low carbon south west

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This page was archived in October 2012 and is no longer updated.

It should be noted that the Coalition Government formed in May 2010 implemented a policy of placing more emphasis on devolving power and influence to the local level whilst removing the regional tier of administration. Some of the information on this web page reflects previous policies and data collected for the SW region of England.

Low Carbon South West brought together local and sub-regional strategies and related actions to help the SW of England move towards a low carbon future. Since the Government Office for the South West (GOSW) closed in 2011 this page has been pruned back to reflect the fact that many relevant regional websites have also closed. The remaining information is retained for historic interest.

Note. 'Low Carbon South West' should not be confused with the www.lowcarbonsouthwest.co.uk trade association and sector partnership. See also Climate SouthWest for information on the impacts of climate change on the South West and positive action to adapt.

Renewable Energy

Regen SW (external site) - the SW's sustainable energy agency with responsibility for driving forward the sustainable energy agenda (including renewable energy) in the South West through promotion, research and advice (Note: Regen SW have an interactive online map showing renewable energy installations in the South West).

REvision 2020
- South West renewable electricity, heat and on-site generation targets for 2020. REvision 2020 took forward the REvision 2010 target setting report for renewable electricity published in 2004. As there was a change of Government after the REvision 2010 and 2020 reports were published, these are retained on www.oursouthwest.com for reference only.

An analysis of the business and environmental potential for on-farm anaerobic digestion as a renewable energy source in the SW region

Report funded by Defra published May 2007. To see report click here: on-farm anaerobic digestion (pdf 1.6Mb).

Tidal power & the River Severn

Following the change of Government in May 2010, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) announced on 18 October 2010 that The Severn study had found that there was no strategic case for major public sector investment in a large-scale energy project in the Severn estuary at this time. It would be very costly to deliver and very challenging to attract the necessary investment from the private sector alone.

The Severn Tidal Power feasibility study showed that a tidal power scheme in the Estuary could cost in excess of 30bn, making it high cost and high risk in comparison to other ways of generating electricity. The report did recommend that a Severn tidal project should not be ruled out as a longer term option if market conditions change, but noted significant uncertainty over complying with regulation and that a scheme would fundamentally change the natural environment of the estuary.

Commenting on the Severn study, Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne added: "The study clearly shows that there is no strategic case at this time for public funding of a scheme to generate energy in the Severn estuary. Other low carbon options represent a better deal for taxpayers and consumers. However, with a rich natural marine energy resource, world leading tidal energy companies and universities, and the creation of the innovative Wave Hub facility, the area can play a key role in supporting the UK's renewable energy future."

BACKGROUND (Tidal power & the River Severn)

The tides in the Severn estuary are the second highest in the world. A major study led by the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) was published on 1 October 2007. It looked at issues related to harnessing tidal power in the UK. The SDC laid down tough conditions which a Severn Barrage would have to meet in order to be considered sustainable. The SDC also outlined how a commitment to creating compensatory habitats should be seen as an environmental opportunity, combining climate change adaptation with coastal realignment plans to deal with increased risk of flooding.

A proposed shortlist of 5 schemes to generate clean, green electricity from the power of the tides in the Severn estuary was unveiled by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) on 26 January 2009. The shortlist included a mixture of barrages and innovative lagoon schemes.

The largest proposal being taken forward in the shortlist had the potential to generate nearly 5% of the UK's electricity from a domestic, low carbon and sustainable source. The Government-led feasibility study prior to the announcement investigated a list of ten options, gathering information on the costs, benefits and environmental challenges of using the estuary to generate power.

The proposed shortlist of 5 projects was:

  • Cardiff Weston Barrage: A barrage crossing the Severn estuary from Brean Down, near Weston super Mare to Lavernock Point, near Cardiff. Its estimated capacity is over 8.6 Gigawatts - twice that of the UK's largest fossil fuel power plant - and it could generate nearly 5% of UK electricity.
  • Shoots Barrage: Further upstream of the Cardiff Weston scheme. Capacity of 1.05GW, similar to a large fossil fuel plant.
  • Beachley Barrage: The smallest barrage on the proposed shortlist, just above the Wye River. It could generate 625MW.
  • Bridgwater Bay Lagoon: Lagoons are radical new proposals which impound a section of the estuary without damming it. This scheme is sited on the English shore between east of Hinkley Point and Weston super Mare. It could generate 1.36GW.
  • Fleming Lagoon: An impoundment on the Welsh shore of the estuary between Newport and the Severn road crossings. It too could generate 1.36GW.

Note: A barrage would require compliance with a wide range of environmental legislation, including the EU Habitats and Wild Birds directives. The Severn Estuary is of National, European and International nature conservation significance - and so has been afforded the corresponding levels of legal protection. It is designated as both a Ramsar Site (Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971) and Special Protection Area (SPA) under the EU Habitats Directive and is in the process of being designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC). The Estuary also comprises a series of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

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"Low Carbon Housing & Fuel Poverty Strategy" for the South West

"Low Carbon Housing & Fuel Poverty Strategy" for the South West.

The strategy & action plan was adopted by regional partners in early 2007. It can be downloaded from here:-

    LCHFP Strategy & Action Plan (pdf 316kb)

    LCHFP - Regional Targets Report (pdf 393kb)

    LCHFP - Annexes to the Regional Targets Report (pdf 454kb)

Fuel Poverty Indicator. The fuel poverty indicator developed by the Centre for Sustainable Energy can be found at: http://www.fuelpovertyindicator.co.uk. This is a powerful tool for predicting levels of fuel poverty in each electoral ward in England, for informing policy and targeting programmes.

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Peak Oil
- end of the first half of the Oil Age?
- end of the era of cheap energy?

(This article was last updated: September 2011)

    "We may be sleepwalking into a problem which is actually going to be very serious"
     - Lord Oxburgh, former non-executive chairman of Shell UK

    "Shell estimates that after 2015 supplies of easy-to-access oil and gas will no longer
    keep up with demand"
     - Jeroen van der Veer, Chief Executive, Royal Dutch Shell plc (January 2008)

Peak oil is the time when the maximum rate of the global production of oil, that is conventional crude oil, has been reached, recognising that it is a finite natural resource affected by the rate of depletion. The rate of depletion will be influenced by economic, market and policy developments that are uncertain.

No one knows for sure how much oil the world has with many geologists and oil industry experts having estimated that peak oil would be reached by 2020. However there is now a consensus that peak oil was reached at some point between 2004 and 2008, possibly during 2006.

Is the age of cheap energy over?

There is additional "oil" that raises world total oil production. It is not conventional crude but includes unconventional hydrocarbons, including natural gas liquids, "extra heavy" oil, synthetic oil made from Canadian tar sands, refinery gains, liquids produced from the conversion of coal and natural gas, and biofuels. By the end of the 21st century, it is estimated that nearly all of the economically recoverable fossil fuels will be gone. Up until then, what remains of fossil fuels will increasingly be rationed by price. The increased use of renewable and alternative energy sources, energy efficiency gains, and global economic 'booms and busts' will affect the various fossil fuel depletion scenarios.

UK Continental Shelf oil production peaked in 1999 and the UK became a net importer of oil in 2009/10 (having been self-sufficient in oil since 1980). Global oil demand continues to rise partly because the rate of increase in major developing countries like China and India is accelerating. The 2008 global economic downturn reduced demand and therefore prices; but that situation may only be temporary. As China and India continue to experience year on year high levels of 'energy hungry' economic growth the impact on world energy prices is likely to be upwards. The International Energy Agency has publicly stated that "the age of cheap energy is over" (findings from the World Energy Outlook presented at the Bridge Forum Dialogue in Luxembourg, 21 April 2011).

Peak oil brings to our attention the importance of the balance between demand and supply and how that relates to the trend in world production and prices after peak oil. These market adjustments have major implications for how we travel and the production and transportation of food and other goods and services.

If global demand exceeds supply and oil prices consistently push higher, the knock-on effect on the economy could be significant. The market would react to offset some of the threat by encouraging new exploration and exploitation, generating better and alternative technologies, and changing the pattern and structure of consumer demand.

However, timing and the effectiveness of the fiscal, monetary and regulatory policy response create uncertainty and suggest a possible danger of economic disruption.

It is difficult, therefore, to foresee whether adjustment will be positive (leading to a low carbon economy) or negative (high unemployment and disruption to the supply of goods and services) and whether it will be gradual shift - a soft landing - or whether there will be a rapid and more significant impact on the world economy - a potential hard landing.

Market signals will help society adjust to these consequences but there is a need to prepare for non-market effects. Peak oil focuses attention on a wider issue that localities should take into account in future discussions and plans concerning energy security, the creation of a low carbon and low oil economy, resource efficiency, and the implications for our future well being. Peak oil therefore has important implications for development which must be sustainable development that is resilient to a volatile energy market, thus including investment in alternative renewable energy resources leading to greater energy self-sufficiency for local communities and for the UK.

Transition Towns: a local response to peak oil

There has been a growing number of South West towns and cities becoming 'Transition Towns' with the aim of engaging people in the transition from an oil dependency to a low energy future with, for example, collaboration in drawing up 'Energy Descent Plans'. The Transition Network website is at http://www.transitionnetwork.org.

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Towards a low carbon South West

The South West accounts for about 8% (or 7.8 tonnes/person/year) of the UK's CO2 emissions (source: national statistics for 2008, DECC, published September 2010).

For the South West to become truly "low carbon" the widespread reduction of energy waste through energy efficiency in all sectors (domestic, industrial, commercial and public) and an increasingly rapid move away from carbon-based fossil fuels to renewable and less polluting sources of energy will be required.

Note: In February 2007 Sustainability South West, the region's sustainable development champion body, published "A 10 year Regional Carbon Budget for the South West". This is currently archived here for future and ongoing regional/local interest: 10 year SW carbon budget 2007- 2016 by SSW, February 2007 (pdf 175kb).

Low Carbon 'Firsts' in the South West

The region has played an important role in the UK's drive towards improving the efficiency of energy use and the development of renewable energy resources. These include:

  • The Avon & Somerset Energy Management Group (June 1976) was the first to be established in the UK to promote good energy management practice in industry and commerce through information exchange, training and networking. Energy Management Groups in the South West became "Energy & Environmental Management Groups" during 1995/96 to reflect the wider interest and requirements of their members.
  • Delabole Wind Farm, Cornwall (December 1991) - the first commercial operating wind farm in the UK.
  • Compact Power's Advanced Thermal Process (February 2001) for the recycling and recovery of energy from waste using pyrolysis at Avonmouth. This demonstrator plant, a UK first to go on line, has proven the commercial efficacy of the technology to gain the confidence of the public and environmental bodies.
  • The Holsworthy Biogas plant (May 2003) in North Devon was the first large scale operational anaerobic digestion plant in the UK. It converts animal and food waste into renewable electricity for the National Grid as well as producing bio fertiliser. The plant is capable of generating 2.2 megawatts of electricity per hour which is sufficient to maintain 1,000 households.
  • The Tidal Stream Turbine 'Seaflow' (June 2003) successfully installed off the coast of Lynmouth, Devon. This single rotor 300 kW device was a world first and a test bed for further tidal turbines.
  • Transition Network - helps communities deal with climate change and shrinking supplies of cheap energy (peak oil). The worldwide Transition Network started in the South West with Transition Town Totnes (TTT) in 2005/6. The Transition Network website is at http://www.transitionnetwork.org.
  • The UK's first grain bio-ethanol plant at Henstridge, Somerset (January 2006) received planning permission from South Somerset District Council. Wessex Grain's bio-refinery will produce bio-ethanol from grain for use as a clean vehicle fuel, along with two main co-products in the form of an animal feed and bottled carbon dioxide for use in industrial applications.
  • South West the UK's first Low Carbon Economic Area - (July 2009) announced by the Government, as part of the UK Low Carbon Industrial Strategy, this was to enable the region to build on regional business opportunities and skills. Low carbon strategic investment funding secured the go-ahead for the Wave Hub sub-sea socket off Cornwall and that will support other strategic marine energy projects. The South West was also identified as a strong contender for hosting several possible suitable hot rock sites.
  • Wave Hub (September 2010) - a revolutionary renewable energy project 16 kilometres off the Cornish coast. It was the UK's first offshore facility for the demonstration and proving of the operation of arrays of wave energy generation devices. The hub acts as an offshore electrical "socket" connected to the national grid by an underwater cable. The hub was safely installed on the seabed following a delicate operation to lower the 12-tonne hub into 55 metres of water, 16 kilometres offshore on 3rd September 2010. Wave Hub is a grid-connected offshore facility in South West England for the large scale testing of technologies that generate electricity from the power of the waves. It leases space to wave energy device developers and exists to support the development of marine renewable energy around the world. The wave hub's own website is at http://www.wavehub.co.uk.
  • South West is UK's first "Marine Energy Park" (January 2012). The South West Marine Energy Park "to speed up the progress of marine power development" stretches from Bristol through to Cornwall and as far as the Isles of Scilly. It is a collaborative partnership between national and local government, Local Enterprise Partnerships, the Universities of Plymouth and Exeter and industry including Cornwall's famous Wave Hub.

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European energy & climate change policy

There are several key European strategies that provide the framework for how Member States can move towards a low carbon economy. These are listed below (in date order, most recent first) and further details can be found on the EC Energy website.

EU Roadmap for moving to a low-carbon economy in 2050
Published in March 2011 by the European Commission, the 'Roadmap for moving to a low-carbon economy in 2050' describes a cost-effective pathway to achieve cuts of 80-95% on 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Based on cost-effectiveness analysis, the Roadmap is intended to guide sectoral policies, national and regional low-carbon strategies and long-term investments.

In order to be in line with the 80-95% overall GHG reduction objective by 2050, the Roadmap indicates that a cost effective and gradual transition would require a 40% domestic reduction of greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 as a milestone for 2030, and 80% for 2050. The Roadmap can be found from this link: http://ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/roadmap/index_en.htm

EU 20/20/20
A package of measures aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020 compared to 1990 was approved by EU leaders in December 2008. Passed by the European Parliament, the package includes efficiency measures to cut energy consumption by 20% by 2020 relative to 1990 and brings in a key Directive to deliver a 20% energy contribution from renewable energy by 2020 - leading to the term 'EU 20/20/20'. Agreements on the funding of carbon capture and storage (CCS), car emissions and road fuel were also reached.

EU leaders agree binding renewable energy targets
On 8 March 2007 the 27 EU Member States agreed to a 20% target for renewable fuel use by 2020. This is a binding target but the plan does allow flexibility in how each member state contributes to the overall EU target. EU leaders also agreed to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20% from 1990 levels by 2020.

EU climate change proposals announced
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso announced plans to make Europe "the first economy for the low-carbon age" on 23 January 2008. The plans contain proposals to implement the decisions agreed by EU Heads of State and Government at the 2007 Spring European Council, including a 20% reduction in EU greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, increasing to 30% when there is an international climate agreement; 20% of total EU energy consumption to come from renewables by 2020; and measures to support the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) including up to twelve CCS demonstration projects. Mr Barroso put the cost at 60bn euros a year until 2020. It would mean a rise in electricity prices of 10-15% but there would be less reliance on energy imports.

The proposals also put the EU Emissions trading Scheme (ETS) at the heart of EU climate policy, including establishing an EU-wide central cap on emissions covered by the EU ETS to 2020 and beyond.

For the UK, the Commission's proposals include:

  • A reduction of 16% in UK greenhouse gas emissions from sectors not covered by the EU ETS by 2020 from 2005 levels;
  • For 15% of the energy consumed in the UK to come from renewable sources by 2020;
  • For 10% of road transport fuels to come from renewable sources, subject to them being produced in a sustainable way.

For further information see the EU press statement with the Member States' legally binding targets for 2020 (external site).

Common EU Energy Policy - more security, less pollution
In January 2007 the European Commission tabled proposals for a common energy policy to improve energy supply security in Europe while combating climate change and making industry more competitive. The Commission sought to provide solutions to those challenges based on three central pillars:

  1. A true Internal Energy Market
  2. Accelerating the shift to low carbon energy
  3. Energy efficiency

The Energy Services Directive
This Directive was introduced in April 2006 to enhance the cost effective improvement of energy end use efficiency in Member States.

It covers all forms of energy and fuel, including electricity, natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, coal, heating oil, biomass and transport fuels (except aviation and bunker fuels).

The Directive applies to providers of energy efficiency measures, energy distributors, distribution system operators and retail energy sales companies; and all energy users except those involved with the EU carbon emissions trading scheme.

The main requirements of the Directive are:

  • national indicative energy savings target of 9% by 2017;
  • public sector to fulfill an exemplary role in meeting the target;
  • Member States required to place obligations on energy suppliers and distributors to promote energy efficiency;
  • requirements on metering and billing to allow consumers to make better informed decisions about their energy use.

European Union Emissions trading Scheme (EU ETS)
The EU ETS is one of the policies being implemented across Europe to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and combat the serious threat of climate change.

Phase I of the Scheme began on 1 January 2005 and ran until 31 December 2007. Phase II runs from 2008-2012 to coincide with the first Kyoto Protocol commitment period. For further details on the Environment Agency's website, click here: EU ETS - Environment Agency.

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"There can be no sustainable development
without sustainable energy development"

Margot Wallstrom (from philharding.net/quotes-corner)

The Low Carbon Hierarchy


The most cost-effective approach for reducing your carbon footprint is to:

1. REDUCE energy use by avoiding unnecessary use and implementing energy efficiency measures. You should include the design of your goods and services and also look up and down your supply chain. Once you have increased your efficiency you should then look to

2. REPLACE fossil fuels with renewable energy sources and/or use cleaner fossil fuel technology such as Combined Heat and Power (CHP) where it is feasible to do so. Finally, having reduced your carbon emissions through avoiding waste, energy efficiency and use of renewable cleaner sources, you can

3. NEUTRALISE the remaining unavoidable emissions through carbon offsetting schemes.

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