China pledges to achieve net zero emissions by 2060 – Why?

There has been a strong reaction to the announcement that China (the world’s largest CO2 emitter 28% of global emissions) will achieve net zero emissions by 2060 and the pressure this may place on the equivocal position which the US maintains on emission reduction.

The announcement by Xi Jinping was light on details about what net zero means in the mind of the Chinese government, but some of this will become clear when the next five year plan emerges. Some have been sceptical about the timing, to quote the New York Times:

“Pledging to do more on the climate could at least counterbalance the rising anger China faces in Europe and beyond over its record of oppression in Xinjiang and Tibet, its territorial conflicts in the Himalayas and the South China Sea, military threats toward Taiwan and a sweeping crackdown on Hong Kong’s autonomy.”

Undoubtedly their may be some short-term benefits from the announcement, but this is a major policy change, not a short term tactical ploy, so what are the reasons for it?

In my book Zero Carbon Our Choice, I set out the difficult decisions and the scale of change in moving from our current carbon economy to a net zero economy and how it affects all sectors of the economy, private as well as public and business. Democracies may struggle to achieve agreement to these changes in the timescale needed to achieve the target.

China has the advantage that it can make policy happen relatively quickly. A brief digression. A western visitor asked the manager of a Chinese steel mill how they could expand to justify the increased iron ore purchases they were discussing. The manager said there would be a new steel plant over there pointing at the neighbouring town. When asked what would happen to the town, he answered, we will move it. China has an advantage in achieving dramatic change quickly.

China suffers, like some other countries from poor air quality. Net zero is a way to tell the population that this will be sorted out.

Net zero by 2060 is a long time away, it is a major policy change, but its achievement won’t be clear for a long time. It does however provide a policy framework which only the Communist Party can achieve, and it will be undoubtedly branded in the same way as the economic leap which started in the eighties.

China holds a dominant position in the production of equipment for a net zero global economy. In solar panels and wind turbines and as the largest manufacturer of electric cars and buses and with a strong position in battery production. It is able to implement infrastructure projects like the Three Gorges dam. China can exploit this technological lead. It also has a dominant position in rare earth mining and has mining joint ventures around the world which ensure security of supply for its manufacturers.

As a form of soft diplomacy, this policy change plus its dominant position in supply will be very powerful.

The key signs about how serious China is on net zero will be in its policy on coal powered electricity generation. Given the life of a power station, it will need to start a moratorium on building coal plants in the 2020s and definitely by 2030. As this is a net zero pledge, it will be interesting to see how aggressive China is in using offsetting. Will it be just domestic or will China invest in offsetting elsewhere as well? What will the target for new trees in China be (it will have to be very big).

For all the reasons above the announcement makes sense and gives China a big policy to come out of the Covid era. China has the levers of power domestically to achieve it and the manufacturing sector which will benefit from an acceleration of investment in renewables. The devil will be in the detail. The interesting question will be how does the US respond and how does this affect the balance of power between China and the US?

© Chris Lenon and http://www.zerocarbonourchoice.com  2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Chris Lenon and www.zerocarbonourchoice.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The limitations on Solar electricity generation in the UK

Enso Solar Energy panels

I have followed Enso Energy Solar whose business model is to construct solar farms around grid substations in the UK. Unlike other connections to the grid this allows them to agree a contract with the grid and then assemble the land package for the solar farm around the substation. It is an astute business model.

In looking at their project pipeline two things struck me, first and no surprise is the length of the time for the planning process to gain permission for the solar farm.

The second issue was the power output per acre of the farms. These are state of the art solar farms with panels which move with the sun during the day to maximise solar collection. They also incorporate battery storage at the substations to maximise the usable electricity from solar generation to store electricity and match with demand.

As an example of the capacity, a 300 acre solar farm in South Oxfordshire is rated at 50 MW and 72000 MWH, powering 19,000 homes.  It is interesting from this to extrapolate the acreage required for solar farms to make a significant contribution to UK power generation. On a per acre basis this means 240 MWh and 63 homes. So, if we just consider homes, with 25 million homes in the UK Solar would need nearly 400,000 acres which is roughly the area of Surrey.

What I think this shows (and what I described in my book Zero Carbon Our Choice) is that the competition for land to meet zero carbon targets will pose some real challenges. Renewables, by definition, need an interest in land, a site. The land required for tree planting, solar, onshore wind, hydro and biomass is significant. The UK, like other countries, needs a policy framework to decide on these changes in land use if these technologies are to make a significant contribution to emission reduction.

© Chris Lenon and http://www.zerocarbonourchoice.com  2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Chris Lenon and www.zerocarbonourchoice.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

“Planet of the Humans”

Judge for yourself

I watched the film “Planet of the Humans” on you tube where it is still available. Its made by Jeff Gibbs.

As the photo shows it has been savaged by green advocates as being inaccurate and indeed some of the passages in the film could benefit from more up to date data. Mr Gibbs has been attacked despite his long involvement in environmental causes which have resulted in him being honoured by the United Nations Global 500 Roll of Honour.

The review by Pete Bradshaw in the Guardian (22 April 2020) makes interesting reading.

Big Oil and its corporate and banking representatives have, according to this film, found a way to rebrand themselves as green or greenish, to use the green movement for their own ends, and to get their mitts on the huge subsidies that taxpayers around the world are handing over to anyone claiming to be developing renewable energy resources, which turn out to be the same old fossil-fuel entities in different packaging.

Solar panels and wind turbines? These provide no energy when there is no sun or wind and degrade after only a few decades, says Gibbs. And in any case they need a lot of fossil fuels in their manufacture: silicon, cobalt, silver, graphite, rare earths – and of course coal. The same goes for manufacturing storage batteries. Factories claiming to have gone “beyond coal” again and again turn out to be relying on natural gas. Corporate behemoths such as Apple make spurious claims for their energy usage. But how about the ultra-fashionable new “renewable” energy source: biomass or wood-chips? This is basically a colossal logging industry that requires a lot of fossil fuel energy to harvest and transport the material. As Gibbs’ interviewees point out, you might just as well as burn the fossil fuels in the first place. And it is laying waste rainforests and areas of natural beauty.

This says Gibbs, is the queasy merger of environmentalism and capitalism.”

The focus on biomass in the USA is interesting, and I have questioned the benefits of using woodchip from the US (from felled trees) to fuel Drax power station in the UK. Equally the call by financiers for government funding of the investments that they want to invest in, is worrying. Better to allow a market system to apply complemented by forms of carbon pricing to price the externalities of carbon.

I worry that there is a resistance to engage in a debate about how economies reduce their emissions and the real cost of the mechanisms to achieve this. Simply vilifying anyone who questions the credentials of green investments will not lead to a roadmap which reduces emissions in a realistic and cost effective way.

I suggest you watch the film and make up your own mind. I’m not endorsing the film, but the questions posed should be addressed not merely denied.

© Chris Lenon and http://www.zerocarbonourchoice.com  2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Chris Lenon and www.zerocarbonourchoice.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Coal – Germany and the UK – How the German Greens are increasing emissions

Dattlyn 4 Coal Power station

Last week saw two announcements about coal power generation.

In the UK, no coal was burnt generating power for a continuous two month period.

In Germany, a new coal power station opened.

This may seem surprising, that Europe’s largest economy is opening coal powered power plants, but the reason is the need for baseload power as more power generation comes from intermittent renewables.

In the UK, that baseload comes from nuclear and gas. But in Germany it is from coal because nuclear is being phased out, as a result of Green Party pressure within the government. So, due to Green opposition to nuclear, Germany’s emissions will stay high and may increase as the use of coal continues for the next twenty years at least.

A bizarre outcome. And until power storage is increased dramatically to store renewable electricity, the issue of baseload will continue. Is it really better to use coal rather than nuclear?

© Chris Lenon and http://www.zerocarbonourchoice.com  2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Chris Lenon and www.zerocarbonourchoice.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.