Monday, March 18, 2013

Why should we bother with Renewable Technologies?

If you are hoping that in the future fuel costs will reach a peak and then start to reduce then I am afraid you are going to be bitterly disappointed.  There may well be short term reductions, however  it is inevitable that fuel cost will not only continue to rise, but rise significantly.
There is no shortage of media coverage in respect of the impact of global warming, climate change, energy conservation, sustainability, greenhouse gas emissions an so on... An individual’s understanding and concern about these issues will vary significantly from those who have a genuine concern about protecting our planet for future generations to those who’s work may be directly related to these issues, right through to those who know very little and even those who make a conscious choice to ignore them!   The problem is however that even if you are one of those who fall into the latter categories, it does not change the fact that you are effected in exactly the same way as everyone else.  This is no more starkly demonstrated than in the increased cost of energy over recent years, which have soared to record levels.
Over the last two hundred years we have become dependent on fossil fuels such as gas, oil and coal, which have allowed us to develop our world at a staggering pace.  All of this development in terms of infrastructure, buildings and the like requires large amount of energy, to heat, cool, ventilate, provide light and power etc.  If we are to maintain or more than likely going to increase the rate of development around the world then we also need to consider alternative ways of creating this energy.  The problem with fossil fuels is that it is a depleting resource and at some point in the future it will run out.  Now this is unlikely to be in our generation or possibly even a number of generations in the future, but one thing is for certain in that it will actually run out.  If you are under the impression that we should not be concerned about this now, as it will not have any major impact on us in our lifetime then think again!
The problem with anything that is in short supply is that basic economical principles come into play.  Fossil fuels are a prime example of this.  Remember they are a depleting resource and therefore a commodity in short supply.  The impact of this is that when demand is high (which it always is) and supply is limited (which it is), then market conditions allow energy providers to increase costs as they know that they are providing something that people actually need.  The market then adjusts to these increased costs.  The graph below demonstrates the cost increase of oil, gas and electricity over the next twenty years:
Rather unsurprisingly, all four demonstrate price hikes over the period, though some are more dramatic than others. Electricity and gas - the two most-used household energies - have nearly doubled over the last seven years of the index, owing to their ties with oil prices, as well as a number of other factors. The industrialisation of foreign nations, plus growing international prices for the commodity, has forced coal costs higher for UK citizen’.
If you are hoping that in the future fuel costs will reach a peak and then start to reduce then I am afraid you are going to be bitterly disappointed.  There may well be short term reductions, however due to the economical principles described above it is inevitable that fuel cost will not only continue to rise, but rise significantly. Of course, the majority of articles that you will see in the media focus on the damage to the environment caused by greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon, from the burning of fossil fuels.  This is something that we need to deal with immediately, however I would suggest that if you were to talk to most people on the high street they would be more concerned about the increase in fuel cost rather than concerns about climate change and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The positive thing however, is that if we can create energy by using alternative renewable technologies then we can deal with both issues at the same time!
In my next article I will discuss some of the difficulties in making energy efficient enhancements to our heritage buildings, however for the remainder of this article I will continue to discuss the financial effect of creating and using energy from fossil fuels, which is happening and impacting on us all right now!  The Fuel Property Advisory Group’s 2011-12 annual report, in its executive summary states (link):The average domestic dual fuel bill is now at a record high of £1,365 per annum creating severe additional hardship for some six million UK fuel poor households. The problem is even more acute for many living off the gas grid using Oil or LPG, where average fuel bills are circa £2,100 per annum. The reference to ‘fuel poor’ is more widely described as fuel poverty, which is defined by (Link) as: ‘Households are considered by the Government to be in 'fuel poverty' if they would have to spend more than 10% of their household income on fuel to keep their home in a 'satisfactory' condition.  It is thus a measure which compares income with what the fuel costs 'should be' rather than what they actually are.  Whether a household is in fuel poverty or not is determined by the interaction of a number of factors, but the three obvious ones are: The cost of energy, The energy efficiency of the property (and therefore, the energy required to heat and power the home) and Household income’

It is abundantly clear that many in the UK are already suffering financial hardship as a result of increasing energy costs, and unless we can find alternative ways of creating our energy, then this situation is likely to become critical.  Increased demand of a depleting resource is a recipe for disaster.  We therefore have to introduce alternatives, which is now a necessity not a choice.  If you are in one of those categories described at the beginning of this article who have not really paid much attention to these global issues, perhaps it is now time to think very carefully about how you individually and all of us collectively can save energy and also be open to new technologies. This will not only provide benefits from a financial viewpoint, which may not be immediate (although costs associated with enhancements is an article in its own right!), but also from an environmental viewpoint, where we can start to have a real impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In next week's article I will focus discuss the difficulties in making energy efficient enhancements to heritage buildings.

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  1. Good article. I am looking foward to your next post on energy efficiency enhancements in heritage buildings.


  2. Another good piece from Gary. One problem I always come across when I read topics of this nature, and this article is no exception is the fact that writers always concentrate on Advanced Countries with complete oblivion of Third World or better put Less Developed Countries -LDCs.

    Global warming, Greenhouse gas emissions and the likes are global phenomena and need all hands on board regardless.

    On the contrary, what message are we sending to those living in LDCs? They need to industrialise. They need to be able to convert their primary products into secondary products, they need to increase their GDP, they need to enter into the world market of manufacturing and compete their product with those of other countries, they need to export more and import less to boost their local currency.

    My question is, how do we marry the 2 together?
    Do we say they should invest in green products when in actual fact they even struggle with the technology they have now.

    Richard Boateng
    Coventry university

  3. Richard,

    Thank you for your comments.

    Unfortunately what you raise does not have a simple answer. Firstly, you will find that the focus of climate change and therefore the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, particularly carbon is focused on the more developed countries of the world. This is because it is these very countries that are by far the biggest contributors to the problem. This is not to say that less developed countries should not also take steps to reduce the impact of climate change, however when you look at the rate of development in countries such as China, India and Russia, you soon realise where the main issues lie.

    Every country in the World has it's challenges, which will vary significantly depending on the size, wealth, state of the economy etc. While some countries will struggle to provide their citizens with life giving essentials such as food and water, other will struggle with trying to stabilise their economy by controlling the production of oil. The gulf in prioritise between countries is huge, as is he issue of addressing climate change and creating renewable energy.

    Yes renewable technology requires investment, however the cost of not investing will be much higher. I think the effects of climate change had made us as a human race start to take notice of what we are doing, rather than giving a message to less developed countries to industrialise as you suggest. I think the emphasis to deal with climate change and in particular creating energy in a renewable way is a worldwide issue however as mentioned above the focus appears to be on developed countries because they are the biggest emission contributors.

    To answer your question, yes all countries of the world should consider and invest in renewable technologies, and yes the ability to do this will be impacted by the issues raised above. The technology is becoming much better understood and I am sure in the future that all countries of the World including the less developed countries of the World will embrace them, however this will always be restricted by their ability to invest, which will pose different challenges in different parts of the World.

    Gary O'Neill