuasion,  support the development of more of the UK’s wind resource and would be happy to see such developments  occur in their local area rather than just in some unloved corner of the country. When we see the developments in the technology itself and the job creating potential of the industry it is easy to understand why.

Island Interconnectors would qualify for Green Bank funding

Aside

Mike Mackenzie, MSP for the Highlands and Islands region, has confirmed with the UK’s Green Investment Bank that projects involving the installation of interconnectors  to Scotland’s Islands would fit their funding criteria.

The installation of interconnectors would offer several benefits to both residents of the islands and the mainland. Interconnectors would allow for renewable energy which is being generated on the islands to be transmitted to the mainland. This would open up a a large amount of renewable energy capacity to the UK’s electricity grid. Some of the country’s most suitable sites for renewable energy development, particularly in the marine and offshore wind sectors, are to be found in the isles. However the relative lack of energy demand on the islands acts as a hindrance to such developments. The installation of interconnectors would not only help to provide additional energy security to the UK’s electricity consumers and help to keep energy prices down it would also provide inward investment to the people of the islands.

The Green Investment Bank, which was launched in 2012, was established to provide funding to projects which would “accelerate the UK’s transition to a  green economy”. Already funding has been provided to a wide variety of projects including offshore wind farms, several biomass projects and hospital energy efficiency schemes. Interconnector projects, which would open up so much potential energy generation, would very possibly fall under the umbrella of offshore wind or marine energy projects which are at this time considered to be a priority by the Green Investment Bank.

An example of the projects which could proceed given the installation of interconnectors would be the proposed Beaw Field wind farm on the isle of Shetland. It has already been confirmed that the proposed project, which could produce up to 100 megawatts of power, will only proceed if an interconnector is installed between Shetland and the mainland. The installation of an interconnector itself is dependant upon another develoment on the isle proceeding – the 457MW Viking Energy wind farm which has been granted planning permission. The nature of these two schemes also demonstrates the onshore wind potential of the Islands.

Confirmation was gained by Mr Mackenzie at last week’s meeting of the Scottish Governments Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, which was taking evidence from the Green Investment Bank’s Chairman, Chief Executive and Operation’s Director. When asked by Mr Mackenzie if the Bank would consider investment in interconnector projects Sean Kingsley, Chief Executive, responded that he felt this to be a “great idea”.

Following the conclusion of the committee Mr Mackenzie made the following comment:

“This is fantastic news for the Highlands and Islands. I am pleased to see that there is a possibility of investment from the Green Investment Bank and I will be following up today’s exchange in the committee with a letter to the bank to try and help turn those words into action.”

“Renewable energy projects, both large and small, on Scotland’s Islands are currently disadvantaged because they are unable to transport their energy to the grid. Because of their great natural resources their potential is massive – as the recent Scottish Islands Renewable Report illustrated –New submarine cables [interconnectors] are urgently needed to transport the significant amounts of renewable electricity which can be generated on Scotland’s islands to mainland consumers, so these interconnectors would be a great low-risk investment for the bank.

“I sincerely hope that this investment possibility is followed up by the bank, and I look forward to hearing further from them on this matter.”

Additionally, last week the BBC carried out an energy survey as part of Radio Five Live’s Energy Day. Energy Day saw an entire day’s worth of programming transmitted from a temporary studio powered entirely by renewable energy. Energy was generated from a variety of sources including solar panels, onshore wind turbines and even exercise bikes!

The survey, which interviewed 1035 adults, found that a significant majority of the public would be happy to see renewable energy developments take place in their local area. 67% of those surveyed would be happy to see more wind farms and 84% gave their approval to more solar developments.This is in stark contrast to shale gas fracking which found support from a minority of only 33% of the population.

Dale Vince, founder of British green energy company Ecotricty remarked; “The fact 67% of people support having more wind farms in their area is not a surprise at all – every public survey for the past two decades has come back with the same result.”

The survey also revealed the existence of  a generation gap in feelings towards renewable energy. Whilst a majority of 54% of those aged over 65 said they would be happy to see more wind energy developments in their local area this figure rose significantly to 82% of those aged between 25-34. It has often been said that renewable energy is the future. Demographics would seem to support this opinion.

The UK has some of the best renewable energy development potential in the world and the Scottish Islands have some of the best renewable energy development potential in the UK.  The installation of interconnectors between the Islands and the mainland would unlock a large amount of this potential. Providing energy security for all and much needed  inward investment to some of the country’s most isolated communities.

 

New surveys reveals continuing support for renewable energy

The Department of Energy and Climate Change published it’s sixth quarterly tracker survey yesterday.

The survey is carried out every three months to monitor the public’s attitudes to the government’s energy policies. Face to face interviews were carried out at 2,124 households in early July. The published results confirm that the public’s support for renewable energy remains widespread.

76% of those polled stated that they supported or strongly supported the continuing use and expanding development of the UK’s vast renewable energy resources.

Whilst this represents a very slight decline from previous survey results it should be pointed out that the poll was conducted at the height of the shale gas industry’s media blitz, particularly within the right wing press.

This media campaign does not appear to have had the desired affect. There was no change in the level of people who oppose or strongly oppose renewable energy. Only 5% of those polled gave this opinion; demonstrating that this view remains the preserve of an extremist minority. It is also worth making the point that despite much lobbying those parts of the UK which have been proposed as areas suitable for shale gas exploration, or fracking, have seen widespread and organised protests against the proposals.

18% of those surveyed commented that they had no opinion on renewable energy development. This equals the highest level recorded since the surveys were first carried out. Again this suggests that the campaign against renewables in some parts of the media is failing to have the desired affect.

The poll also revealed further positive news for the renewable energy industry. 71% of the people polled gave the opinion that they believe renewable energy to be economically beneficial to the UK. This is a 2% increase from the 69% of people who gave this opinion in the previous survey. Furthermore, 56% revealed that they would be happy to have a large scale renewable development in their local area. Again this was an increase from the previous poll in which 55% gave this opinion. The upwards trend of these opinions can perhaps be attributed to the fact that more renewable energy developments have came online in the time between the two surveys. More people have had a chance to see the economic benefits of renewable energy development in terms of community contributions and job creation. As the positive impacts of renewable energy are felt more widely one can expect the upwards trend of such opinions to continue.

The survey broke down support levels for individual forms of renewable energy generation: 81% stated their support for solar energy, 72% for wave and tidal energy, 71% for offshore wind generation, 65% for onshore wind generation and 60% for biomass. It has been suggested that the reason  wave and tidal and offshore wind have polled so highly is due their relatively low visual impact as opposed to their cost effectiveness; a standard in which other technologies such as onshore wind rank far higher.

In contrast to the continuing support for renewable energy nuclear power saw its support amongst the public continue to decline. Only 37% of those involved in the poll gave their support to its use in the UK. The level of support for nuclear has declined of several quarterly surveys and one can perhaps expect this trend to continue given the continued presence of the Fukushima disaster in the news. 25% of those polled opposed the use of nuclear power (contrasted with the 5% who did not support nuclear) and 35% had no opinion. The decline in support for nuclear as well as the uncertainty surrounding the prospects of new nuclear plants being built indicates that renewables will very much remain key to UK government energy policy.

DECC has long maintained that it regards the future of UK energy generation to be the use of a variety of different energy sources; what is often referred as the ‘mixed portfolio’. This stance continues to have a strong level of support from the UK public with 81% of those polled giving their backing to this policy.

The poll has revealed some of the issues which DECC is facing in terms of public awareness. 74% of people polled commented that they had thought ‘a fair amount’ or indeed a lot about home energy efficiency. Despite this and the launch of the Green Deal this year 47% revealed that they had never heard of smart meters. More will need to be done in this area but it should be noted that this figure represents an improvement on the 53% who gave the same answer in the previous quarter. Additionally the widespread roll out of smart meters (all homes and businesses are expected to have smart meters installed by 2020) is not scheduled to begin until 2015.

The fact that there exists a majority consensus on climate change is also good news for the renewable industry with 66% of the public fairly or very concerned about the issue. 38% of those polled attributed climate change mainly or entirely to human causes. 42% felt that it was being caused by a combination of human and natural causes and only 12% giving the opinion that it was being caused mainly or solely due to natural developments. These results indicate that the debate on the widespread use of renewable energy is far better placed in the UK than it is in a country such as the United States where the climate change debate is far more divisive both publicly and politically. A consensus existing on climate change means that the debate can move forward to how best to address it; which renewable energy generation can play an extremely major part in doing.

Support for renewable energy remains widespread in the UK. It is our hope that we at ILI (Renewable Energy) can do our part to increase it.

 

Majority of UK Public Support Renewables

A survey published last weekend in the Sunday Times has revealed that public support for renewable energy remains strong across the political spectrum. Support for renewable energy continues to outstrip support for shale gas developments despite a concentrated and sustained media campaign by shale gas companies.

The survey, carried out by YouGov, polled 1,952 people, establishing their political preferences and asked them if they were in favour of financial support for a variety of energy generation technologies. The poll revealed that a majority of all four political parties supporters were in favour of continued funding for renewable technologies such as wind and tidal power.

Regardless of political opinion, a majority of 65% were in favour of continuing support for the wind industry. This was a strong result given the continuing campaign against the industry in some parts of the media. 76% of those polled were in favour of financial support for the embryonic tidal power industry and 79% were favourable to continued support for solar power. These poll results seem to indicate that a consensus exists among the public in regards to renewable energy generation. Nearly two-thirds of those polled are of the opinion that renewable energy is the solution both to rising energy prices and climate change. This is reflected in the poll results for fossil fuel use. Only 40% of those polled were in favour of financial support for shale gas despite the optimistic estimates made in some parts of the media about it’s potential impact upon the domestic energy market. This belief in renewable energy was also seen in the fact that only 49% of those polled were in favour of financial support for nuclear support. This is despite the fact that new nuclear power generation will not be able to go ahead in this country without very heavy financial support from the government.

Shale gas has rapidly become a concern for many people within the UK; as demonstrated by the anti-fracking protest groups which are springing up across the country. Such concerns are reflected in the polling data. For example, 47% of those polled considered shale gas extraction (fracking) to be damaging to the environment. Only 31% believed that this was not the case. Furthermore, 43% of people felt that shale gas development would be harmful to their local area. Only 25% of people would be happy to see fracking proceed in their locality.

The fact that UKIP were included as one of the political party preferences demonstrates their growth; particularly in England. The party has often been perceived as an extremist (in some regards) offshoot of the Conservative party. One would expect therefore their supporters to be strongly anti-renewables. However, 51% of polled UKIP supporters were in favour of financial support for wind power and 76% in favour of support for marine energy. These results correlate with an earlier survey which found that voters favour politicians who actively support wind power. Public support for wind energy generation continues to be strong.

RenewableUK‘s Director of External Affairs, Jennifer Webber released the following statement about the poll results:

“Poll after poll shows that voters value low carbon technologies such as wind and tidal power. This latest poll shows that there’s not a single age group or voting demographic where a majority of people don’t want financial support for wind. It’s clear that for politicians, whether they’re UKIP, Conservative, Liberal Democrat or Labour that further development of our natural wind and marine resources is the way to go.

“With a recent study from Cardiff University showing that over 80% of people are worried about becoming overly dependent on energy from other countries, it’s important that confidence is retained for domestic low carbon producers. Wind provided enough power for the equivalent of 4.5 million homes last year and needs to play an increasing role in our electricity provision. If we press strongly on, as supporters of all political parties are urging, we can also build on our offshore and marine supply chain to create tens of thousands of jobs over the next decade”.

In other news, several major turbine manufacturers are collaborating together on solutions to reduce bird fatalities caused by turbine blades. The project is being led by Energy Norway, includes contributions from Statoil, Vatenfall, Trønder Energi Kraft, NVE and NINA, and is supported by the Research Council of Norway. Although research has demonstrated that turbines have no long term impact on bird populations and indeed cause less fatalities than traffic or domestic cats bird deaths remains an issue for some members of the public. This new pilot scheme will test whether painting some parts of wind turbines black (for instance one of the turbine blades or part of the tower) can increase their visibility to bird species and reduce collisions. The use of ultraviolet paint (which is invisible to the human eye) is also being explored. Trials are to be carried out at the 68 turbine Smøla wind farm in Northern Norway. Whilst any step which can be taken to reduce collisions is welcome it should be remembered that the most significant steps taken to avoid harming bird populations are carried out at the planning stage. Stringent planning requirements exist in Scotland (and the wider UK) to ensure that turbines are placed in areas in which they will have a minimal impact on protected species, large populations and migratory routes. However, if such schemes can further minimise bird deaths then they be welcomed by both the wind industry and the public.

Wind power continues to receive the support of the British public. But the result of this fact must not be complacency.The wind power industry must continue to get it’s message across. And programs such as that being trailed in Norway can only help to do so.

Fracking Threatens Bath

Fracking  has caused further controversy in the UK as plans to begin exploratory drilling in the Mendip Hills for Shale Gas have come under attack from elected officials and members of the public in the nearby World Heritage City of Bath. The Mendip Hills themselves have also been classified as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Fears have been raised that the process of fracking, which fractures rocks by injecting vast quantities of water, sand and a cocktail of chemicals (the make up of which Shale Energy Companies remain fiercely secretive about) into the earth, could lead to the contamination of the city of Bath’s world renowned hot springs. Fracking has already frequently been accused of contaminating groundwater sources; a claim that the Shale Gas Industry has had to refute repeatedly. Figures in the industry have argued that fracking typically takes place at depths below that where groundwater sources are generally found.However the water which supplies the hot springs comes from a deepwater source. The waters at Bath have been used recreationally and medicinally since Roman times and are the back bone of the city’s vital tourist trade. Indeed Bath City Council have placed direct income from the Hot Springs at around £34 million per annum with the wider tourist trade bringing in £348 million a year to the city.

Paul Crossley, head of the Local Authority, released the following statement:

“There is a great concern that the process of fracking will result in the water courses leading to the natural hot springs being contaminated with pollutants from this process, or for the waters to adopt a different direction of travel through new fractures in the underlying rocks.

“Bath and North East Somerset Council has obtained the very best expert advice on this matter and there is little to suggest that any thought has been given to the deep water sources that supply the springs in Bath.

“Given the fact the hot springs are a crucial part of the tourist attraction that sustains thousands of jobs in the city, the council must stand up against the these drilling proposals in the strongest possible terms.”

The Liberal Democrat MP for Wells, Tessa Munt, has already written to Energy Secretary Charles Hendry to attack the lack of consultation with local people about the proposed fracking: “I share my constituent’s unease of this highly suspect method of squeezing the last drops of non-renewable fuel from a highly sensitive and indeed fragile part of the country.”

However such opposition is facing more than one problem. For one thing the Parliamentary Act introduced to protect Bath’s hot springs (the County of Avon Act of 1982, which requires council consent for any excavation below a set depth) is inadequate in this case as the proposed drilling would be carried out in the Mendip Hills. The Hills fall under a different local authority which is not affected by the Act and they are thusly under no obligation to consider the impact fracking may have upon the hot springs.

Secondly the UK government is under increasing pressure to allow Shale Gas extraction and fracking to be carried out across the West of England.Figures released by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) show that North Sea Gas production (and therefore tax revenue) has fallen 25% in the second quarter of 2011 compared to the same period in 2010. Shale Gas has been presented as a cheap bridging energy source in the shift from fossil fuels to renewables. Oil imports are up by 0.8 million tons from 2.8 million tonnes in the second quarter of 2010 to 3.6 million tonnes in the second quarter of 2011. This is despite a 1.7% drop in total oil demand.

Malcolm Webb, chief executive of the pressure group Oil and Gas UK reacted to the figures: “On the face of it, a production decline of this magnitude is extremely worrying and we need to investigate and fully understand what has happened here.

“For the sake of the Uk’s economy and its energy security, we should be doing everything we can to encourage sustained investment in our nation’s oil and gas resources to slow the decline and prolong the producing life of fields.”

Far more positive news was seen in the figures for renewable energy generation, particularly wind energy. Renewables are now producing 9.6% of the country’s total energy output; the majority coming from wind turbines. This is a significant increase compared to just last year when renewables were producing 6.39% of total energy output. The figures also revealed that output from wind energy has risen 120% year on year. Scotland’s commitment to renewables was also shown in the fact that the country now has 20% more installed renewable capacity than England.

Gordon Edge, policy director at Renewables UK made the following comment: “These statistics show the wind industry making a tremendous contribution to the nation’s energy supply. Wind is now providing enough power to supply nearly three and a quarter million homes in the UK. This will stabilise energy prices, as well as generating tens of thousands of jobs, and helping us to build a new lower carbon economy.”

With public opposition to fracking on the increase (demonstrated by the protests at Camp Frack) it seems that the energy future of the UK is yet to be decided. A future which only renewables can secure.

Shale Gas Protest in Blackpool

It has recently been announced that a three day protest is planned to take place against the drilling for Shale Gas which has been carried out at a site outside of Blackpool. The protest, which is due to take place in September, will take place near the village of Singleton in a field next to the drilling site. The field has already been dubbed ‘Camp Frack‘.

Test drilling had been carried out at the site by the company Cuadrilla Resources in March but was later suspended after earthquakes occurred in the area in April and May. These earthquakes took place over the period in which fluids were being injected into rock to cause fracture and release the shale gas; the process known as fracking. Cuadrilla Resources stated that the earthquakes were unconnected to the drilling but doubts were expressed by some geologists including the British Geological Survey.

A meeting was held on the issue of Shale Gas  on the 19th of July in London. Caroline Lucas, Leader of the UK Green Party, was in attendance and commented that: “It is deeply irresponsible to try to extract this gas. It is a dirty, dangerous and dodgy energy supply which is still not understood well enough.” A number of issues surround the process of Shale Gas Extraction and questions have been raised on it’s true carbon footprint and the environmental impact the process itself and the disposal of waste materials has.

The UK debate is taking place at a time when the extraction process of fracking has just been banned in France. France became the first country in the world to ban commercial fracking on the 30th of June. This saw the banning bill successfully pass through both Houses of the French Parliament.  The bill passed through the House of Representatives on the 21st of July and on the 30th it was passed by the Senate following a vote of 176 to 151. The vote was divided along party lines with the majority conservative party in favour whilst the opposition voted against. However, it seems that many of the votes against were due to the feeling that the bill failed to go far enough rather than because of any objection to the ban itself. This feeling was voiced by the Socialist Party in particular who criticised the bill for leaving open a number of loopholes and for allowing methods of extraction other than fracking to be used. An earlier version of the bill proposed to ban any development of Shale Gas Extraction altogether and was supported by the Socialist Party.

As a result of the bill companies which are currently in possession of permits for drilling in French oil shale deposits have been given two months to inform the French Government what extraction technique they are using. If they are using fracking or fail to respond to the request then their permits will be automatically revoked.

The French Bill looks unlikely to be replicated in Britain with a number of MPs arguing that the potential environmental problems caused by fracking can be overcome through tight regulation and good industry practise. Shale Gas is increasingly been seen as a ‘transitional alternative’ to coal due to the (disputed) lower carbon emissions it produces. Kevin Anderson, the deputy director of Manchester University’s Tyndall Centre for climate change research that Shale Gas could not be an alternative to coal: “It is not a substitute. My fear is that it will be combusted as well as coal. The Shale Gas industry recently announced that it expected that 35% of the increase in all gas production by 2035 would come from Shale. The former Energy Minister Michael Meacher, speaking at the London meeting, voiced his concerns over a large scale expansion in the world wide use of Shale Gas: “That is a huge shift from conventional fossil fuels to unconventional sources. But it is a big risk because the US industry is very poorly regulated and companies do not have to disclose the chemicals that they use.”

With the protests set to go ahead it seems that there is a growing awareness of the threat that Shale Gas poses not just to the British environment but also to the British Renewable Industry.

 

Shale Gas Waste Water Poisonous?

A recent report published by the U.S. Forest Service in the Journal of Environmental Quality has found that the ‘waste water’ left over from the process of shale gas extraction known as fracking can be extremely damaging, indeed lethal, to vegetation. This is on top of other possible side effects of the process; such as earthquakes and combustible water.

In 2008 an area of land less than half an acre in area had 75,000 gallons of fluid that had been used in the fracking process spead over it over a period of two days. This section of the Fernow Experimental Forest (found within the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia) which the Forest Service uses for research and is also being drilled by the gas company Berry Energy was then absorbed to see if the fluid had had any ecological impact. Almost all of the ground vegetation in the area died within an extremely short period following the releases of the fluid. Within a few days trees had begun to shed leaves which were at this point brown and wilted. Of 150 affected tress 56% would eventually die. The exact chemical composition of the waste water was not known as such information is considered to be proprietary by shale gas drilling companies. The Forest Service determined that the chemical make-up of the water was mainly sodium and calcium chloride as high levels of these compounds were found to be present in the topsoil.

Several states in the U.S. allow such waste water to be disposed of on land and issue permits for this purpose indicating that such types of pollution could increase as the shale gas industry develops. The Forest Service’s research concluded that it should be a ‘high priority’ to determine ways in which vegetation could be protected during land disposal of waste water and to develop a dosing standard for waste water.

It seems that new ways in which shale gas extraction pollutes and damages the environment are being found with regularity.

Shale Gas and the European Union: Legislation Needed

There seems to be a growing consensus about Shale Gas in Europe. Following the ban of the fracking process in France and the suspension of exploratory drilling in England after increased seismic activity, Brussels is beginning to react. Increasing awareness of the problems that seem to be caused by fracking; water pollution and contamination, seismic instability, methane leakage and excessive use of ground water, is resulting in the development of political resistance to the fledgling fuel.

Jo Leinen, described by the Guardian as “one of the most influential members of the European Parliament, wants a new “energy quality directive” within Europe that would mean that fuels, such as Shale Gas,  which are deemed to adversely impact upon the environment would be regulated heavily. Leinen is the chair of the EU committee on the environment, public health and food safety and as such has the power to introduce proposals for such regulation. He feels that there would likely be support for legislative intervention because a number of MEPs are becoming increasingly worried about shale gas. He stated that “We need to be looking much more carefully at shale gas, and at the consequences of pursuing it”. Regulation could take the form of limits or financial penalties on the use or extraction of shale gas.

The International Energy Agency recently released a report on shale gas which came to the conclusion that it was not a “panacea” for the worlds changing energy needs. Shale gas if used as the worlds main energy source would result in climate change going past the 2C mark regarded as the limit of safety. Beyond this point climate change is considered to become both catastrophic and irreversible.

However, any attempts to introduce legislative limitations on shale gas can expect to meet fierce resistance from the gas industry. Shale gas has been pushed hard as a ‘green’ energy source, particularly as it is cheaper to produce than most renewable energy sources. However, the carbon footprint of shale gas production has been repeatedly questioned as the figures released by the gas industry do not take into account the problem of methane leakage. Methane is considered to be the worst greenhouse gas because it is twenty times more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Some have estimated that 4-8% of the methane produced by shale gas production enters into the atmosphere through leaking and venting.

Shale gas can be extremely damaging to the environment and to the renewable energy sector. Action must be taken.

Shale Gas and Scotland. Should fracking be banned?

Shale gas extraction could be coming to Scotland. The highly controversial process, known as fracking, being pushed as ‘green’ by the fossil fuel industry, could soon begin in the country if a company is given permission to begin exploratory drilling at Aith near Falkirk. This is despite the fact that the process has already been banned in France and drilling has been suspended in England.

Exploratory drilling has been carried out at site near Blackpool over a period of months but has ceased following increased seismic activity in the area. On the 27th of May Lancashire felt the rumbling of an earthquake which measured a magnitude of 1.5 on the Richter scale. This is the second earthquake in the area since April and many experts have suggested a link with the drilling and the process of fracking – in which water and rock-dissolving chemicals are injected underground at extremely high pressure to break apart shale rock and release gas. Mark Miller, CEO of Cuadrilla Resources (the company carrying out the drilling) commented: “We take our responsibilities very seriously and that is why we have stopped fracking operations to share information and consult with the relevant authorities and other experts”

“We expect that this analysis and subsequent consultation will take a number of weeks to conclude and we will decide on appropriate actions after that.”

The British Geological Survery, who are carrying out the investigation released this statement on their website: “Any process that injects pressurised water into rocks at depth will cause the rock to fracture and possibly produce earthquakes.

“It is well known that injection of water or other fluids during the oil extraction and geothermal engineering, such as shale gas, processes can result in earthquake activity.”

Whilst an increase in seismic activity seems to be one of the downsides of shale gas extraction there are other apparent dangers inherent in the process of fracking. Fracking releases methane (more than 20 times as powerful a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere. A study published in the Climate Change letters journal extimated that 4-8% of the methane produced by shale gas production escapes in to the atmosphere via leaks and venting over the lifetime of a well. It went on to conclude that shale gas had the same or even a slightly higher carbon footprint than coal which has long been considered the ‘dirtiest’ fossil fuel. Despite this there are many powerful lobbying groups pushing shale gas as the ‘alternative’ to fossil fuels.

Craig Bennett, policy and campiagns director at Friends of the Earth stated: “Instead of seeing shale gas as a miracle fix, the government should focus on developing the clean, safe energy alternatives at our fingertips like solar power and wind.

“Shale gas is a dangerous distraction from the urgent need for us to tackle climate change. Chasing after risky and hard-to-get fossil fuels like shale gas, tar sands or drilling for oil in the Arctic may seriously undermine the move towards renewables as the only effective and sustainable solution to our energy challenges.”

Perhaps the most damaging environmental impact of shale gas extraction is the risk it poses to the water supply. Methane from shale gas can leak into and contaminate groundwater. In some extreme cases even rendering water flammable. Methane levels in water supplies close to shale gas extraction sites in Pennsylvania and upstate New York have been found to be up to 17 times higher than normal. 85% of drinking water wells within 1km of such sites was found to be contaminated and in some cases homeowners have been issued with gas detectors to lower the risk of explosion . One company in Pennsylvania has been banned from drilling for a year because a faulty well led to water pollution. Recent American research has found over 1000 cases of water contamination as a result of shale gas extraction.

Despite all of this a recent Commons report ruled that “There appears to be nothing inherently dangerous about the process of fracking itself and as long as the integrity of the well is maintained shale gas extraction should be safe.” Emphasis on should.

The European Climate Foundation has warned that: “Heavy dependency on gas…is not a viable alternative to a low-carbon generation network with low dependence on fossil fuels in terms of cost, energy security or climate resilience…

“It will make Europe dependent on one potentially cost-volatile solution, and the successful commercialization of carbon capture and storage at an unrealistically large scale. It also reduces Europe’s energy security [Europe has far fewer shale gas reserves than the US or Asia].”

Shale gas is seemingly a high risk venture. Earthquakes, exploding water, exploding prices, and a serious risk to Scotland’s fledgling green energy sector. The Director of WWF Scotland, Dr Richard Dixon commented that: “Whether the shale gas drilling and the earthquake were linked certainly needs investigated. However, we already know enough about the environmental problems associated with fracking to know that it should be banned in Scotland.

“Shale gas would be a disaster for the climate and its production could contaminate groundwater. Scotland should follow France’s example and ban it before it even gets going. Scotland should become the home of clean energy not another dirty fossil-fuel. Shale gas projects in Scotland would quickly tarnish our global claim to green credentials.”

What do you think? Should Scotland ban fracking and shale gas extraction?