Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Cognitive Dissonance ...


Those who hate environmentalism have spent years looking for the definitive example of a great green rip-off. Finally it arrives, and nobody notices. The government is about to shift £8.6bn from the poor to the middle classes. It expects a loss on this scheme of £8.2bn, or 95%. Yet the media is silent. The opposition urges only that the scam should be expanded.

On 1 April the government introduces its feed-in tariffs. These oblige electricity companies to pay people for the power they produce at home. The money will come from their customers in the form of higher bills. It would make sense, if we didn't know that the technologies the scheme will reward are comically inefficient.

The people who sell solar photovoltaic (PV) panels and micro wind turbines in the UK insist they represent a good investment. The arguments I have had with them have been long and bitter. But the debate has now been brought to an end with the publication of the government's table of tariffs: the rewards people will receive for installing different kinds of generators. The government wants everyone to get the same rate of return. So while the electricity you might generate from large wind turbines and hydro plants will earn you 4.5p per kilowatt hour, mini wind turbines get 34p, and solar panels 41p. In other words, the government acknowledges that micro wind and solar PV in the UK are between seven and nine times less cost-effective than the alternatives.

It expects this scheme to save 7m tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2020. Assuming – generously – that the rate of installation keeps accelerating, this suggests a saving of about 20m tonnes of CO2 by 2030. The estimated price by then is £8.6bn. This means it will cost about £430 to save one tonne of CO2.

Last year the consultancy company McKinsey published a table of cost comparisons. It found that you could save a tonne of CO2 for £3 by investing in geothermal energy, or for £8 by building a nuclear power plant. Insulating commercial buildings costs nothing; in fact it saves £60 for every tonne of CO2 you reduce; replacing incandescent lightbulbs with LEDs saves £80 per tonne. The government predicts that the tradeable value of the carbon saved by its £8.6bn scheme will be £420m. That's some return on investment.

The reason for these astonishing costs is that the government expects most people who use this scheme to install solar panels. Solar PV is a great technology – if you live in southern California. But the further from the equator you travel, the less sense it makes. It's not just that the amount of power PV panels produce at this latitude is risible, they also produce it at the wrong time. In hot countries, where air conditioning guzzles electricity, peak demand coincides with peak solar radiation. In the UK, peak demand takes place between 5pm and 7pm on winter evenings. Do I need to spell out the implications?

So, we have someone attacking the government for the wastefulness and disproportionate cost of feed-in tariffs. But it's not Timmy or Delingpole or Brooker or anyone like that.

Oh no.

It's George Monbiot!

Time to break out a new blog tag.


Ed P said...

So what's to stop me installing a dummy wind generator, which is basically a loop of wire taking incoming electricity at, say, 14 pence per unit and feeding it straight back to the grid through the new special meter at 34 pence per unit!
Therefore a five kilowatt "generator" should give me £24 per day.
What a fabulous new scam, thanks to NuLab scum!

Kingbingo said...

The exact same thing happened in Germany, and loads of Germans started installing solar panels on their roof. What happened was the price of silicon went through the roof. As a result while people in genuinely hot countries like Spain, Greece and Turkey had been installing solar panels because they were saving so much money, they then stopped. As a result yes the Germans saved some Carbon, but an awful lot less than would have been saved had the German government got involved. i.e. the environmentalist pressure on the German government resulted in a global net gain in carbon emissions.

The age old story of socialism, the effect opposite of whatever your trying to achieve.

Chuckles said...

Damn! Just when I had all my prejudices neatly sorted, labelled and in ascending order.

And in other news, cat meet pigeons - the sound of states pocketing federal subsidies - otherwise known as the law of unintended consequences.


Real Estate Values said...

Cognitive dissonance is when you have an internal struggle with something like "I like the Ford Focus I bought" even though you really wanted to buy the Toyota Corolla but didn't buy it because you could have saved more money buying the Focus.

microdave said...

I've had 2 solar panels to try and provide a small amount of power at a remote building I use. The first only lasted 3 years before the seal failed and water got in destroying it. The second has lasted rather better, but I doubt it will still be usable in 20 years time.

But neither of them ever provided the claimed output (I fitted a digital meter to check). The best was about 70%, and that's only achieved on a clear day in mid summer with the panel aimed directly at the midday sun. A cumulus cloud in the way will halve the output, and an overcast sky will see as little as 10% produced.

Then there's the problem of dirt and bird shit - which in the wrong place can block an entire string of cells. In reality all it does is delay the time I have to re-charge the battery.

I haven't got personal experience of small wind turbines, which would at least work rather better in winter when the days are shorter. However the following site gives a constantly updated overview of the UK power system, and Wind is currently supplying 0.1% of our power.


Look for the "Generation By Fuel Type (table)"