Talk about Newsnight

Ethical Man - Justin Rowlatt

I am not a transvestite, I just want to talk green electricity

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 21 Dec 06, 05:05 PM

zola203.jpgTake a look at the picture of my four-year-old, Zola. I defy you to deny that she appears a sweet and gentle child. But beware: Zola also has a wicked sense of humour.

Last week she may have besmirched my reputation with her teachers forever and may also have ruined my chances of the school governorship I had set my sights on.

Her nursery school teacher, Mrs D, was making herself a cup of tea when Zola proffered that her father likes wearing tights.

Now Mrs D is not one to encourage gossiping in children but she couldn’t help but blurt out a shocked “really?”

“Yes,” Zola confirmed. “He put on Mummy’s tights and now Mummy is very angry with him.”

Let’s just pause to consider what Zola has done here. She’s seeded a thought in her teachers’ minds which, I suspect, will be almost impossible to wholly eradicate. It is – let me assure you right now – completely false but is sufficiently non-threatening yet saucy enough to be a joy to everyone apart from me.

So why do I tell this story? Well, regular readers of this blog will know I have been learning that - just like my angelic daughter - green electricity tariffs are not what they seem. You can see my film investigating green electricity on Newsnight, Thursday 19 December at 2230GMT on BBC Two and on the Newsnight website (note: at no point during the film am I wearing tights).

I’ve signed up with a company called Good Energy which comes near the top of most of the rankings of green electricity suppliers. I pay a premium for its service – about 30 per cent above the so-called “brown” electricity price. In return Good Energy buys a unit of electricity from renewable sources for every unit of electricity I use.

solartights203.jpgIt sounded like a good deal for a would-be ethical man like myself. I pay a bit more but can claim that my electricity now comes carbon-free. That’s very important to me. Electricity accounts for ten per cent of the family’s carbon footprint and I’ve been claiming that switching to a green supplier has cut that to zero – reducing my family’s emissions by a ton of carbon a year.

I was feeling pretty good about the transaction until someone calling themselves “Spartacus” wrote in to my blog to argue that our calculations were way out. What’s more he seems to be right.

The problem lies deep in the arcane mechanics of the electricity market so bear with me if you can….

In order to develop a low-carbon electricity industry in Britain the government obliges all electricity suppliers to buy a rising proportion of their power from renewable sources. This year the so-called Renewable Obligation is set at 6.7%.

In order to prove that they’ve met their target suppliers have to submit something called Renewable Obligation Certificates, or ROCs, to the industry regulator. You get a ROC when you buy electricity from a company which generates power from renewable sources. If you can’t produce ROCs to cover 6.7% of your output you pay a “buy-out” penalty.

Now the problem with my carbon calculation arises because green electricity suppliers like Good Energy have ROCs to spare. Because all their power come from renewable sources they have 93.3% more ROCs than they need.

And ROCs are worth good money because, to make the renewable energy market as flexible as possible, ROCs can be bought and sold. So what Good Energy - and all the other green electricity suppliers – do is sell most of their surplus ROCs on.

I’m making electricity suppliers sound like crack dealers but it is this trade in ROCs that causes the problems. The green suppliers say they have to sell ROCs to make their services affordable. But, think about it. If green electricity companies didn’t sell on their surplus ROCs then the other electricity suppliers would have had to have found the renewable power from somewhere else.

What Spartacus argues is that it is therefore wrong for green suppliers to claim that they have funded any additional renewable resources. In essence, he believes that because of the Renewable Obligation the renewable energy I’m using at home would have been generated anyway.

Good Energy accepts there is a problem with what economists call “additionality” so it keeps hold of around 5% of its ROCs. Spartacus argues that 5% is the only carbon cut I can claim. For my family that means 50kg of carbon saved instead of the full ton.

And, on the basis of the research I’ve done I reckon he is right. But, just as Zola’s teacher doubts my claims that I am no cross-dresser, my carbon guru doubts that Spartacus is being fair on the green suppliers.

And as he pointed out to me in no uncertain terms, he’s the guru! So over to you Professor Tim…


proftim203.jpgFirst off, let me say, I have a great deal of sympathy with Spartacus. There is something distinctly suspect about a system in which electricity suppliers offer their customers ‘green electricity’ that they’re under an obligation to provide anyway.

But as I’ve explained in a lot more detail on Justin’s previous blog , I am also suspicious about ‘additionality’ arguments. In the existing renewable energy market, it is just too difficult to tell whether Justin’s actions in signing up for a green tariff do or do not lead to a reduction in carbon.

And in a sense, I would argue, it is also beside the point.

I’d like to go back to first principles and ask some basic questions about fairness. And it’s not fairness towards green energy companies I’m worried about. It’s fairness towards consumers. Fairness to people across the country who, like Justin, have signed up for green electricity tariffs. People who have made an ethical choice about the kind of electricity they want to consume. And entered into a contract with a supplier who promises to deliver it to them.

If you like, it’s not so much a question of Zola’s apparent innocence and mischievous sense of humour. It’s more a question of how you’d feel watching a pair of svelte stocking-clad legs swaying gracefully towards you, only to discover at the last minute that they belonged to Justin! Well, I’m not saying you’d be disappointed. But you might feel slightly deceived.

And when it comes to green tariffs, you’d have a right to feel that way.

In my mind the key to whether Justin can claim carbon free electricity is the question of whether or not he’s paid a fair price for it. The fact is, as Spartacus himself has pointed out, renewable energy tariffs are cheap right now for 'ethical' customers because they’re subsidised by the sale of ROCS on the market. In a sense, Justin has purchased his own ‘ethicalness’ at a knock-down price. So for me, the question is this:

How much green electricity can Justin claim at a fair price? Or in other words, what proportion (p) of his total electricity demand (N) can we claim is carbon-free, and what proportion (1-p) must we regard as ordinary ‘brown’ electricity?

It turns out that we can answer this in a pretty straightforward manner. Suppose the unit price for ‘true’ green electricity is Cg, the average domestic unit price is Ca and Justin’s unit price is Cj. His total annual bill comes to Cj*N pence and this can be divided into green electricity and average electricity as follows:

Cj*N = Cg*p*N + Ca*(1-p)*N

Dividing through by N and re-arranging we get:

p = (Cj-Ca)/(Cg-Ca)

which is pretty easy to calculate using existing tariff data. In Justin’s case, assuming an annual demand of 5,000 units per year, Cj comes to 12.94 kWh and the average price Ca comes to 9.65 p/kWh. (You can check out all these numbers at I’m going to assume here that Cg – Ca, the difference between a true green tariff and the brown tariff is given by the average price of a ROC, which at the last auction in October was around 4.5p/kWh for the kinds of renewables that Good Energy invests in.

And all this tells us that for Justin, the proportion (p) of his electricity that he can claim to have paid a fair price for is just over 70%.

It will vary of course from tariff to tariff and depending on the price of ROCs. Take a look at my sensitivity curves on the graph below, if you’ve got the stomach for it!

But my overall point is this. Justin signed up for green electricity. He paid a fair price for around 70% of his consumption. That should be the percentage he is able to claim as carbon free. Not the much smaller 5% figure Spartacus is arguing for.


Comments  Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 08:35 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Fred Flintstone wrote:

High Court Judges and Beefeaters wear stockings too...

  • 2.
  • At 08:39 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Richard Cosgrave wrote:

I'm sure that somewhere a clothing/retail historian will know the exact numbers or quote but I recall hearing a comment years ago on Radio 4 about the first day that tights went on sale in the UK. The reporter told thier audience that on the fist day N thousand were sold, of which one-third were sold to women...

  • 3.
  • At 08:41 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Edward wrote:

He means tranvestite of course. Where is a good sub-editor when you need one?

  • 4.
  • At 08:41 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Rob wrote:

One thing I have never had a satisfactory answer to from any of the 'Green' suppliers is why their electricity was 30% more than brown elec 3 years ago and now that brown has gone up so much green is still 30% more. Surely green should not go up so much and should now be reaping the benefits of not being tied to oil and so cheaper and thus putting brown out of business.

Clearly there is the problem with producing more green to meet demand so there is the normal element of the supply-demand curve but not this much and I feel my 'ethicalness' is being abused and taken advantage of while the law demands that all this green electricity is produced anyway.

I should just buy brown as doing so would not reduce the amount of green being made and save me a small fortune.

  • 5.
  • At 08:51 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Maurice wrote:

Maybe nevermind isnt a transgender/sexual whatever, but sounds pretty much like a wierdo. Did he get beaten a lot at school???? Best we don't enrage it, he'll deck you with his handbag which of course is also his right to carry.
Anyhow, the article made interesting reading and had nothing really to do with wearing tights apart from making the point of what is said is not always true, nevermind should rather remove his pantyhose and opt for a more environmentally friendly material. Unless he wears silk of course. Sweet!

  • 6.
  • At 08:52 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Guy Bamber wrote:

Can you explain the economics of green energy offering Justin a below market rate for his energy? If it makes sense from some business or economic sense (e.g. steady cash stream or entry to market discount) rather then altruism of the green energy then I think you could argue that he has paid the going rate. In this case he surely has 100% carbon free electric.

  • 7.
  • At 08:58 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Jason wrote:

Maybe I'm off the mark here, but it seems to me that there is a flaw in the Professor's analysis. Is the difference between green and brown tariffs the cost of the average ROC price at auction??

I'd imagine (I may well be wrong) that the majority of the electric supply available is from 'brown' sources. In order to supply this 'brown' electricity, large 'brown' suppliers have to purchase 'green' stock from a limited supply.

Given this scarce supply, I'd assume a particuarly high price for these ROC's, and a distortion in the calculations, leading to a much higher 'greenness'.

I also think that the assumption of 'fair price' is a bit off the mark too, but I'm not going to get in to that.

Happy Christmas though!!!

  • 8.
  • At 08:59 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Dave wrote:

I worked as motorcycle courier for many years, a pair of thick tights under your leathers keeps the cold out (it was my wifes idea & it works). Go tell a courier that he's batting for the other side ... I dare you.

It's about time a bit of investment was made in the solar/hydrogen energy cycle (use the power of the sun to extract hydrogen from water). This is proper green energy.

C'mon Tony (or Gordon), get a pair of tights on & do some research into this idea ... you could save us all.

1. I sent an e-mail on your Ethical man site, re the green costings ....which your system chewed

2. This may be more effective.

The comments of the learned prof. begin to sound awfully like mediaeval bhishop's arguing how many seraphim can comfortably sit on a pin head.

Mr Einstein said that if you couldn;t explain it to a 6 year old, you didn't understand it.

I don't know how old Zola is but try it out on hre.

If successful try the EU Energy Trading scheme that trades notional tonnes (that's metric) of carbon. Euros 30 (ish) in May, as the market has collapsed it was trading (if at all) today at Euros 6.50(ish) leaving investors in this new Klondike with heavy losses and headaches.

If Zola gets the hang of that try her out on the UN Clean Development Mechanism by which methane from trapped pig .. pig ..stuff in Brazil somehow is transmogrified (Catholic term for changing into) into carbon your dirty coal burning plant emits in Europe - earning your "Carbon trader" a drink on the way to the "green" investor sharing in the mining of this new financial glod scam ...ooops seam.

If you want to ;

1. Reduce production / consumption of fossil fuel and all that it produces as by product

2. Alter the methods by which energy is produced to meet that goal.

The most effective way is a mix of direct tax and some regulation and policing.

ROC's and ETS are merely a new form of derivative chip in that "squalid casino at the end of Threadneedle Street" - H Macmillan's description, not mine.

It fills the pockets and fattens the wallets of lawyers, traders, analysts, energy consultants, energetic share hucksters, PR pushers, and all the other attendant snake oil salesmen in this new Klondike leaving the gulled and credulous "green" investor with a heavy loss who thought inoccently he could share in this new gold scam ...ooooops seam.

Somehow young Zola looks a bit too smart to be convinced.... and as for tights, it looks to me that in the Justin household it's Mum who wears the trousers. Ask Zola.

Opps. Edward you are that good sub-editor.

I'd written that I am not a transsexual. Well I am not a transsexual but in the context of my "tight spot" I should - as Edward kindly points out - have claimed not to be a tranvestite.

We will amend the headline accordingly.

  • 11.
  • At 09:06 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Michael Barnes wrote:

Just because you've overpaid for your electric doesn't mean it is greener you've just improved someones profits. If overall the amount of green energy doesn't increase as a result of your actions then there is no benefit. Because of this ROC trading it looks like it is pretty close to a zero sum game. As your company keep 5% of their ROCS I reckon Spartacus is right that is all you can legitimately claim. Not your fault but that's life.

As an aside what would they do if we all signed up for green electric given that there is not enough renewable to go around?

  • 12.
  • At 09:07 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Steve wrote:

This buying and selling of ROCs is problem to the truely ethically committed and to furthering increases in green energy production - why do the polluting energy companies need to invest in renewables when they can buy into it? This keeps the amount of energy produced by renewables lower than it otherwise might. Friends of the Earth had (I'm not sure if it's still there) a review of this, and of the companies offering green tariffs. They noted the difference between those companies said they were green but bought in ROCs. Those energy companies which were green producers but sold their ROCs and finally those companies that produced green energy, but ALSO HELD ONTO their ROCs, so taking them out of the market and stopping a more polluting company buying them up. This way you could check to see if your energy company really was green through and through.

  • 13.
  • At 09:11 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Reuven wrote:

Its the same problem with buying a hybrid car. For every one of those cars that they sell they are able to sell a big truck without having to pay a extra tax like they would usually have to.

The hybrid then causes that more gas is used, because if the person would buy a carrola, they would also get good mileage half of the hybrid, but the truck is now getting 12-15 mpg one third of the carrola...

  • 14.
  • At 09:14 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Owen wrote:

Professor Tim's formula is a nonsense: if Justin paid 17p/unit to his green energy company he'd be claiming more than 100% carbon free.

I think prof Tim is missing the following constraint: Cj=Ca when p=0.067, because even brown generators are buying/producing 6.7% from renewables.

Secondly I think the assumption that the price of ROCs equals Cg-Ca is false. If the proportion of ROCs available in the UK is greater than 6.7% of the total electricity market then their price will be less than Cg-Ca.

If green electricity companies are selling their ROCs they are selling the electricity they generate twice.

  • 15.
  • At 09:30 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Andrew Clarke wrote:

How silly to suggest that the greenness of your electricity can be calculated by what you pay for it. That would mean my supplier could double my bills (and boost their profits) and claim that my electricity is totally green, while continuing to buy/produce it from the same 93.3% brown sources.

If you pay extra you have a right to expect this to actually change the company's actions. Something that is clearly not happening with most 'green' tariffs.

The most effective way to actually reduce carbon dioxide emissions is 1) to turn down your central heating and reduce your consumption of electricity, 2) to buy the electricity you do use from the cheapest source possible and 3) pay the savings to a charity that buys up carbon permits and cancels them.

  • 16.
  • At 09:38 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • pete wrote:

all these green tariffs sound suspiciously like a pig in a poke to me.
consider :
1 Electricity (as in the mains) can not be stored (ok a couple of small hydro storage schemes that only take up surge demand)
2) Generated electricity is used as it is produced; 'over capacity' is merely the inefficient spinning of excess generators - this is a requirement so we don't lose power when we all put the kettle on during tv adverts

3) so the wind has dropped to less than 2m/sec (no wind power) the sun's gone down (no solar power) just where does the ethical man think his electricity comes from

ah yes the National Grid - where all the generated electricity in the country is shared.

so let the prof look at the real economics - the ethical man is paying some one to deliver something the supplier cannot guarantee; nor can the supplier demonstrate in any meaningful way that any a single erg of energy used by the ethical man was produced by the supplier's equipment. The ethical man's electricity is made up the same as mine. All he is doing is paying someone for some fancy words and some meaningless spin.

'Green' electricity ? please will the prof check the TOTAL life span burden (do NOT forget all the maintenance activities; building activities etc) of a windmill - even at the outrageously optimistic efficiency figures quoted.

Is the climate changing - YES. Should we use 'greener' (actually the term should be 'more efficient') sources - YES - but let's have REAL comparisons not some politicians/comercial advisors pet little project rolled out as a panacea.

The only ETHICAL way to reduce your carbon emission is to use less (stop eating food from overseas; junk the airplane holiday; turn all those damn lights off; stop using convenience food; don't throw away perfectly good equipment) in short get off the lazy western consumer band wagon; keep it; repair it; get it LOCAL !

  • 17.
  • At 09:40 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Robert wrote:

Sounds to me like the "green" energy companies are making money out of believers in the new religion of global warming.

  • 18.
  • At 09:42 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Ada wrote:

...and what is wrong with being a transsexual [person] anyway?

Why should anyone care what you wear?

Of course sadly they may do and all this prejudice towards transgendered people of whatever kind is what has dropped you in this situation in the first place!

Please don't add to it more in this way, someone else will get hurt too. :(

Good Luck with the school governership thing! :)

  • 19.
  • At 09:43 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • tom wrote:

Well what inspired such a system? money perhaps? evil? ?

  • 20.
  • At 09:56 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Rachael wrote:

whilst all the comments about calculations for green energy and talking about ROCS goes right over my head one thing I will say is that kids are fab, they are mans greatest leveller and given the chance they will hang you with comments like that all day long!

thank you Zola for brightening a very cold and foggy evening!

  • 21.
  • At 09:56 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Philip wrote:

Back in February 1980 I travelled to Moscow, amongst the various information provided by the Tour Operator suggested that the male travellers consider wearing tights due to the extremely cold weather, compared to our climate.

I must say, that advice was worth taking, although, it's benefit was still no compensation for the embarrasment I encountered at the retailer in the UK!

  • 22.
  • At 10:10 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Michael wrote:

Perhaps the real questions should be:

How much higher would Justin's electricity bill be if his supplier did not sell his ROCs but billed him for the missing revenue instead?

Would Justin be willing to pay this to ensure his carbon footprint from electricity really was zero?

Would his supplier be willing to offer that deal to customers?

Does it count as transvestism if you lost a bet?

  • 23.
  • At 10:12 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Mark K wrote:

You also miss the point that 'green' electricity can only be supplied, at
this price, to the first few elite adopters. Wind farms typically only
work 75% of the time. For a few users you can 'fill in' with coal/nuclear when the power isn't there and 'pay it back' latter.

If everyone did this then on a cold still winters night the lights would
go out.

  • 24.
  • At 10:12 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Dave Harris wrote:

Surely it would make more sense to simply rely on supply and demand to meet the 6.7% rather than have an additional trading system? That way the "green" energy producers can sell their energy to the national suppliers at green energy market prices.

  • 25.
  • At 10:13 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • A Cripps wrote:

Has anyone thought that by your company selling their ROCs they may be discouraging other companies from seeking 'greener' energy sources. While they sell their other ~90% other companies can go on producing 'brown' electricity. Is this an ethical ideal?

  • 26.
  • At 10:15 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Amanda Berry wrote:

Nothing wrong with men in tights as long as they buy their own. This is far more ethical.

On the ethical power issue. I don't think making ethics a market commodity for which people pay extra ever really works, because there are always going to be less well off people who can't afford to pay extra for ethical products, so the market demand for the cheapest non-ethical products is always going to be greatest.

So whilst it's commendable that the better off can afford a conscience. I would doubt these things actually have much effect on the demand for unethical products.

Of course with electricity one gets the same electricity ethical or otherwise from the grid who ever one actually pays for receiving it.

Actually the best way to be ethical IMO is to turn a few lights off, or wear a pullover and turn the heating down a tad. This not only saves energy it also means lower bills.

Ethics will only really catch on when ethical products are cheaper than non-ethical products unless the taste is different but I'm sure 9 out of 10 robots who expessed a preference would agree all electricity tastes the same. :)

  • 27.
  • At 10:21 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Financier wrote:

I think that much of this misses the point. Having been involved in financing a number of renewable energy schemes in the last year I can assure you that they are not viable without ROCs. (This is not a criticism of green energy per se, but really just an observation).

In some instances ROCs are worth nearly 50% of the total revenue received by these plants. Without the ROCs scheme they'd simply not exist, because they would be systemically loss making.

  • 28.
  • At 10:25 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • robert wrote:

I though he would have meant transvestight....

  • 29.
  • At 10:28 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Will Chellam wrote:

What happens if supply and demand switch places... if more people want green electricity than can be produced by the combined eforts of the suppliers?

I presume this is the only impetus to increase the supply of green energy above the minimum required by law... so the companies can make more money

  • 30.
  • At 10:36 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Rupert Watson wrote:


were you at TVF when we made "The Greenhouse Conspiracy" for Equinox?

  • 31.
  • At 10:37 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Fred Greene wrote:

Tights?? You,mean the under garment that Joe Namath (the pro football player) wore?? Nothing wrong there as they keep you warm in winter. Panties are fine for summer,LOL Gren and brown power?? I use a full magnetic driven motor driving a generator that provides me electricity. Free electric!!!

  • 32.
  • At 10:39 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • DVH wrote:

But why does he find it normal to talk about his daughter to perfect strangers? There's something exploitative about this article.

  • 33.
  • At 10:46 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Anthony wrote:

The point of ROCs is really much more simple than it is being portrayed. You need to consider the person who's deciding whether to build a coal or gas burning power plant or a wind turbine. The cost per MW of installed generating capacity is much lower for a fossil fuel plant than for any renewable resource. Consequently you need to sell renewable energy at a higher price for the project to be viable. Renewable power is rarely generated at the times people want it or in the places where people are willing to buy it, so the 'green' element of the power is separated and turned into a ROC that can be traded separately. The person deciding whether or not to build a turbine can forcast their expected revenue from selling power in the open market as 'brown' power, and add the expected revenue from selling the ROCs, to determine whether the project will be viable or not. As a consequence, in the long run more renewable generation will be built. The ROCs are an additional revenue stream for green producers, making more projects viable - which is where the 'additionality' comes in.

  • 34.
  • At 10:48 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Adam wrote:

I was disappointed as the story unfolded that you deny wearing tights.

My hope was that you would enthusiastically endorse men wearing tights, all in the ineterests of keeping warm and turning the thermostat down.

Even if all your electricity was effectively green, the "reduce" principle still applies. The less you use the more green electricity replaces other peoples brown.

I confess: I wear long undergarments in the winter.

  • 35.
  • At 10:48 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • George MH wrote:

Women allowed to wear tights but not men? That is sexist. Whatever happened to Equal Oppotunities?

Being male and growing up into a female-dominated family, because of the gender variation ragarding clothes, I felt so confused and infuriated growing up.

If women wear skirts and tights, then they are transvestites - end of story...

  • 36.
  • At 10:50 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Rocy wrote:

If you want to know about ROCs take a look at Ofgem's website

ROCs are issued to GENERATORS of renewable/green energy. The Renewable Obligation (RO) applies to electricity suppliers. There are a number of independent generators who do not sell to the end consumer. All ROCs issued to generators must be sold to suppliers - the Ofgem rules don't allow generators to retain their ROCs and receive the full value for the ROCs. This rule does inhibit the development of green energy - as some of value of ROCs "leaks" to the suppliers. More critically, the value of the marginal ROC if the annual obligation was met would be ZERO - so independent generators won't take the risk and won't build more. However, there's still some way to go to reach the target - partly as a result of all the planning delays on wind farms.

All consumers pay extra for the renewable obligation - commercial consumers also pay the Climate Change Levy.

Don't knock Good Energy - they are trying to do their bit for "organic electricity" - and I understand that they do promise to exceed their RO each year. Electricity supply is a perilous busines for small independents - again check out for the number of electricity supply companies that went bust last winter and had their supply licences withdrawn.

  • 37.
  • At 10:52 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Benjamin wrote:

Pete, (comment 16)

Let me explain a little bit more about the electricity industry (which I work in).

Suppliers (eg nPower, Green Energy, whoever) have to either a) purchase the power they want, or b) produce it themselves. It doesn't just "come off the grid" - apart from balancing. Take a supplier that doesn't own any generators. They would go to a generator, say "hi can we buy power off you for the next 3 years" and the generator would say "sure" and as time went by, the supplier would tell the generator they want x power for a certain day (well each day is split into 48 half-hourly segments but lets keep it simple here). How much the electricity costs is decided between the parties and could track some commodity index.

After the day is past, the supplier pays the generator the amount of power it said it wanted. This may not be the precise amount of electricity that was actually used - in fact it will always be a bit out. So if the supplier said to the generator it needs 190MW per hour for the day but it in fact used 200MW - the extra 10MW is supplied by the national grid, and the supplier has to pay a higher price (System Buy Price) for this electricity. Similarly there is a System Sell Price if usage was overestimated. An invoice will come along from Elexon who keep count of these kind of things - it's called Balancing and Settlement.

So, the point is, although physically all electricity is shared in the notional grid, suppliers and generators still buy electricity off each other. If the generator didn't make a contract, it could sell it to the national grid at rubbish prices (system sell price) - so it needs a supplier who will buy its power. Yes, because of Renewable obligation, every power company will want some, but these green suppliers want even more. If more people sign up to green suppliers, then they will need more green generators, so more will get built. So, signing up to green electricity suppliers does indeed help the environment!

I think most of that was waffling but hopefully some of it made sense.

Incidentally there are more ways to produce green electricity than solar and wind, eg biomass.

  • 38.
  • At 10:54 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • lucy wrote:

Ok I understand the theory of what you're saying, but I missed WHY you were wearing tights. I admit my husband used to steal my thick heavy tights to keep him warm. My father, on the other hand, wanted us to walk though doors without opening them to keep the house warm, he argued he could save energy by turning the heating down.

  • 39.
  • At 10:55 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Paul wrote:

Why not buy a few saplings with the money you save with buying "brown energy", plant them in your garden and reap both the reward of doing ecological good and having a decent garden.
Frankly, if you cannot get the US to sign any agreements, much less keep to them, we don't realy stand a chance anyway - thats not even to mention all the asian and african countries who are learning how to make the sky go black, (can you blame them for wanting to achieve things that we take for granted?)

  • 40.
  • At 10:58 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Joe wrote:

I think your public reporting on wearing tights is an attempt to cover it up, the whole if i tell everyone what she said and say she's making it up then no one will believe it's true routine! Just come clean!

The UK contributes only 2% of the man-made greenhouse gasses. One of the few important thing we can do is show the rest of the world that it is possible to live sustainably. A rough measure of sustainablity - for the average world citizen - should be about 10kg of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent per day. Our average is more than three times this - and rising. I don't believe even the residents of pioneering projects like BEDZED or Findhorn achieve sustainability to this average standard.

It's about time we re-thought the way we live in a much more radical way.

  • 42.
  • At 11:02 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Niel Johnson wrote:

You can't trust even the 'ethical' power companies as has been explained here. I bought myself some PV (solar electric) panels and put them on my roof. 100% (carbon) free power. Stop waiting for the govt and industry , take back the responsibilty, regain some independence !!

  • 43.
  • At 11:08 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Johnny B wrote:

Well if it was good enough for the SAS in the Falklands/Malvinas....

I think all the carbon credits/ROCs is funny money anyway. If it makes you feel better then do it.

I'd really like a decent view of what I should really do. I run my cars into the dust, yet I see people would apparently give up major limbs/appendages rather than forgo to use of their cars/energy. The government/us gave in in the most abject way to the fuel blockades in 2000 - remember them - I do. What a missed opportunity to tax something. Popular not. Rational yes. Tell me when enough people get their head screwed on, in the meantime, mine's a pint.



  • 44.
  • At 11:09 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Jude wrote:

"It’s more a question of how you’d feel watching a pair of svelte stocking-clad legs swaying gracefully towards you, only to discover at the last minute that they belonged to Justin! Well, I’m not saying you’d be disappointed. But you might feel slightly deceived."

Are you *really* assuming all your readers are male heterosexuals?

  • 45.
  • At 11:10 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Max Sinclair wrote:

How much 'green' electricity has been produced in the last few cold flat calm foggy days?
Ex Windy Miller Avoncroft Windmill for 15 years.

  • 46.
  • At 11:13 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Stan Talbot wrote:

I also prefer to be tight! You'll pay 30% extra for electricity? You can't come from Yorkshire lad!

  • 47.
  • At 11:14 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Natacha wrote:

All this rubbish about transvestites and transsexuals;

1. Transsexuals more often than not tend to wear trousers, especially after the op.

2. Transvestites tend to wear stockings or

3. Hold-ups like me; its less uncomfortable on your genitals.

As for green energy; switch off the lights/telly, get a small fridge and drive a girl's car (a small pink one in my case) which uses less petrol, oh and wear knee-length boots and a longer skirt in the winter, and a mini-skirt in the summer so you don't need A/C.

The problem is your supplier. Good Energy simply buys electricity from a third party but they invest nothing in the generation of renewable energy. In order for you to be truly green with your switch to a green energy provider, you should switch to a company who is committed to renewable generation and, importantly, the addition of new renewable generators. As far as I know, Ecotricity is the only one of hte 'green' providers which invests in new, additional, renewable generation. Some of the traiditonal energy providers invest in new renewable generation, but not at the same cost per customer that Ecotricity does - a truly green energy generator.

I too have just abondoned my quest for a domestic wind turbine. I however live in the very windy fens of East Anglia and can see 26 commercial turbines from my garden. but in order to make a significant dent in my elecrticy needs, I needed a 5-6Kw turbine which I don't have the space or the money for. As you have found out for yourself, the 'high street' 2.5Kw models delivery next to nothing and are quite simply part of the ever increasing green/ethical con. We'll continue with our planned solar installation and continue to reduce consumption.

  • 49.
  • At 11:26 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Adrian wrote:

Robert: "Sounds to me like the "green" energy companies are making money out of believers in the new religion of global warming."

Whatever your views on global warming, surely it's enough of a motivation that fossil fuels are running out?

That said, though, I'd like to see a rigorous investigation into all of the green energy tariffs. I recently ended a contract with Ecotricity, having been alarmed at the lack of honest information I was given. I'm sure there's some "ethical energy" involved there, but they were very coy about the difference between their two tariffs, the prices and whether or not I could switch between them. After my emails were ignored, I simply changed supplier.

  • 50.
  • At 11:28 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Acorn wrote:

Another way of selecting a 'green' supplier is to look at how much they are investing in installing new renewable capacity per customer. This varies hugely by supplier, as can be seen at (which, although run by the top-ranked energy supplier, is based on OFGEM figures). Good Energy don't look so good on this scale, having invested none of their own money in new renewables in 2004 or 2005.

  • 51.
  • At 11:59 PM on 21 Dec 2006,
  • Aiden wrote:

Lets simplify things. You don't need any fancy formulae from the professer. Imagine no "purely green" suppliers existed, yet the government still wanted their 6.7% renewables. The brown producers would have to build green sources themselves, resulting in the net effect being 6.7% as expected. Now let a "good energy" come on board. When the brown producers can buy an ROC from "good energy" for less then it would take them to make green electricity themselves, they immediately switch to buying the ROCs. Therefore with "green energy" the net effect is still only a 6.7% reduction. Now imagine that "good energy" refuse to sell a portion of their ROCs. This is the amount of brown energy that would have otherwise been produced, and hence the only savings. If "good energy" sell 95% of their ROCs this is truly bad news! This means I am paying for expensive electricity with only 5% net reduction in green house gases.

So what is the true effect of a person have who pays "extra" for their electricity from a true green supplier who sells (nearly all) their ROCs?

The answer is simple: They are subsidising the rest of the population so that the mandatory 6.7% green energy that must be produced ends up being (slightly!) cheaper for the rest of the population who are buying from a traditional supplier.

How can we get a true net increase in green energy production? Either ban ROC trading (not very practical, as derivatives make for an efficient market), or the government must raise the required percentage!

There is at least one small positive effect a person who pays extra for electricity from a green supplier may potentially have - because they are in theory giving money to a company that builds green sources, the government may be able to raise the percentage of "required" green energy at a faster rate, since there is someone to supply it. However, it is impossible to put a quantative value of this effect.

Finally, (if you are still reading!)observations above are correct that the system would break down if overnight everyone signed up to a green supplier - demand would outstrip supply. However, since such mass action is not likely, it is not really worth discussing.

  • 52.
  • At 12:09 AM on 22 Dec 2006,
  • Dougie Lawson wrote:

How much green or brown electricity goes into the production of your tights?

Are you saving green or brown power by wearing tights?

How does Lucy's father get in and out of his house?

BTW, congrats on making it to the front page of (with an upside down picture of girls legs in stockings).

Can't you tell your daughter that you were wearing tights because you were rehearsing for the Newsnight Panto?

I'm sure she'll believe that. To give the story more credibility - just tell her that Paxman's playing one of the ugly sisters.

She'll duly pass this info onto her teacher. They'll breathe a sigh of relief and you'll be welcomed with open arms as a school governor because they'll want you to help out with the next school play :)

Problem solved.

As for green electricity ... that's a bit more tricky.

Having just seen your report tonight about I think both Prof Tim and Spartacus have a point.

I'm inclined to agree with Prof Tim slightly more though because what you're doing, by switching to green electricity, is for the "greater good". In so far as you're helping to support the market and demand for green electricity.

I do believe (or is that HOPE?) that as long as more of us keep switching to green suppliers then it will reach a tipping point where more renewables will be funded and we can have a tarrif that suppliees 100% renewable electricity if we want.

When I switched to Ecotricity I was under no illusions that I was eradicating that part of my footprint.

My regular supplier was going to charge me more for a "green tariff" and I certainly didn't feel that I should pay any more when they are a huge mutli-national with sky high profits already.

Having read the small print (very well hidden on Ecotricity's site I must say) it turns out that only ~20% of their power currently comes from renewables but they are continuing ot invest in new wind farms. As my consumption is pretty low anyway I figure this was the best option for now.

The money I save by not paying over the odds for a "green tariff" is spent on low energy bulbs and tights (to keep me warm in the winter, you understand! :)

As for the LED spotlights in your kitchen … forget it! They’re a total waste of time for that sort of use.

I’ve tried them and they’re rubbish in a kitchen or indeed most place in the home. They’re fine if you’re using them in a display cabinet in a shop perhaps but you really need more light when you’re chopping your organic sprouts I find.

I’ve just bought a huge box of compact fluorescent low energy spotlights – yes, they do exist and they’re not bad. They're around the same price as those rubbish LED ones, so are much better value.

I have 11 watt “Megaman” ones and they give the equivalent of 50w. They're slight longer than the average halogen spotlight but that's no noticeable when they're switched on.

You're welcome to have a few of my spare bulbs if you want to try them out.

  • 54.
  • At 12:53 AM on 22 Dec 2006,
  • Andrew Clarke wrote:

Prof Tim may be immodest calling himself a 'guru' but is not completely incorrect. Spartacus' original suggestion, taken up by a lot of contributors, is based on a false assumption that the 'renewables obligation' is really an obligation.

In fact the name is a typical bit of government spin. The industry as a whole is not being forced to buy 6.7% green electricity. The renewables obligation only acts as a subsidy to encourage renewable power generation by taxing consumption. Choosing to buy green electricity does help promote the generation of green electricity, somewhere between 5% and 100%, and if Prof Tim were really a guru he'd get some maths help in to solve this puzzle.

However, in my view the electricity companies are deliberately misleading people when promoting green tariffs that boost their profits. A true green tariff would retire all the ROCs.

  • 55.
  • At 01:05 AM on 22 Dec 2006,
  • pippop wrote:

If you think that is embarrassing!

My seven year old, (now much older) after a primary school educational enlightenment session on drugs asked me about the store called Super Drug. Well, you have to admit the name does lend itself to questions. So I launched into a long and albeit far too complicated explanation about the English and American different allocations of the term drugs. Followed by the pharmaceutical labelling of what did and did not constitute a drug.

To a cut a very long story much shorter, I had somewhere along the line introduced the idea that coffee and tea are drugs too.

The following day the school learnt that, "Mummy takes drugs." And indeed I had to admit to frequenting Super Drug, sniffing coffee and shooting up tea. It was all rather embarrassing.

Justin, will we ever get the pleasure of seeing you in tights or stockings, now that half the viewers are actually thinking about it? :0)

as a serving soldier in the 70's thru 1989
and my son is serving now i can a-test to every body
wearing tight's wilst on op's
i spent many a cold wet night in sevice of the queen
with a pair of my wife's tights
due to under funding im sure this is still the case
ask andy mcnabb............. et -al not a trani to be seen ducky .. unless the work at gchq or mi6

  • 58.
  • At 03:31 AM on 22 Dec 2006,
  • Rolf wrote:

green tariff also seemed remarkably bamboozling to me. for instance npower juice switches you back to brown next march ? and plants some trees in your name instead ???

anyhow, after wading through the riddles, Im still not totally unconfused, but my hunch is that 'Good Energy' are the 'greenest of the green'.

Someone posted a link to judging companies by how much they were investing. Good energy don't build green enregy supplies themselves, but buy it off smallscale projects to encourage them (?), so their 'supply' is 100% green... I think.

Ecotricity meanwhile, are 'traditional' 'hardware' suppliers (???), and build turbines (like the one for Manchester City), but they currently can't supply 100% green and are currently around 17% green (??). Or so I think ?

So it depends which way you want to judge them, I think. Heres one alluring attempt at making sense of it all

to me, it would seem if more than 6.7% of the nation buy green tariff, then the suppliers are in a pickle if they don't build new green.

I think we currently pay £7 of our bills towards building the green infracture.

Ebico don't seem to have bothered with attempting a green tariff supply, and just seem to let you buy ROCs and they retire them.

And to top it all off, we can all get our own ROCs with our own (white elephant ?) mini-windturbines.

All the ROC business makes me wonder if we can buy up tons of CO2 just now with our life savings, and in ten years time either keep to our ethics or sell it at what will become an expensive commodity and make ourselves very unscrupulous millionaires ??? Unless the market collapses of course.

That's my attempt at making sense of it.

Some companies are building biomass plants too. And I have heard of some councils burning off methane from landfill sites to supply local areas.

There's nothing wrong with being who you are, and that includes being transvestite. My uncle is one, and he's making raves in the manufacturing industry.

Hmm, interesting.

It looks like this is a good debate about energy, that has been spoiled by attention to the side-issue of whether the author wears tights or not.

On the other hand, it could be a good debate on men wearing tights, that has been spoiled by attention to the side issue of energy!

Either way, the gentleman doth protest too much, methinks.

  • 61.
  • At 09:15 AM on 22 Dec 2006,
  • Iain Dawson wrote:

The question on how green this all is can be answered quite simply:

What reduction would there be in electricity-generation-related CO2 output if 10% of the population moved to Green tarrifs ?

The answer would seem to be 0.5% (since 5% of ROCs are not sold on and the other 95% are used to comply with legal requirements that would otherwise have to be met in other ways).

Ergo: Spartacus was right!

Sorry Prof, you can argue about the relative costs all you like but it's what actually gets pumped into the atmosphere that counts, not who paid for it.

  • 62.
  • At 10:07 AM on 22 Dec 2006,
  • Chris wrote:

If everyone signed up for green energy, then demand would outstrip supply, and prices would rise. On the other hand, prices for brown energy would fall.

The key point remains that, as various contributors have pointed out, it doesn't matter who uses the green energy, as long as it gets used. The price that people pay for it makes no difference. And you can't reduce the amount of brown energy used unless you increase green energy generation or cut total use.

Therefore, I dispute that Ethical Man can claim even a 5% cut. All he's doing is subsidising brown energy users, or propping up power industry profits.

  • 63.
  • At 10:19 AM on 22 Dec 2006,
  • Onisillos Sekkides wrote:

All this business leaves me with the feeling that eco living is just about making a political statement. As changes made by the individual don't appear to make a significant impact, and it is never realistic to extrapolate these activities to the whole population. Changes will only be adopted if they have a minimal impact on peoples lifestyles.

  • 64.
  • At 10:39 AM on 22 Dec 2006,
  • Spartacus wrote:

Firstly, if you're interested in the debate on green tariffs, then I recommend reading this recent report by the National Consumer Council.

Secondly, to Prof Tim's formula. As other contributors have pointed out, it appears to allow consumers to arbitrarily increase their carbon savings (to over 100%!) by the simple expedient of paying more for their electricity. What's more, it ignores the actual mix of green and brown power in the electricity supply. That can't be right.

As to how the carbon saving should be calculated, I don't have the answer, though I think the debate above (like my original post) is overly focused on ROCs. These aren't the only form of support for green power: there are grants (paid from taxes), LECs (don't ask), EU ETS allowances and more. There are large hydro plant that generate cheap power, and don't get (or need) ROCs. And if all you're interested in is saving carbon (though Ethical Man has other concerns), then don't forget nuclear.

To cap it all, the ROC system is likely to change soon so that different technologies get different levels of support. I wouldn't like to try adapting Prof Tim's formula to fit this scenario.

Whatever the answer is, the current arrangement is a mess. Suppliers are free to make unaudited claims for their green tariffs, and it's near impossible for consumers to compare what's on offer; a point illustrated by many of the posts in this thread.

I think the only credible solution is that proposed in the NCC report linked above: a government-backed scheme where suppliers' claims are independently audited, with objective standards against which their claims can be judged.

To quote the report: "consumers must have clear, unambiguous information about what is on offer, and confidence that the tariffs will deliver what they promise. Only then will consumers have confidence that switching to a green tariff will make a real difference, allowing the market for greener energy to take off."

  • 65.
  • At 10:59 AM on 22 Dec 2006,
  • Ida wrote:

Men should be cautious about wearing tights,especially when carrying out vigorous exercise.They may be warm,but in my experience it makes them very smelly.

  • 66.
  • At 11:05 AM on 22 Dec 2006,
  • Martin j wrote:

When all the energy runs out we will all be prepared to wear tights.

  • 67.
  • At 12:18 PM on 22 Dec 2006,
  • jane wrote:

Am female and hate wearing tights, or skirts for that matter. However have found the weather a tad cold. Did not want to put more heating on so rummaged in the cupboard and found a thick pair of tights bought about 15 years ago for the same reason, cut down on heating. So now, for me the unthinkable, tights under trousers. As with others I feel that not using the energy is more ethical than paying extra for a dubious trust in a power company.

  • 68.
  • At 12:29 PM on 22 Dec 2006,
  • Kilted wrote:

ROC's...interesting things, Nuclear gets ROC's too. A green conspiracy theorist once told me ROC's were originally dreamt up as a subsidy to the Nuclear industry which the wind guys spotted. He did add that the government (of the day) tried to wriggle out of this but couldn't.

His musings rang a bell at a Renewables conference I attended when a new hydro power producer described the byzantine process he had to go through to get the vital cashflow from the ROC's.

Our lifestyle is not sustainable, the longer we respect those who consume most, the harsher will be the reckoning.

Read Jared Diamond's "Collapse, How societies choose to fail or succeed"...those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

  • 69.
  • At 12:52 PM on 22 Dec 2006,
  • Tanya wrote:

If it helps when I was 3 I told my playschool teacher that 'Daddy wears a black dress at night just like mummy!'......this then prompted a teacher-parent confrence in which my dad was told what he did in his own time was his business but could he refrain from doing this in front of the children. I'm now 25 & he still hasn't forgiven me for saying this (it was a obvious lie!)& i still have no idea why i would have said such a thing! Funny though....

  • 70.
  • At 01:07 PM on 22 Dec 2006,
  • Doubting Thomas wrote:

Isn't the big problem with 'green' energy (such as that derived from wind farms) is that because the wind isn't constant the coal fired and gas electricity stations have to be always available. Which paradoxically means that a wind farm increases the CO2 we produce.

  • 71.
  • At 01:26 PM on 22 Dec 2006,
  • Ian wrote:

I did not really believe when I signed up for 'green' electricity that there would be any net shift to renewable generation as a result.

The real reason I signed up was to make a political statement.

The more customers who move from the traditional suppliers to the so-called green suppliers, the stronger this statement will be. At least now my voice will be counted.

  • 72.
  • At 01:36 PM on 22 Dec 2006,
  • Spartacus wrote:


I just saw last night's programme on-line - fame at last! Mrs Spartacus will be very proud.

However, I'm still far from convinced by Prof Tim's arguments on carbon savings. Given the level of scepticism expressed in this blog (including your own), I think it would be wise to get a second opinion. I'm sure Prof Tim won't mind - as an academic, he'll be familiar with the benefits of peer review.

You might want to speak Virginia Graham, author of the recent NCC report.

Or you could approach Chris Jardine of the Environmental Change Institute - he's the author of another recent analysis of green tariffs, is acknowledged in the NCC report, and has already contributed to this debate on a previous thread (comment 19 under "How green is your government minister").

Another candidate would be Dieter Helm of Oxford University. He's often acknowledged as the UK's leading expert on environmental economics, and isn't averse to appearing on Newsnight. I'm sure he's a busy chap but, as founder of the Oxera consultancy, he might be able to persuade them to look into this.

I'd offer myself as a candidate, but I doubt the opinions of a Thracian gladiator-slave carry much weight in this argument.

  • 73.
  • At 01:59 PM on 22 Dec 2006,
  • MC wrote:

61 is right, it's simple, but draws the wrong conclusion -- and the prof's formulae, graphs, and convoluted arguments lack common sense too.

What would the reductions in emissions be if *everyone* insisted on having green power?.....

Poking holes in Justin's choice because everyone else isn't doing their bit is just brown apologists' tosh and a lame excuse for inaction.

The same "logic" would say that him giving up his car is a waste of time too, as China's growth negated that reduction within seconds. Equally tosh.

Justin's electricity is 100% green, and most people's isn't. That's the simple fact, and the problem lies in the "Oh, it's not worth ME doing anything 'cos I can't make any difference" attitude, not in Justin's statistics.

Justin is a pioneer; either everyone else follows or the only way of avoiding the effects of climate change will be to be over 50....

  • 74.
  • At 02:08 PM on 22 Dec 2006,
  • john stevenson wrote:

If it is any consolation, those most virile of men, the Australian surf lifesavers, occasionally wear pantyhose; on the beach, and in public. It’s not that they are all becoming SNAGs but the simple reason that jelly fish tentacles are less able to sting through the fine weave. Take heart, you only become a real man when you don’t feel you have to behave like one

  • 75.
  • At 03:13 PM on 22 Dec 2006,
  • d.BAGLOW wrote:

Someone asked: "As an aside what would they do if we all signed up for green electric given that there is not enough renewable to go around?"

I think the answer is that companies would spend lots of money building very inneficient "green" energy sources that would be sold at highly expensive prices.

  • 76.
  • At 04:12 PM on 22 Dec 2006,
  • Keen to be green wrote:

Is it possible for those of us who are 'keen to be green' to buy some ROCs, to take them out of circulation? Through a charity even, to lever up the benefit with a bit of tax relief?

It is not every day you get advice from a Thracian slave (#72)on the intricacies of the electricity market.

I've seen the NCC's work on this and have read Chris Jardine's paper. That's why my instinct was to take a harder line on this than the Professor.

But the more I think about it, the more persuaded I am by his central point.

Surely there is a strong moral case that I can claim more that that 5% carbon saving?

There is no question that by signing up to a reputable green supplier like Good Energy I am ensuring that all my electricity is matched by power from renewable sources. Not only that, the fact is that switching to a green supplier almost the only thing that ethical consumers can do to reduce the carbon emissions from their electricity.

I think my economic case is correct but as soon as 6.8 per cent of us have switched to green electricty then we will be changing the way this country is powered.

Why should I be penalised because I am in the vanguard of the revolution?

  • 78.
  • At 09:29 PM on 22 Dec 2006,
  • s chamberlain wrote:

things to remember : horses for corses ,led lamps are grate for certon tasks like cycle lamps , torches , xmas lights , cupboard lighting e.t.c.... leds dont scale up well and there light is normally very directional , unlike fl tubes/filament lamps .
energy saving (cfl) gu10 reflector lamps have been available for a while and there price is comparable with led .
please keep dragging up these probs and also remember that the worst action is inaction .
s chamberlain .

  • 79.
  • At 10:40 PM on 22 Dec 2006,
  • MC wrote:


As you say, all your electricity is matched by renewable power, and the "Thracian argument" doesn't change that one iota. *Your* consumption is 100% green, and you have a factual, let alone moral, right to claim all of that.

That this doesn't change the UK's overall emissions is due to factors external to most people's personal choice, as most aren't in a position to convince vast swathes of the population to change suppliers or to affect government policy on ROCs etc, beyond writing a letter to our MPs, and voting of course.

You, however, are in a privileged position; one that does have the potential to influence a lot of people, and possibly even government policy.

I do wonder what effect the “why did I bother” tone of your last report had on people possibly on the cusp of making their own ethical choices.

Of course, you have a professional duty to report “as it is”, but it would be ironic if The Ethical Man convinced viewers that changing to green power was a waste of time....

  • 80.
  • At 02:15 AM on 23 Dec 2006,
  • Aiden wrote:

I think this debate has become difficult to follow because we are trying to prove/disprove several different conjectures:
1. That green producers who sell ROCs actually have a net effect of reducing emissions.
2. That someone (like me!) who pays more for green can claim to have reduced their own personal (electricity) carbon footprint significantly.
3. That actions of an individual make a difference.

Owing to the fact that there are currently plenty of brown suppliers, it doesn't matter when I use my electricity, I can still claim number 2. - since my green supplier will ensure an equivalent amount is supplied to the grid, albeit at a different time. I don't worry about this anymore than i would that the cash i hand over at to bank cashier are the same bills that i get back to spend when i go to the hole-in-the-wall.

However, number 1 is certainly not so clear. I certainly agree with Spartacus (post 64)- if we can't be sure of 1, it means that the current system is a mess...I'm off to write to the energy watchdog.

As for 3, read your history books (i.e. of course it does!). Sign up for green energy if only for a political statement or so you can sleep better at night.

(not sure if my limericks passed the censor)

But my serious points are these…

1. The highest hill in London, in North London, (Parliament, Muswell, Highgate?) – Deco architecture – well if you’re not in the HGS you are somewhere nearly as expensive so I just think ‘How very could you?’ Please, travel a little, especially to the industrial North before you take the moral high ground, and talk about revolutions – have the less fortunate lost control of even that domain?

2. I realise I am in a minority of one (at the moment, and it is heart-warming to see some of the more critical posts on your site), but as far as I am concerned, the whole point of being green is to embrace a whole new way of thinking that ecological science offers us. This blog is witness to the fact that we will never really be able to calculate exactly what ‘behaviours’ do to the environment – in an actuarial sense yes, but that is only a constructed reality anyway. Sure there are plenty of nerds who want to sit around trying and I think nerds are great, but not applied to these issues. Rather we should be looking to a mindset that does not, in a reductionist way, depend on quantifying everything but on learning to use our sensory intelligence alongside our cerebral intelligence – that for me is the true advance in human evolution, which the concept of sustainability offers up.

3. Following on from which, we now have a ‘Sustainable Consumption Model’ touted by the fundamentalists. But the idea that there is only one way to be sustainable contradicts the very tenets that sustainability stems from – diversity.

4. My own particular bone of contention – now a heinous crime – is acknowledging the beneficial role of processed foods (aaayyyy!!!).

a. In the 19th century it was quite usual for women to prepare food at home and take it to a bake shop – so there is an example of a functioning centralised energy source that becomes a focal point of the community – and so do supermarkets. If the issue is supermarket wages then we can talk about this, gladly, that is the real revolution, but it doesn’t preclude cooking food on batch and sharing it out - energy can neither etc. so energy for processing reduces energy consumption in the home.
b. Don’t even get me started on the gender implications of Slow, local food and anyone not recognising these is I’m afraid just in denial especially since gender relations in the intellectual class are way different from those in the majority of the population that we are supposed to be leading into this moral crusade – for once let’s think about the real world consequences of our cerebral ideas.
c. And, the food purist angle, well some people like cooking and good for them, but prepared / processed foods on the market these days are absolutely brilliant and as far as I am concerned it is pure snobbery to say they are inferior in taste.
d. And again, the social angle. Surely it is better for someone who is not sharing the joie de vivre of HGS living to eat a can of soup than nothing, out of guilt that they are not chopping veg. Fresh fruit and veg require a high level of self-esteem to consume so if that’s what we want then let the revolution be to raise that self-esteem and I think you’ll find that comes from income parity not wind turbines – check out morbidity rates in relation to Gini coefficients.
e. And if you don’t believe processed food can be healthy visit my website because I sometimes calculate the odds too.
f. Who cares if you eat Brussels sprouts or not? If you only like one vegetable then just eat that, it just does not matter morally or nutritionally (qualify that – extreme diets can be deficient but ‘variety’ does not need to be anywhere near as exaggerated as the State proclaims).

5. It all goes back to the latte culture and what is essentially a form of racism (too long to go into the evidence here) against the old white working class culture of Britain. My local area is split right down the middle between the ‘chavs’ and the ‘heights’. The local shopping centre used to be a thriving all round shopping centre. Now we have a deli with one of the most pretentious names I have ever seen, and the last newsagent has recently surrendered to one of the major corporate latte chains – will the petty bourgeois greasy caff next door survive I wonder? And all the time the influx of wealthy residents celebrate their localness whilst everyday I hear hard working people grumbling on the street that they have lost their resources (OK they don’t say resources). If I go to the local (geographically) supermarket I meet people from practically every country on the globe and if I go to the local (ideologically) farmers’ market I see only white, well dressed people.

Come on guys, we can do better than this – where has all the creativity gone – oh, yes, it’s highest amongst the prison population isn’t it – doesn’t that tell us something? Speaking of which, and as a final thought, when I taught nutrition I often quoted the statistic that ¾ of vegans are men and I always assumed that was down to man’s greater preference for dogma and authoritarian structures, until I had the great pleasure of teaching members of HMPS catering division and learned that (the rules have since changed) bags of peanuts, Soya paste and milk were useful currency in prison.

So not everything is as we intellectuals think it is and I see nothing of great moral superiority about the environmental crusade at the moment, which is a shame because that sort of means that I have basically wasted my entire life going down this road!

Going down the knit-your-own-yoghurt route was fine in the 80s when there was no other option but we’re grown up now, we should be looking at corporations, foreign policies, star wars – these sorts of issues are the ones that will make the difference – our consciousness of humanity in other words not a perpetuation of the old Judaeo-Christian moral values that man is so morally superior that man alone is the cause and cure for environmental problems. If we have not recognised that the planet is as much a part of the process as we are then we have failed to understand the message of ecology. And as I’ve said before on this site – if your children were growing up in a shanty town on a rubbish tip would YOU want to sustain the planet?

All my previous posts have just been a rehearsal for this and I thank NN from the bottom of my red-green heart, for this opportunity to clarify my thoughts.

Don’t agree? Well, bring it on then...

  • 82.
  • At 02:14 PM on 23 Dec 2006,
  • Jonathan McBrand wrote:

For the last some 4.5 BILLION years the sun has been providing us with a nearby storehouse of green energy that would last for 1000's of years and be absolutely 100% GREEN if we truly cared about this green energy issue.....

The sun throws out helium atoms at virtually the speed of light. One out every 1 million or so of those atoms has picked up a little more charge and has become He2 (Helium 2 - Helium with an extra electron), and again one out of every 1 million or so of these He2 atoms gets even further charged and becomes He3 (Helium 3 - Helium with 2 extra electrons!!)
These atoms (of all 3 varieties) have been hitting the moon for 4.5 some odd billion years and the amazing thing is even at that speed the atoms can only penetrate up to about 6-6.5 feet into the lunar soil n rocks. Add to that Heliums affinity for binding to aluminium and titanium ores which are the most abundant minerals on the lunar surface, and you have a storehouse of power there that is massive enough to last 1000's of years

Reason for this is that if you shoot a laser through a sufficient amount of He3 you get the following ... Fusion! A fusion that produces.. Electricity and Helium!!!!
Nothing else except heat, much of which could be recycled for the replacing n renewal of the initial laser (sparking) energy.

I'm informed that a large briefcase sized container of He3 would be all that is required to supply the UK with 100% green energy for the length of a year. Do we have our priorities set in the right direction here?

I wonder.... The major governments of the world are aware of this fact, does this have anything to do with America's abrupt about face on returning to the moon now that China (Read Power/Energy Hungry)has announced plans to colonize the moon.

Also could it be significant that all those Chinese colonists/miners might be wearing energy efficient tights there on the cold surface of the moon?


I had my doubts about "green" electricity in the same way I am very suspicious about so called "organic" products.

I am concerned that these green tags are just a marketing ploy to sell a product at a premium price, to those naive enough to pay for it.

With organic products, originally there was traceability through the Soil Association, but for green electricity - is there any traceability of the source?

I belive that if you look at the quantity of renewable power generated in the UK, and look at the consumption figures of those buying that renewable "green" power, then the latter will exceed the formed by several fold.

Personally, I strive to generate my own heat and power for my suburban from recycled vegetable oil.

  • 84.
  • At 07:33 PM on 23 Dec 2006,
  • Chris wrote:

So, why WAS he wearing his wife's tights...?

  • 85.
  • At 07:36 PM on 23 Dec 2006,
  • Barry wrote:


Whether you can claim that your electricity is 100% 'ethical' or 'green' depends on your definition of those terms.

With reference to a couple of posts here, particularly 16 by pete & 37 by Benjamin.

Consumers require that the electricity being delivered into their homes, businesses etc. is both consistent and reliable. It wouldn't be acceptable if our lights etc. were dimming up, down or out constantly. All renewable generating methods are not equal, particularly when it comes to consistency and reliability. Wind and solar generation is as changeable as, well the weather. There are ways to reduce variations in the output, either by mechanical or electronic methods, but these affect efficiency and while the times the sun rises and sets are known, when or how long the wind drops to zero can't be predicted.

So, in order to keep the delivery of electricity to the consumer consistent and reliable, inconsistent and unreliable renewable sources have to be backed up by consistent and reliable ones. This is done using a traditional method called 'spinning reserve' where generators are kept spinning ready to deliver additional power when required. Traditionally this has been for such things as kettles being put on after TV programmes etc. There are hydroelectric stations that can spin up to grid sync in a few seconds that do this job rather well. Gas-turbine systems can spin up in a matter on minutes, but any steam turbine system can take an hour or more to get up to sync.

What this means is that there's no system in use that can respond to the second-by-second variations in output of inconsistent and unreliable sources, such as wind and solar. So unless the spinning reserve is supplied by consistent and reliable low-or-no CO2 sources, such as unethical nuclear, no CO2 is saved.

If you have a suitable site, by all means install a wind-turbine or solar array that powers something useful off-grid which doesn't care about variations, such as an immersion heater to pre-heat hot water. That will save CO2.

What annoys me the most about all this 'green generation' is that so-called 'intelligent device' technology has all but been ignored. This senses when the grid is under stress and lowers the load or switches off appliances. In this way, rather than having spinning reserve cope with a million kettles being put on all at the same time, a million fridges switch off while the kettles are on. Unfortunately it requires a change in the legislation that governs the supply of electricity, the very same legislation that means that inconsistent and unreliable sources have to be backed-up with spinning reserve. These devices have been used in the US for some time now, not so much for CO2 saving, but to reduce overloading on cables supplying remote areas, so why does the Government drag it's feet on the matter?

Trying to get sensible answers about spinning reserve is though not the easiest of things. The whole issue of 'green generation' is spun tight, but the guilty secret of spinning reserve is avoided like, well a father who dresses in women's clothes. My best attempts has come up with what seems to be pretty reliable figures, that of the fuel input to UK power stations (remember it's the fuel consumed and not the measured and paid-for electricity output that determines CO2 generated), some 25% is used for spinning reserve. Now, as I've mentioned, the one way to cut that is to use very expensive and unethical, but CO2 free, nuclear power as spinning reserve or to introduce intelligent devices. Back in July, the Government gave the go-ahead for a new wave of UK nuclear power stations. The simple and cheap change in the legislation to allow intelligent devices looks like it will have to wait.

  • 86.
  • At 11:32 PM on 23 Dec 2006,
  • Gareth Lowe wrote:

It's good to see people starting to appreciate the concept of spinning reserve on the national grid as it is vital to understanding how green alternative electricty is.

However I have yet to find anywhere that tells me how much CO2 a 1kw (potential) of spinning reserve produces.

  • 87.
  • At 11:38 PM on 23 Dec 2006,
  • Gareth Lowe wrote:

It's good to see people starting to appreciate the concept of spinning reserve on the national grid as it is vital to understanding how green alternative electricty is.

However I have yet to find anywhere that tells me how much CO2 a 1kw (potential) of spinning reserve produces.

  • 88.
  • At 12:51 AM on 24 Dec 2006,
  • Jenny wrote:

Chris wrote: "So, why WAS he wearing his wife's tights...?"

All these tales of men wearing tights, and they are all "borrowed" from women, or bought, with great embarrassment, from women's stores. Does no one sell tights for men? Where do actors get their tights? There were "manly" men in tights on television before women could easily buy tights - it was months after mini-skirts were launched before one could buy anything but stockings. Someone ask the RSC!

  • 89.
  • At 01:14 AM on 24 Dec 2006,
  • Barry wrote:


I think one of the reasons why spinning reserve just isn't talked about is that it's not a simple concept for many to grasp and not simple to calculate either.

From my research, the problem with getting hard figures comes from the fuel input and the output of power stations being measured, but the wastage in between not being accounted for. We can calculate the overall efficiency of a station by taking the CO2 figures (derived from the fuel quantity and type or exhaust measurements) per MW output, but we can't calculate what's due to spinning reserve without more detailed figures. Apparently, power stations were never equipped to gather such figures because overall financial efficiency has always been the concern.

Plus of course, different methods of generation have different CO2 outputs per MW. Nuclear has none, hydroelectric has none, hydroelectric storage (where water is pumped from a low-lying source into a higher reservoir, to be released later when demand warrants) has a level dependant on what source the electricity used by the pumps comes from (traditionally off-peak - but could be a good way of using directly connected wind), coal-fired being high, etc. It's further complicated by run-up and run-down wastage, gas-turbine being low, coal-fired being high, how many times the turbines are run-up and down, etc. (This is why there's off-peak electricity - it's better to leave steam generators running during off-peak times, such as overnight, than waste fuel by allowing them to cool down for a few hours and then have to be warmed-up again before they can be placed back on-grid.)

I think that it's a general lack of understanding of how electricity is generated, even by the 'green lobby' (hence my explanations), coupled with the lack of statistics, that causes spinning reserve to be ignored. It being ignored allows the Government to say that such-and-such a percentage of electricity is coming from 'green' sources, whilst not mentioning that it needs to be backed-up by conventional sources to ensure a stable supply.

I suspect, and you can say that I'm cynical, that the plans to increase the amount of nuclear generation, which of course is zero-CO2, shows that the Government does realise the amount of CO2 due to spinning reserve that's being produced and the need to back-up wind etc., and will use nuclear as a very expensive and inefficient spinning reserve to allow ever increasing amounts of pointless inconsistent and unreliable renewables, solely in order to meet political targets.

The term spinning reserve is very apt in this case.

  • 90.
  • At 01:28 AM on 24 Dec 2006,
  • MC wrote:

re 82 by Jonathan on fusion: The difficulty with fusion power isn't fuel sources, it's making it work.

Scientists have been trying for 50 years, and China, the EU, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and US have very recently agreed to fund ITER,, a 35-45 year research project that will, hopefully, by its end work out how a commercial fusion reactor can be built. It's the 3rd most expensive scientific project ever, after the Manhattan project and the International Space Station.

As the saying goes: fusion power is 40 years away...and always has been.

re 85 by Barry on spinning (standing) reserve: "...there's no system in use that can respond to the second-by-second variations in output...unless the spinning reserve is supplied by...low-or-no CO2 sources, such as unethical nuclear, no CO2 is saved".

As you point out yourself, there is already a system to deal with second-by-second variations in demand, and that's the flip side of the same coin as variations in output.

CO2 will be saved when the backups aren't needed, even if there are some idling emissions.

Nuclear isn't the only no CO2 reserve option. The greenest solution would be to use excess power from intermittent sources (wind, solar, tidal, wave, etc) to top up "fuel" stores of reliable no CO2 sources. E.g. pump water uphill into hydro reservoirs, or make and store hydrogen, and generate power from those sources when some of the intermittent ones are being fickle.

Also, there's an article at that reckons that providing backup is actually quite simple and cheap, basically by paying the existing plants to keep their generators switched off until needed. It goes on to suggest ways of reducing those even.

re intelligent devices: I'd wondered why these hasn't come to the consumer market yet and had figured that the manufacturers thought they wouldn't sell. Such a system, Frequency Response, has been in place for yonks for industrial users, who can contract to have their power cut when demand outstrips supply.

You're saying that it's actually illegal to buy (or sell) an 'intelligent' fridge? Could you elucidate (and provide some pointers, if possible) on this bizarre bit of legislation?

  • 91.
  • At 02:10 AM on 24 Dec 2006,
  • Duncan wrote:

Men's tights (or in good ol' English parlance "long johns") have been on sale here in Japan for ages - they're a great way to stay warm and there's never been any stigma attached to them. I wear them every time I go skiing (under my ski pants, of course). And if you wear them in the house you have to turn the heating right down. So let's all stick some "tights" on and help save the planet.

  • 92.
  • At 11:00 AM on 24 Dec 2006,
  • Barry wrote:


I'll leave it to Jonathan to explain that there's more than one type of fusion - or you to Google 'he3 power'.

I'm afraid that input and output are not two sides of the same coin. Second-by-second variations in demand are dealt with by having over-capacity. Over-demand is dealt with by having both spinning reserve and fast spin-up reserve, such as hydroelectric. Fast spin-up doesn't mean however fast spin-down and even the fastest spin-up systems can't vary second-by-second. CO2 will be saved when the back-ups aren't needed, i.e. run-down completely, however, there is no such thing as "idling emissions", a generator is either running at grid sync or not, it's not like a car.

I never said that nuclear was the only zero-CO2 spinning reserve option. Indeed you go on to repeat what I said about using wind etc. power in hydroelectric storage systems. However, there are two problems with what you say. The only way sensibly to use "excess power" from wind etc. sources would be to use them off-grid, as I mentioned, which means additional and separate transmission systems. While it's easy to separate electricity generated by wind etc. sources for accounting purposes, it's just not possible to separate these from a supply. In other words, additional rather than excess. The second is that all UK sites where hydroelectric storage is simple to implement, i.e. hills and mountains, are in use. Unfortunately no investigations, that I know of, are being done into using surface and underground reservoirs (i.e. mines and aquifers). I suspect due to the larger financial costs of installing turbines underground (although this has been done).

Regarding the Wikipedia article. It is well known that Wikipedia articles can be both wildly inaccurate and biased, and indeed that one has the warning that it might need to be wikified to meet Wikipedia's quality standards. However, that is not an issue in this case since the article is about the financial costs and not CO2 production. One of the problems with electricity generation and CO2 is that people mistakenly associate financial savings with CO2 savings, they are not the same, due to the way that electricity is generated.

Regarding intelligent devices, "You're saying that it's actually illegal to buy (or sell) an 'intelligent' fridge?". No, I didn't say that. What I said was "it requires a change in the legislation that governs the supply of electricity" not the supply of fridges. A major difference between an industrial user being able to sense that they are approaching their contracted limit and reducing demand and domestic users is that the industrial user is only affecting the operation of their own equipment. The use of intelligent devices requires that we affect other user's equipment. If my fridge is not running when I switch on my kettle, it needs a fridge that is running to switch off. That might be my neighbour's or one in the newsagent's down the road. Until the legislation regarding power supply (which is easily Googled and not at all bizarre since it's not about buying or selling fridges) is changed, it is not illegal to sell intelligent devices, it is just pointless as they have nothing to sense. Also, since they don't produce any reduction in electricity used, their purpose being to even-out demand, and so no financial savings to the user, they can't be touted to consumers on that score. That would need domestic consumers to be charged more for exceeding their 'contracted demand' in the same way that some industrial users are, and that would need every domestic electricity meter to be replaced.

I may post later some more about this mistaken belief that simply saving electricity or money results in saving CO2.

  • 93.
  • At 03:52 PM on 24 Dec 2006,
  • Barry wrote:


As I've mentioned elsewhere, I'm afraid that you're making the all-too-common mistake of equating saving electricity and money with saving CO2. In general, these misunderstandings come from a lack of understanding of how electricity is generated, combined with ill-informed assumptions.

I'd suggest that instead of talking to a 'guru' professor in your kitchen, you speak to electricity generation engineers in a power station. You might have problems finding any companies who will allow their employees to speak to you because the answers to awkward questions, such as 'so if I switch off the light when I leave a room, does the CO2 produced by the large steam-driven turbine behind me reduce as well?', fly in the face of the 'wisdom', both perceived and received, about CO2 reduction. And remember it's CO2 not electricity or electricity bills that the global warmers say threaten the planet.

You also might like to visit Cruachan power station in Scotland - known as the hollow mountain (or Popakettleon). This web page offers some details

Since over-simplification has helped to create misunderstandings, I will try to explain the situation clearly, but understandably (and most likely fail).

First we need to understand a key issue with power stations, they only exist because consumers demand electricity. I know is is a blindly obvious fact, but one that seems to be forgotten at times. Consumers require, and legislation demands, that the electricity supply is kept between certain limits for parameters such as voltage, frequency, harmonics, etc. This is to ensure the correct operation of, and to prevent damage to, equipment. This is one of the issues affecting placing inconsistent and unreliable generators on-grid. You might like to read this page on the British Wind Energy Association web site

Some of the problems mentioned, such as flicker or causing the voltage to go outside of the statutory limits, apply to small 'domestic' generators as well. However, because of their relatively low power outputs, it's easy and practical to stabilise them using electronics and safeguard over-voltages, say from a gust of wind, blowing out lights and equipment. (You seemed to have only looked at wind and PV domestic systems, no CHP systems, such as - although still not useful as an on-grid CO2 reducer. Larger industrial or community housing CHP systems do have some good uses.)

Consumer demand varies throughout the day and the time of year. However, within the minimum and maximum there is a compromise (not an average) which can be supplied without 'too-much' over production, and from where the maximum can be serviced using spinning reserve or standby of one kind or another. This is known as the base demand or base load.

Now let's look at how electricity is generated. Except for a few DC systems, such as some, mainly low output, renewable methods and the undersea DC cable that links the UK with France, all generation is AC. This is because the supply is AC (50Hz) and converting DC to AC is very expensive and can be wasteful. Because of this, generators have to both run up to voltage and frequency - to be in sync with the grid - before being able to be placed on it. If an out-of sync generator was placed on grid, it would both cause variations to the supply and possibly suffer damage caused by the 'back-flow' of power. Generators come in various sizes and outputs, but are all the same - metal wire coils being spun through magnetic fields, the speed of which has to be kept constant to ensure that both the output voltage and frequency remain within the necessary limits. This is important to understand, they are either up to speed and in sync and can be used on-grid or they are not, power station generators can't 'idle' at low speed like a car engine.

What does vary is the way that generators are driven. Just about anything that can produce a rotating shaft can be used. There are small petrol generators, using modified motorbike engines, larger generators, both static and on lorries using diesel (biodiesel) engines, at the medium size gas-turbines can be used and larger systems, whether hydro, nuclear or fossil fuelled, use turbines. Now turbines can run up to speed relatively quickly, as shown by hydro systems, such as Cruachan, that can sync to grid in a few minutes from standstill, or even seconds, when required. However, whilst any steam-turbine system can run up relatively fast once the steam is applied, it takes a considerable time, several hours, for the boilers to get up to working temperature and pressure. This means that, irrespective of whether the heat comes from fossil fuel or nuclear furnace, it's most efficient for steam turbines to be kept running 24-hours a day and only spun down for maintenance or where a drop in demand, sufficiently large enough not to need that turbine and long enough, many hours or days, to make it worthwhile, can be reliably predicted. Remember, because of the time it takes to bring additional capacity on-grid and that electricity can't be stored practically, like gas can, if they get it wrong, it can lead to brown-outs or even black-outs, so caution is the side that has to be erred on.

This leads to steam-turbine generators being used for the base load I mentioned earlier. It also leads to what is known as 'off-peak' electricity (sold as Economy 7 or E7 by some suppliers). This is where, through the night, when demand predictably falls below base load, steam-turbine generators have to be kept spinning using the same amount of fuel (so producing the same amount of CO2) whether the electricity they are generating is being used or not. So it is sold more cheaply, as long as you have an E7 meter, to encourage consumers to use it, for such things as hot water and storage heaters, allowing the companies to recoup at least some of the financial costs. In this regard, E7 is 'greener' electricity. So when people go on about saving CO2 by saving electricity by turning off the street lights late at night, it wouldn't, because the generators still have to be kept spinning ready to service the morning demand. As I have already said, they can't 'idle' like a car, it's all or nothing.

The peaks in demand above base load can be served in a variety of ways, depending on their predicted size and duration. I've already mentioned Cruachan. Many years ago, an engineer who worked there told me that they used to watch the TV, not to pass the time, but so they knew exactly when the big match or film was going to end, or the ad breaks come on during it, and hit the run-up buttons for the turbines, to prepare for millions of kettles being switched on. As soon as the peak was passed they could spin-down and await the next. However, it needs to be remembered that this is predictable and with a time-scale of minutes, not the unpredictable rapid fluctuations that wind can produce.

Other ways are with gas-turbines, which can run-up much faster than steam, or by scheduling a steam-turbine on-grid early, particularly where another is due to be taken off-grid for maintenance etc. However, none of these faster spin-up systems have output capacities that are relatively high. This is party due to simple physics, higher output means larger, larger means heavier, heavier means more inertia, more inertia means a slower spin-up for a given input force, as well as a greater tendency to over-speed if too great a force is applied.

If we look at the UK generating system as a whole, it was created in times when money and financial efficiency was the fundamental issue. Now, whilst it is being said that CO2 is fundamental, all too often the arguments are still based on financial issues. Turning off the light when you leave a room will reduce your electricity bill and it might have a 'Blitz Spirit' affect of making you feel that you're doing something, but it won't win the war against CO2 production.

Jenny wrote;

'Does no one sell tights for men? Where do actors get their tights? There were "manly" men in tights on television before women could easily buy tights - it was months after mini-skirts were launched before one could buy anything but stockings. Someone ask the RSC!'

Well, I don't know about the RSC, but my company,, has been selling tights for men (that is, tights that are made for men, as opposed to selling women's tights to men), and by 'men' I mean just your average guy on the street, not necessarily actors (although we do supply a couple of theatre wardrobe departments) for just over two years, and the business is growing all the time! We don't stock any women's tights (unless you count a couple of unisex styles) but only those which are actually designed and made for men. Apart from obvious sizing issues (men are bigger overall, and tend to be longer in the leg and shorter in the waist) many men's tights have provision for the male 'anatomy' (in some cases, even a fly opening - although I am not a fan of the latter personally!).

This is not a joke; the market for men's legwear has been growing for that last 10 years - my company happens to be the first in the UK to spot the opening in the market and attempt to supply it. And many hundreds of (male) customers worldwide can't be wrong!

  • 95.
  • At 01:51 AM on 25 Dec 2006,
  • MC wrote:


I'm aware there are several theoretical approaches to commercial fusion power. The patently obvious point I was making is that, despite several decades of very clever people working on them, we’re not there yet, and the world’s major economies wouldn’t be embarking on the longest and one of the most expensive research projects ever if a viable solution already existed.

Re the wikipedia article, I just happened to come across it when searching for why legislation might prevent the use of domestic frequency response devices. It talks about providing reserves within the context of 100% wind power (and hence, implicitly, large scale CO2 reduction), and promotes the use of intelligent devices, such as fridges, which were the two main points of your previous post, so seemed relevant to reference. The comment about quality refers to layout, copy editing, etc, not the data, and the few stats I checked with the National Grid website match.

Anyway, I did, finally, find plenty on legislation relating to the matter – once I’d discovered that for domestic users it’s going under the moniker of “dynamic demand”, as opposed to the industrial “(demand side) frequency response”.

Both the parliament and the dti websites have masses on it, most of the latter buried in PDFs and with lots of references to , which seems to be the “authority” on the subject.

Far from “intelligent devices” being ignored and parliament dragging its feet, the Dynamic Demand Appliances Bill was passed last June, Defra has been running lab tests on fridges, the govt is mandated to produce a report by next June, and there’s been debates in both houses. The most readable of these I’ve looked at is the Lords’ debate at (which, incidentally, is packed with wikipedia references).

In all of this info (ok, I admit I haven’t read a tenth of the stuff on the matter on the parliament or dti websites, there’s just too much) there’s no talk of a need for a change in the legislation that governs supply – but there is discussion of providing financial incentives to fridge manufacturers to encourage them to make and sell them.

There is no fundamental difference between industrial users with frequency response and domestic users with intelligent devices. When you buy and install an intelligent fridge you do so knowing that it might switch off when someone else turns their kettle on; it’s not something they are forcing on you, you made the choice to get the fridge, just as industrial users know when they install frequency response relays that their kit will get turned off when general demand on the grid exceeds supply.

Your comments about contracted limits, meters needing to be replaced, and nothing to sense make me suspect we may be talking about difference things.

The frequency of mains electricity (in the UK) is nominally 50Hz. When demand exceeds supply this drops a small amount. Frequency response relays/intelligent devices detect this drop and switch off, thereby relieving the supply of their demand.

The industrial version is briefly described in as follows:

“The demand managers [industrial users] who provide the occasional frequency response commercial services are prepared for their demands to be interrupted for 30 minutes several times a week although statistically the norm only requires interruptions for approximately ten to thirty times per annum. The electricity demand is automatically interrupted when the system frequency transgresses the low frequency relay setting on site. Payments are based on the relay setting in £/MWh and thus the expected number of disconnections per annum, a setting of 49.7Hz might be expected to operate 30 times per year. The relay setting and price agreed would be agreed through a commercial ancillary agreement with NGC.”

Of course, as it says, industrial users get paid by the grid for signing up for this, and that would almost certainly be logistically impractical for domestic users, but, if as Dynamic Demand proposes, the National Grid offers incentives to manufacturers for the incremental cost of making their fridges intelligent (which is, anyway, only around a fiver), out of the savings from the £80m/year they spend on spinning reserves, there’d be no financial disincentive, and at that point, who wouldn’t get a “planet saving” fridge, at least when their old one packed up. Dynamic Demand reckon intelligent fridges could save 2.1 megatons/year of CO2...

  • 96.
  • At 01:34 PM on 25 Dec 2006,
  • Barry wrote:


I apologise for jumping to the conclusion that you might not know about He3 fusion, and for missing the patently obvious point you were making.

Regarding the wikipedia article. It is entitled "Impact of renewable energy on UK power transmission costs". It only mentions carbon briefly. The point I'm making is that far too many people are making inferences and assuming that renewables such as wind power automatically lead to CO2 reductions. They do not. As far as the quality or accuracy of wikipedia articles is concerned, and I'm not suggesting that this is the case here, I'm afraid I've come across the incidence of people modifying articles to support their own arguments. Also, wikipedia suffers from the issue of the wisdom of the crowd, which can at times be the wisdom of the herd, which is one of the points I've been making. So now I take any wikipedia reference with a very large pinch of salt. I hope that the Lord's, both Temporal and Spiritual, do too.

Regarding industrial frequency response and intelligent devices, we have been talking about different things. Very interesting what you link to and about it now being called 'dynamic demand'. I'm afraid my remarks about the Government dragging its feet on the issue come from the fact that I was looking into this technology over 20 years ago and this Government has been in power some 9 years, so last June isn't exactly fleet of foot and neither is next June. Also, the Dynamic Demand web site states that changes to regulatory frameworks are still needed. At least it isn't being ignored completely and better late than never.

There is a fundamental difference between industrial users with frequency response and domestic users with intelligent devices. It has nothing to do with informed knowledge or choice. The fundamental difference is that with domestic users the signalling is effectively coming from outside of the home and there are people who have issues with this. I think that it shouldn't be an issue, however I do know of people who are in dispute with their neighbours and believe that it would allow a neighbour to spoil the food in their freezer simply by keeping a kettle boiling or vice versa. Industrial users tend to be rather more active about obtaining information than domestic users, many of whom won't even look at an instruction book that has no words, just pictures. In this respect, dynamic demand needs to be presented in the right way from the start.

However, whatever differences we might have in attitude, and even what we have been talking about, you have presented much useful and interesting information on a subject that could save large amounts of CO2, but one which is ignored by the media in general. Many thanks.


I hope you feel this is something worth following up.

  • 97.
  • At 11:38 AM on 26 Dec 2006,
  • Jeni wrote:

I admit the technical side of the "spinning reserve" is not sinking in but try to look at it in terms of having torches or candles handy for when the electricity goes off (as it does fairly frequently where I live in winter)or the Grid having enough to handle power demand surges at half time during the Cup Final or World Cup matches when the kettle gets put on. Therefore for days when the wind doesn't blow (last week!) or when a power station is down for repairs/maintenance, there is always cover.

Oh and it might be worth pointing out that many power companies don't offer the tariff I'm on so there's no way I can work out if changing to a green electricity scheme will save me money and help the environment!

  • 98.
  • At 03:46 PM on 26 Dec 2006,
  • Barry wrote:

One reason why electricity goes off in remote areas during winter is because the load (demand) exceeds what the transmission system (local sub-station and cables) can deliver, so safety cut-outs trip which then have to be checked out and reset by engineers. Dynamic demand appliances will help in this case, so long as they are built to sense the drop in voltage caused by the over-load. There are problems with this since the increase in demand can be long-term, caused by such things as heating being used, and that the insulators on overhead cables 'leak' more electricity when wet. (Find some overhead cables, either tall high-voltage or short medium-voltage, somewhere very quiet when it's damp. Then listen near a pole (safely, obviously don't climb up it) for the sizzle of the electricity leaking across the insulators. If it's dark enough, you might be able to see the glow as well. This is wasted power and adds to the load that the supplying sub-station has to deliver.)

So it's different to spinning reserve. Perhaps one way of looking at it is if a car engine didn't have an accelerator pedal, it was either on full-speed or off. Whether you were going along a motorway or sitting in a traffic jam, you'd be using the same amount of fuel per second. (Indeed this is what's always stymied the use of the more efficient gas-turbine engine (not to be confused with turbo) in cars.) Electricity generators are like that, whether they have all the electricity they can produce being used (on full-load) or have none (no-load), if they are spinning they produce the same amount of CO2. Providing cover is easy, it's been done for many years. Cutting the CO2 is the hard bit.

As Justin is finding out (I think anyway), the money is easy to work out if you can get to compare like with like, however, for one reason or another, helping to save the environment is a much more complicated matter.

  • 99.
  • At 12:33 AM on 27 Dec 2006,
  • MC wrote:

You won't save money simply and only by changing to a green tariff; there's no green tariff that's cheaper than the brown ones, indeed most are more expensive.

If green electricity were cheaper there wouldn't be much discussion about "ethical" choices... :-)

Gas turbine spinning reserve can be relatively clean as many GT systems have a clutch that allows the turbine to be disengaged from the generator and the turbine turned off when in spinning reserve mode.

The generator is kept spinning and in sync with the grid by drawing power from it. This takes a fraction of the energy of running the turbine, so the "idling emissions" are very low. When power is needed the turbine fires up and the clutch is engaged.

The Cruachan hydro plant referred to in 93 uses compressed air for this, but curiously their website doesn't say where that comes from.

If it's provided by grid powered compressors (or, indeed, by a diesel one), rather than from their head of water, then this otherwise green power station will actually be browner in spinning reserve mode than when providing full power!

  • 100.
  • At 09:55 AM on 27 Dec 2006,
  • barry wrote:

Part of the problem with the whole 'green' issue is that some people (I'm not saying all) have seen it as a business opportunity and most certainly an industry has grown up around it. We see such things as domestic wind-turbines and planting trees to off-set carbon emissions being proclaimed as planet-saving by the eco-lobby and jumped on by the industry, whether by greed or good, only be be found to do more harm than good. Green electricity could well be the next. In retailing terms, Green is seen as a premium product, that consumers will pay more for, so the potential for profit is higher. However, a higher price isn't always an indication of a better product. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

Gas-turbine spinning reserve isn't the worst, both for the reasons you mention and that they can spin-up using relatively little fuel, but if the power to keep the turbine up to speed, or partly so, comes off the grid, then it's likely to be using electricity that has generated CO2 and actually adds to the demand until the turbine is fired-up. As I think we both are saying on here, it's complicated and there are no easy 'dinner party table' solutions.

I'm not sure how Cruachan produces its compressed air. Of course it has the option of using one of its turbines either to generate electricity for compressors or to drive a directly linked compressor. Since it uses off-peak electricity to refill the reservoir, I don't think Cruachan claims to be green and was built long before green became an issue. It was just an efficient way of coping with short bursts of demand.


It looks like buying green electricity just reduces the amount of green electricity people on normal tarrifs are buying by default. This is what ROC trading means.

You may well be using 100% green electricity, but not in a way that impacts total green generation. In which case, it is quite notional.

On the other hand if you were to buy and retire ROCs, this would increase green generation, because you would be creating additional demand for ROCs above the government imposed demand - and therefore more green energy has to be generated, one way or another.

So: switch to a brown tariff and spend the money you save on ROCs.

  • 102.
  • At 10:22 PM on 28 Dec 2006,
  • Jeff B wrote:

Barry in #96 claims that "that far too many people are assuming that renewables such as wind power automatically lead to CO2 reductions. They do not."

This cannot be true. More wind power means less CO2, assuming the total demand stays the same. The only question is how much less. An article in Power UK, March 2003:
calculates that, if we get 20% of our power from wind, 5% of that wind power will need to be matched by additional spinning reserve. That 5% will not be wasted, though: if it's not needed as reserve, then it can be consumed. The only problem will be that this 5% will be generated by inefficient part-loaded fossil-fuelled generators, so will detract slightly from the benefit of the wind power. The Power UK article estimates that this will reduce the wind power's contribution by 1%. It's not clear what that 1% is a percentage of, but under the most pessimistic interpretation this would reduce the wind power contribution from 20% to 19% of total generation. That is the extent of the spinning reserve problem. It's certainly not going to increase the CO2.

  • 103.
  • At 09:58 AM on 29 Dec 2006,
  • Barry wrote:

Unfortunately the key flaw in the buy and retire ROCs idea is that they aren't about electricity that is generated with low-or-no CO2, they are about the Government accounting for what it considers to be green electricity and fulfilling its statistics.

If retiring ROCs leads to the increase in inconsistent and unreliable renewable generation that needs to be backed up by conventional sources, then it will lead to more green 'by the definition that's being bandied about' generation, but not necessarily any reduction in CO2. It could lead to an increase and very easily be used by the Government to justify nuclear or more draconian taxes.

We won't reduce CO2 by using any accounting system, whether financial or notional. However, I'm sure there's money to be made by brokers dealing in ROCs to consumers to frame and put on their wall to show how Green they are or in the belief that they are off-setting other CO2 production.

Barry, you are almost arguing that intermittent generation is useless, because of the need for spinning reserve.

But (isn't this obvious, even at a dinner-party-table level):

a) we need spinning reserve and other kinds of quick response ANYWAY because of variable demand. Yes, intermittent generation will place more demand on these things, but statistically, some of the variations will cancel each other out.

b) an engine spinning at a given speed but not under load will use rather less fuel (petrol/steam/gas) than one spinning at the same speed under load. If my car engine could only work at 5000rpm, it would still use more fuel driving the car at 50mph than it would in neutral. I'm sure we've all done the experiment in school physics where the handle on the dynamo becomes harder to turn when it is wired up to the bulb.

  • 105.
  • At 02:18 PM on 29 Dec 2006,
  • Barry wrote:

Joe Otten. In the context of the grid, inconsistent and unreliable generation is next to useless for reducing CO2.

You admit that intermittent demand will place more demand on reserves. Isn't it obvious that statistically, while inconsistent and unreliable generation and variations in demand will cancel out each other at times, it is just as likely that peaks in demands will happen at troughs in supply. Now grid electricity can't be stored like gas or water can, no average supply = average demand. So are you willing to accept the grid failing on those occasions where they don't cancel but combine, with the resulting brown-outs or even black-outs?

I've already pointed out that car engines are not turbines. Yes, the handle of the school physics class dynamo becomes harder to turn when it is wired up to the bulb, due to the back-EMF caused by the current flow. This is why the grid frequency varies as demand varies. Collectively, all the generators feel the changes in the load. This is the basis of the industrial frequency response and dynamic demand systems that MC and I have been talking about in previous posts. However, both because of the way that steam and gas turbines operate and because the generators have to be in grid sync, it's not possible to vary their input by a significant amount. It's not applicable to look at IC engines which work by one principle, whether in cars or portable generators, & transfer what is appropriate for them to large steam or gas-turbines, which work by another.


Can you just clarify this one point. Are you saying that a generator uses the same amount of fuel or steam when under load as when operating as 'spinning reserve'?

If not then renewables are saving fuel elsewhere in the system. It may not be cost-effective, or energy-balance-effective, but if so that would depend on some detailed calculations, not just on the basic principles we are discussing here.

Yes, peaks in demand may coincide with troughs in supply - my statistical point was rather subtler than that. Adding variable time series together gives a result with a lower standard deviation than the sum of the standard deviations of the two components. Any demand response strategy has some risk of failure due to unanticipated demand or generation failure, or some combination of these. Additional intermittent generation is an option that would allow other parameters in any overall strategy to be adjusted, to use less fuel, or lower the risk of failure. Whether it is cost-effective will depend again on detailed calculations.

  • 107.
  • At 04:03 PM on 29 Dec 2006,
  • Barry wrote:

Joe Otten, no I'm not saying that 'a generator' uses the same amount of fuel or steam when under load as when operating on spinning reserve. What I am saying is that the size and type of generators used by the electricity industry to generate most of the grid electricity effectively do.

"If not then renewables are saving fuel elsewhere in the system." Where elsewhere? Generation at the point of consumption can reduce transmission losses (some 60% of generated electricity is lost in transmission), but these only reduce CO2 if they are consistent and reliable enough for a significant reduction in CO2 producing generator usage, i.e. the spinning-down of at least one from the grid.

I'm afraid that you seem to have forgotten that I'm not discussing basic principles, hence my 'dinner party table' remark. What I have been discussing are practical principles, rather than theory or assumptions. My purpose of posting on here is to put forward issues for Justin, as a reporter with access to generation engineers with practical experience and dirty-hands, to investigate if he chooses to, rather than speaking to some professor about theory. Practical issues which I believe are ignored, over-simplified, taken as obvious, or not known by far too many.

Your final sentence once again shows the mistake that I've said repeatedly keeps being made. Financial effectiveness, whatever the accounting procedures used, doesn't mean CO2 reduction effectiveness.

  • 108.
  • At 07:17 PM on 29 Dec 2006,
  • Barry wrote:

For Justin and others who are interested, with a nod to MC, here are some Wikipedia articles that provide some more explanation.

Base load power plant

Peaking power plant

Dynamic demand (electric power) (with an interesting section on the need for spinning reserve and the CO2 emissions associated with it) -

Steam turbines (in particular the sections; Speed regulation and Direct drive)

Gas turbines for electrical power production

Barry! Support for your 60% figure please. Yes, that figure is often bandied about, but wrongly. If you include energy lost due to the thermal inefficiency of a heat engine, it is closer to the mark, and so this is probably the source of the figure.

On the original point, your links do not seem to back up your position that (effectively) electrical generators use as much fuel as spinning reserve as they do under load. (Maybe those links did when you posted them, but that's wikipedia for you.)

Yes, they have to be run at full speed, but speed is not the same as power input. What you are suggesting is that the load effect of actually generating useful electricity is negligible. But this is totally implausible.

You give the impression of someone who has cherry-picked anti-wind arguments without really understanding them.

  • 110.
  • At 10:27 PM on 29 Dec 2006,
  • jeffb wrote:

Another point about spinning reserve. Generators on spinning reserve do consume thermal energy, but they also produce electrical energy. The electrical energy is not thrown away - it is available for use, just like that from fully loaded plant. The only difference is that spinning reserve is deliberately run at reduced power so that it can be quickly ramped up if necessary. While running at reduced power, it is less efficient per megawatt-hour. Typically, at half power, it is about 25% less efficient.

  • 111.
  • At 11:40 PM on 29 Dec 2006,
  • Barry wrote:

Joe Otten,

You may be of the opinion that I give the impression of someone who has cherry-picked anti-wind arguments without really understanding them. However, I'm afraid to say that you give me the impression of someone who hasn't read my previous posts, including my knock at Wikipedia, and who seems to want to draw me into an argument whilst expending little effort.

So I have to support my 60% figure, but you have not provided any support for your remark about renewables saving fuel elsewhere in the system. I challenge your remarks about mistaking financial reductions for CO2 reductions and instead of backing them up, you just find something else to take a pot-shot at. What backing up have you done for your claim about buying and retiring ROCs? None. Indeed what backing up have you done for any of your claims? Well none again. However, I must provide not only chapter and verse, but footnotes too no doubt.

As I have said several times, my purpose is to present issues I consider important to Justin to investigate further if he wishes, (spinning reserve and saving money or even electricity doesn't necessarily reduce CO2 production), by going to see practical generation engineers not theoretical professors. I have done that and while you might wish to rally back and forth, denigrating my comments but not substantiating any of yours, for whatever reason you might have, I do not.

  • 112.
  • At 03:36 AM on 30 Dec 2006,
  • MC wrote:

Barry, I have to agree with Joe’s observation that your links don’t actually support your opinion. Further, it’s a shame you didn’t look at some of the references in the articles, in particular the “dynamic demand” article (or maybe you did and decided to ignore them...)

David Andrews is Energy Manager for Wessex Water, which is one of the companies that provides reserve service to the National Grid so, I would expect, knows what he’s talking about. These are extracts from his presentation to an OU conference on the subject.

“There is 1.5 GW of so called spinning reserve – this is typically a large power station that is paid to produce at less than its full output. So a typical power station, which might have 4 generating sets each of 660 MW, giving a total output of 2.64 GW, might only be operating at 2 GW, with the steam boiler full, but with the steam valve not fully open. At the request from National Grid control centre, this valve can open up and deliver an extra 640 MW in 20 to 30 seconds. This requires the boiler air fans, and the coal feeders to increase output accordingly.”

It is pretty obvious that keeping a ready head of steam requires less heat, and hence less fuel – and hence less CO2 – if you aren’t drawing it off at full flow, and this applies equally to coal, oil, and gas fired thermal plants.

As we’ve already discussed, clutch fitted gas turbines require no fuel to be kept at spinning reserve, just a fraction of their normal power needs instead taken from the grid, so they too generate much less CO2 in spinning reserve mode. Hydro plants will, at worst, be the same or, at best, generate no CO2.

“NGT pays to have up to 8.5 GW of additional capacity available but not running, known as ‘warming’ or ‘hot standby’, that is ready to be used at short notice which could take as little as 2 hours or in some cases half an hour to bring on line. ... The cost of fuel or tonne of CO2 emitted by keeping such plants warm is tiny in comparison with the amount of fuel used to generate power, maybe equivalent to the fuel used to produce a 1/4 of a MW compared to a full load fuel demand for a large set of 1,800 MW. So oft quoted talk about the high costs of standby are misleading.”

So, I think that puts paid to your claim that increased renewables won’t necessarily decrease CO2 because of the spinning reserve and standby requirements. Using conventional plants for reserves does – for all of them – produce less CO2, and hence replacing some of their load with renewables WILL result in overall CO2 reductions.

Yes, we’ll need some more plants on reserve/standby than currently – some of the plants currently running at full power and currently producing full power CO2. It can never be worse, CO2 wise, than it is now, and that’s only if *all* renewable sources go offline at the same time, which will never happen.

Also, if you look at the other presentations at the OU conference you’ll see that, while the output from a single wind generator can vary massively and rapidly, having multiple geographically spread wind farms has a smoothing effect and overall output changes occur over hours, not seconds, giving time to bring plants on standby online.

This is backed up by real life experience from Denmark, where they have 20% wind power, and doesn’t take into account energy from other renewables, such as wave and tidal, which provide totally separate sources of power. And there’s never been a time in the last 30 years when there hasn’t been some “usable” wind somewhere in the UK.

Regarding “mistaking financial reductions for CO2 reductions”: It’s you that is repeatedly going on about this, nobody else. Nobody that I know of has ever claimed that saving money will save CO2. Everybody expects that reducing CO2 will cost more. Indeed, resistence to increased cost is one of the main reasons we aren’t greener, both as individuals and as a country.

Of course, financial issues are important, both politically and personally, and can’t be taken out of the equation. But it is now widely accepted that the sooner we act the less more-expensive it will be, and the more we put it off and lumber the problem onto our children, the more more-expensive it will be. I refer you to the Stern report.

If you have any authoratitive references to add I’m sure everyone here will be interested to examine them, but I too don’t care for going back and forth any further on unsubstantiated unconstructive opinion.

  • 113.
  • At 11:14 AM on 30 Dec 2006,
  • Barry wrote:

MC, I have no power to force you, or anyone else, to respond to anything I post. Whether you engage in going back and forth on any opinion, whether substantiated or not, is completely your choice.

Whether you want to attempt to turn a comment on a blog directed to the owner in to an aggressive debate is also your choice. Whether I respond mine. Unfortunately, I made the wrong choice and responded, including a light remark about Jonathan's He3 fusion post. When you responded with belligerent remarks about what you knew about fusion power and your "patently obvious point", I should have taken the hint and rather than shown a sign of weakness by apologising, just walked away.

I now exercise that choice and leave this blog to the fate of so many others that become the prowling grounds of the predatory, provoking and tearing apart those who dare enter, scaring off many more, until only the views of the predators survive, each marking out their own territory or gathering in packs to attack as they chose.

Whether and how you respond to this is your choice, whether I return to read it mine. My choice is that I won't be returning.

  • 114.
  • At 04:45 PM on 30 Dec 2006,
  • MC wrote:

Thought I'd posted this, but obviously not...

Distribution (transmission) losses incurred in getting electricity to customers in the UK are approximately 6.5%.

  • 115.
  • At 05:50 PM on 02 Jan 2007,
  • J. Watson wrote:

1) To further #91's post, the American version of "long johns" are sold openly for men without stigma. These are made of cotton, wool, silk or the new high-performance artificial materials, and don't have the foot part (they end either at the knee or the ankle). Very useful in the winter.

2) When my oldest child started school, the teachers sat down with the parents on the first day and said: if you promise not to believe everything your child tells you about their day at school, we promise not to believe everything they come to school telling us about their home life. Smart teachers!

  • 116.
  • At 02:15 PM on 03 Jan 2007,
  • Spartacus wrote:

This thread appears to have evolved into an informative argument on spinning reserve. In my view, the contentious points of the debate were settled by MC in post 112, so I won't dwell on them here, other than to point interested parties to the excellent UKERC report on the costs and impacts of intermittency on the British electricity network:

The intermittency debate is related to the main point of this thread (carbon footprints, not tights) in that grid-connected renewable power can't claim to be entirely carbon free. Carbon is released in the construction, operation and decommissioning of the renewable generators - as it is with other power plants - and, as discussed above, carbon is also released in the provision of standby and spinning reserve. A certain amount of carbon emissions can and should be attributed to renewable power.

The amount will be source and site-specific, and tricky to calculate, but I think the effort will be worthwhile. Much of the argument on the value of renewables (not least in the thread above) is fuelled by the fact that the carbon cost of renewable power is generally overlooked by its supporters, and exaggerated by it's detractors. A thorough, transparent and independent assessment of the true carbon cost of different forms of generation should be welcomed by both sides of the debate (if anyone knows of such a study then I'd be glad to see it). I believe that emissions from renewable power will generally be small when compared to those from conventional fossil generation, but not negligible.

Ofgem are currently reviewing their Green Supply guidelines (following a consultation which fizzled out in 2005) and this work, like the NCC report linked in post 64 above, could feed into their recommendations. The NCC report claims that the revised guidelines are imminent; if anyone following this thread is interested and in a position to influence Ofgem in this regard then I recommend they do so quickly.

  • 117.
  • At 03:08 PM on 03 Jan 2007,
  • Richard Crowley wrote:

A question that I'm always asking is "Is Green Electricity really 'Green'?"
The figures that I have seen suggest, quite strongly, that most isn't! for instance a wind generator uses more fossil fuel in its construction than it will produce in its lifetime, solar panels even more so.
Is this correct? can anyone give me the true facts.
What I do suggest is that taking measures to reduce fuel consumption are far more effective in helping the environment than generating more energy.
And as for hydrogen - How many tonnes of fossil fuel does it yake to make one tonnne of hydrogen?

  • 118.
  • At 11:14 PM on 03 Jan 2007,
  • MC wrote:

Re 116, good link there Spartacus! I missed that one in my searches for “the facts” on the matter (and I’d looked at UKERC too ...)

I agree that we should stop talking about no-CO2 power and talk about low-CO2 instead, or at least acknowledge that when we say no-CO2 we mean at the point of generation.

I agree too that an assessment of the “hidden” carbon costs would be a valuable addition to the debate, although I suspect that your comment about those being “tricky to calculate” is an understatement, and will lead to a lot of disagreement in itself.

However, I think more interesting – and relevant – would be a “futures” assessment. For example, the metals for a wind plant are currently smelted using “brown” power and the parts then transported on diesel vehicles, all contributing to the hidden costs.

In the future green(er) smelters and vehicles could reduce these (for building conventional power plants too), and that needs to be considered; after all, while knowing where we are is, indeed, very useful, working out where we could be, and how to get there, is the most important.

Of course, some carbon “overheads” will be more difficult to avoid than others, but both sides of the debate should remember that the planet can deal with certain levels of CO2 and we don’t need to build a zero-CO2 society, just get our emissions safely below the so-called tipping point.

Re 117, Richard; I take it you mean “energy” in all the places you say “fossil fuel”. I too would be interested in seeing some hard data – a wind generator or solar panel that takes more energy to make than it will ever produce would be kind of pointless...

(Justin, any chance you could ask the Prof if he can point us to some data on the above please? I can’t seem to find anything relevant by searching.)

That aside, fossil fuels aren’t necessarily required to make either wind generators or hydrogen, although are currently used for both. There seem to be several ways of making hydrogen (certainly more than I knew about). has details for anyone interested (rather dry reading).

Of more direct interest to this discussion is . They’re planning on building a wind-hydrogen electricity generating plant in Scotland to “mitigate the effects of the inherent intermittence of wind power”.

  • 119.
  • At 02:13 AM on 04 Jan 2007,
  • Spartacus wrote:

Justin, in response to post 77 (long post again - sorry):

I agree that the effect of your changing electricity supplier is likely to be greater than a 50kg CO2 saving.

Firstly, the NCC report points out that Good Energy retire all the LECs they receive from renewable generators. They don't give a precise calculation, but the report implies that this pushes the carbon saving up to about 100kg for a typical house signed up to the "better tariffs on offer". This will include Good Energy, so a similar figure probably applies to you.

You say: "switching to a green supplier [is] almost the only thing that ethical consumers can do to reduce the carbon emissions from their electricity".

Erm, no - they can decrease their consumption. I was wondering why you had taken so long to replace the halogen bulbs in your kitchen, before I realised that you had already nominally wiped out your carbon emissions by switching to a green supplier, so had no incentive to use less power. Reduced consumption is almost always the best way to reduce carbon emissions - it's often easy to do, and usually saves money. Further, even if switching to a green supplier was the only way to reduce emissions, that doesn't mean that it should be awarded with more carbon credits than it actually generates.

You also say: "as soon as 6.8% of us have switched to green electricity then we will be changing the way this country is powered".

Unfortunately, the calculation is a bit trickier than that. Suppliers don't meet their full obligation (70% on average last year), so if about 5% (of all consumers, including industry) make the switch then you might claim you're making a difference. However, the level of the obligation goes up by about 1% a year, and compliance is predicted to increase as well, so your target also increases year on year. What's more, the 6.8% figure refers only to RO-compliant technologies, while your green supplier also buys from (for example) large hydro. This pushes the threshold higher still, but I wouldn't like to guess by how much.

There are many other complicating factors - for example, what if the 6.8% threshold (or wherever we decide the threshold to be) is never breached? Do you then have to pay back the carbon savings you claimed in anticipation of the event? What if you changed to a standard supplier in the interim - do you still have some claim?

The upshot is that it is very difficult to define a workable system of carbon accounting which could justify your claim. One solution would be to establish property rights for domestic carbon emissions, in a similar manner to the EU trading scheme and the Kyoto protocol. Such a system could differ from the approach suggested by the NCC (and me), and could award you more than 100kg of carbon savings. However, I'm afraid the formula set out by Prof Tim above doesn't come up to scratch.

There are several reasons for my scepticism, but let me focus on just one of them: Tim's formula implies that you can increase your carbon saving simply by paying more for your electricity. To see why this is daft, consider 2 companies - Greenco and Greedco. They offer identical green products to Good Energy; both source 100% of their supply from renewable generation, and they even use the same mix of renewable sources. However, Greedco charges 50% more for their renewable tariff.

You decide to switch to Greedco because Prof Tim's formula tells you that you increase your carbon saving by paying more, but it's likely that you're either subsidising an inefficient supplier or needlessly boosting someone's profits. I can think of some words to describe this decision, but "ethical" isn't one of them.

I agree that you should receive some reward from choosing a green supplier, other than a measly 100kg of directly attributable carbon savings. However, along the lines of comment 71, I'm not convinced that the benefit should be measured in tons of CO2. The satisfaction associated with making an ethical statement could suffice - consider it a boost to your Karma.

The main point in my original post was that your 1 ton carbon "saving" does not equate to a 1 ton reduction in actual carbon emissions, and this appears to have been generally accepted (even by Good Energy). Ethical decisions are fundamentally down to the individual, so it's up to you what carbon saving you actually claim. But whatever you decide, I wouldn't base your figure on the formula suggested by Prof Tim above.

  • 120.
  • At 02:23 PM on 04 Jan 2007,
  • Spartacus wrote:

A few more observations on "zero carbon" electricity tariffs.

Justin originally thought that switching to Good Energy reduced his carbon footprint to zero. This might seem a reasonable claim, since for every unit of power he consumed his supplier bought a unit of renewable energy. However, this system of carbon accounting leads to some perverse incentives for energy efficiency, since using less (or more) energy has no impact on your carbon footprint.

For example, Justin held on to the 12*50W halogen bulbs in his kitchen. My own kitchen is a bit smaller than Justin's, but we get by with a single 12W low-energy bulb - i.e. using fifty times less power for lighting.

First let's consider the financial case. If Justin's kitchen lights were on for 1000 hours a year (or about 3 hrs a day) then they'd use 600kWh of electricity. From Tim's comment above, Justin's supplier charges 13p/kWh, so it would cost him £78 a year just to light his kitchen. My own supplier charges about 11.5p/kWh, so the same job would cost me about £1.38 a year. Even accounting for the difference in kitchen size, that's still a difference of well over £70/year - and that's just for the lights in the kitchen.

Now consider the carbon impact of Justin saving energy. First off, let's admit that we can never actually measure the direct effect of Justin's action on electricity supply, which would be lost in the noise of the grid (fluctuations in system voltage and frequency). However, if we all reduced our consumption by just a few percent then this would have a measurable impact on generation, and thus on carbon emissions. We can estimate what this impact would be, and apportion an appropriate share to Justin.

To do this calculation properly will be complicated, but here's a rough first guess. Reducing consumption will impact on the "marginal generating unit" - that's the last generator used to meet demand. This is determined by a number of factors, such as plant availability and fossil fuel prices but, as I understand it, the marginal generator is typically a coal or gas-fired plant. Estimates of CO2 emissions from these sources vary depending on the plant, and on who's doing the estimating, but coal is typically about 900g/kWh, gas around 300g/kWh. I'm only interested in an approximate figure, so I'll choose 600g/kWh, with the proviso that it's uncertain by about a factor of two.

Provision of standby power by the grid will add a "system emissions" component to this, as discussed above, but this is likely to be dwarfed by the ~300g/kWh uncertainty in the marginal generator, so I'll ignore it here.

So if a typical consumer reduces their consumption by 1kWh, they save about 600g of CO2 emissions. But what about Justin? He's not a typical consumer, since he has a green tariff - what is the effect of Justin reducing his consumption by 1kWh? Well, it means that he's buying 1kWh less electricity from a renewable generator, but since we're assuming that this generator is typically not the marginal unit, this means that another supplier will buy this power. The power displaced will again be 1kWh from the marginal unit - again, saving about 600g of CO2 emissions. The other supplier probably won't retire ROCs and LECs, which waters down the impact a little, but only by about 10% (60g), as discussed above.

So by saving power, Justin has reduced UK CO2 emissions from electricity by about 540g - well done Justin. But, hang on - wasn't his carbon footprint already zero? Does this now make it negative? Has Justin's action somehow resulted in 540g of CO2 suddenly being sucked out of the atmosphere? Of course it hasn't. What's happened, according to the "zero carbon" tariff system of carbon accounting, is that Justin's action has helped to make someone else's electricity supply a little greener - an ethical carbon saving if ever there was one. He's probably saved himself some money too, making it a double dividend.

Justin's now replaced his halogen bulbs with 12x2.5W LEDs, reducing his (estimated) annual consumption by about 570kWh, and thus saving about 570*0.54 = 300kg of CO2. According to the NCC methodology for carbon accounting, this is three times the saving he can claim from having switched to a green supplier - and it will also save him about £74 a year.

However, according to the "zero carbon" tariff formula, Justin can claim no carbon credit at all from saving power. This leads to the ridiculous situation where Justin avoids changing his incredibly wasteful halogen lights, since he can see no benefit to his "ethical" carbon footprint. This is just daft, daft, daft.

I'm sure some people will quibble with the numbers above, but I hope you accept the principle: saving power saves carbon. Any carbon accounting system which fails to take account of this is hopelessly inadequate. Awarding zero carbon emissions to grid connected electricity supply for any of the tariffs currently on offer is positively unethical.

  • 121.
  • At 03:35 PM on 04 Jan 2007,
  • Spartacus wrote:

One further more general point on the Ethical Man series (sorry to be a blog-hog).

When I think of "ethical" causes, a number of things come to mind, including poverty, injustice, wars, famine, natural disasters and the environment. Ethical Man appears to focus almost entirely on the latter. All well and good, but perhaps "Ethical Man" is a misnomer; "Green Man" might be better.

This observation relates to the electricity sector in an important way. I'm a fan of renewable energy, but I recognise that it comes at a price - it's currently more expensive than conventional generation. Many people in the UK suffer from fuel poverty, and have trouble paying their electricity bills. There are a number of mechanisms in place to address this problem, including the Warm Deal Programme, and winter fuel payments. However, I have trouble advocating a solution to global warming that is likely to increase the energy costs for these consumers, particularly when a better solution is at hand - energy efficiency can help reduce both their bills and their carbon footprint.

Ethical decisions are a personal matter, but if I were promoting ethical ways to save carbon, I would focus on energy efficiency measures. This is not just because they are more effective for me (they save me money, which I can then spend on other carbon saving projects if I like), but because they can be taken up by people less fortunate than I am - an ethical "double dividend". In contrast, switching to a more expensive green tariff is a luxury that many cannot afford.

  • 122.
  • At 10:28 PM on 04 Jan 2007,
  • MC wrote:

Spartacus: re the NCC methodology for carbon accounting referred to, could you provide a link please? I’m going round in circles on the NCC website trying to find what you’re referring to.

Re "zero carbon" tariffs removing incentives to reduce consumption: only the personal carbon footprint incentive; there’s still the financial incentive, and also the “moral” incentive of helping out the country/planet. I would suspect that most people who’ve signed up for green tariffs also have houses lit by energy-saving bulbs. It’s the same mindset it seems.

Conversly, while it’s true there are many people suffering from fuel poverty, don’t forget that most energy saving devices have a capital cost. “How much? For a light bulb?!?” is a shocked expression I’ve heard more than once. If you’re poor, saving money can look expensive.

IMHO, the problem with the what-Justin-can-claim discussion lies in a confusion between the size of the cake and how it’s divided up. They are separate things.

Yes, Justin’s choice hasn’t changed the overall amount of national carbon emissions (the size of the cake), but has changed how it’s divided up – or, if you prefer, the apportionment of blame. Before he switched his electricity was matched by only 5% renewables, now it’s 100% -- sounds like a 95% difference to me!

Regarding ethics: actually I think the “ethical” presentation of reducing carbon emissions is bad PR. While it is changing, the traditional mass public view is of tree huggers and telling-me-how-to-live “do gooders”.

Maybe things would go faster if reducing carbon emissions was “sold” as a selfish activity. Forget the environment, biodiversity, the third world, etc; you want to save carbon to save your own butt (if you’re under 50, your children’s butts if you’re over). The Stern report was useful to this end.

  • 123.
  • At 10:15 AM on 05 Jan 2007,
  • Spartacus wrote:

MC: I've linked to the NCC report below. They don't describe their methodology in detail, but I conclude from the text (see footnote 18) that it's similar to the one I sketched in my original post to the "How green is your government Minister?" blog. The comments under that blog show how some of the arguments have evolved, and include a few more links that might interest you.

  • 124.
  • At 06:09 PM on 05 Jan 2007,
  • Spartacus wrote:

MC: "Before [Justin] switched his electricity was matched by only 5% renewables, now it’s 100% -- sounds like a 95% difference to me!"

You're absolutely right. Justin is perfectly justified in claiming that 100% of his supply comes from renewable sources. He has made a positive statement of support for renewable electricity, and deserves credit for that. (There are some who question that this is the best way of supporting renewable electricity (see the Ecologist article below), but I have no argument here.)

However, does this mean that he's saved a ton of CO2 emissions? No it does not - not even close, as he explains in the article. So can he claim a 1 ton reduction in his carbon footprint? Well, it depends how you define his carbon footprint, but I believe not, for the reasons set out above.

My concern here is practical, rather than ethical. A carbon footprint should provide an individual with a measure of how their personal lifestyle affects the environment, and thereby a stimulus to change their lifestyle to reduce CO2 emissions. If they make a change which increases or reduces CO2 emissions, it should be proportionally reflected in their carbon footprint.

The "zero carbon tariff" system for electricity fails in this regard, as I've explained in earlier comments. It exaggerates the impact of switching supplier, and in so doing removes the (carbon) incentive for saving energy. As a method of carbon accounting, it is not fit for purpose.

You're right that intelligent people will probably realise that saving energy is a good thing to do, despite what their carbon footprint might say, and so will dutifully reduce their consumption. However, they might not - I suspect that part of the reason Justin resisted changing his kitchen lights was because he'd nominally wiped out his electrical carbon footprint already, and so concentrated his efforts elsewhere.

See too the article below from the deputy editor of the Ecologist magazine who made exactly the same mistake. I don't support his conclusions; I just want to demonstrate that the "zero carbon" tariff can cause confusion even among apparently intelligent and well-informed people.

In summary: can Justin claim his supply is 100% renewable? Absolutely. Does this translate to a 100% carbon saving? Absolutely not.

  • 125.
  • At 01:41 AM on 06 Jan 2007,
  • MC wrote:

I suspect that we have a difference of perspective here, rather than a disagreement on “facts”. Let me lay out my view in a set of statements to find what we agree on, or, indeed, get a basis for agreeing to disagree.

1 Justin is justified in claiming that 100% of his supply comes from (is matched by) renewable sources (always good to start on a point of agreement :-)

2 He can rightly claim that those power sources generate electricity without producing any carbon at the point of generation.

3 He can *not* claim that his choice has reduced the country’s carbon emissions at all, and hence can not claim he's saved a ton of CO2 emissions.

4 He *can* claim that that ton of emissions is now no longer his “fault” (1 & 2).

5 Consequently, he is justified in claiming a 1 ton reduction in his *personal* carbon footprint, while acknowleding (3).

6 In effect, what his choice has done is to shift the “blame” for that ton from him to, well, just about everyone else (collectively). Justin going green has made most other people a tiny bit browner.

If he now reduces his energy consumption:

7 He will *not* be able to claim any further reduction in his personal carbon footprint, but

8 He will be able to claim the related *national* CO2 savings.

In summary, I think that Justin should be able to take full credit for his choice, and I don’t see a conflict between claiming he’s zeroed his personal electricity carbon footprint while not actually reducing national CO2 emissions.

This view isn’t only a moral one of “fairness” for Justin’s choice, but also, like yours, a practical one too. I take your point that zero carbon tariffs may reduce incentives for some people to think about saving energy, but that’s not an issue if they don’t go for a green tariff in the first place.

The NCC report (I had read it already, but missed that footnote), reckons that 64% “would consider” switching to green energy. Those considering are hardly going to be encouraged to change if they believe that doing so won’t make any difference.

While there’s no doubt that there are problems to be sorted out, the “it’s not worth bothering” reports and “co2nned” articles, of which there seem to have been a few recently, risk alienating people to the whole issue of climate change, and we really can’t afford that.

Being able to feel that you’re “doing your bit” – and claim a “decent” amount of credit for it – is an important incentive both to use renewables and to save energy.

  • 126.
  • At 03:34 PM on 08 Jan 2007,
  • Spartacus wrote:

By the way, the government has launched a Greener Living website to "help individuals tackle climate change and adopt greener lifestyles". A carbon calculator is also being developed, apparently.

Here's the site:

The press release is here:

  • 127.
  • At 04:23 PM on 08 Jan 2007,
  • Spartacus wrote:

Justin: I responded to MC's post (125) in painful detail, but the censor appears to have swallowed my comment.

Let me know if I've offended any newsnight blog rules and I'll adapt my response to suit (for example, I could cut it into bite-sized chunks).

  • 128.
  • At 05:26 PM on 08 Jan 2007,
  • Spartacus wrote:

OK, let's try this in parts. In response to MC(125): part 1 of 5 ...

"1. Justin is justified in claiming that 100% of his supply comes from (is matched by) renewable sources."

I wasn't going to mention this, since I don't want to distract from the main thrust of this argument, but there's an interesting point to make here. Good Energy admit on their website that they need to buy some brown power to balance up supply and demand (and also to reduce costs, I expect - see the link below, under "What happens if the wind stops blowing?").

They don't say how much brown power they buy in a year, or quite how they balance the books - I assume they buy an equivalent amount of green power when it's available at a reasonable price and sell the power on to other suppliers/consumers, but keep hold of the REGOs (for a discussion on REGOs, see the "How green is your government Minister" thread).

This represents another "hidden cost" of renewables that is probably not appreciated by many people currently buying a green tariff: their choice relies not only on ROC sales, but also on the balancing services provided by brown power. I've no idea what the value of these balancing services is (i.e. how expensive Good Energy's supply would be if they didn't buy brown power) - it might be small or even zero at the moment. But without brown power it would be increasingly expensive to provide a 100% green tariff as the penetration of intermittent renewables increases, as indicated by the UKERC report.

However, I'm happy to agree that Good Energy have bought as much green power as they've supplied to their clients. (By the way, as I understand it, REGOs can be traded separately to green power, so it would be possible for a supplier to "Astroturf" their supply by buying REGOs from other suppliers. You might argue that this is what Good Energy do to the brown electricity they buy, but I think that would be unfair, since they are quite open about their actions.)

  • 129.
  • At 05:58 PM on 08 Jan 2007,
  • Spartacus wrote:

Hurrah! On to response to MC(125), part 2 of 5 ...

"2. He can rightly claim that those power sources generate electricity without producing any carbon at the point of generation."

Agreed, if we ignore our discussion above on the system carbon cost of (e.g.) providing standby and spinning reserve, which should be attributed in some proportion to all grid-connected generators.

"3. He can *not* claim that his choice has reduced the country’s carbon emissions at all ..."

I think the fact that Good Energy redeem more ROCs than other suppliers, and retire ROCs beyond that, gives them a good claim to additional reductions in carbon emissions. However, these are less "firm" emission reductions than those produced by saving energy. In the consultation document below (see box 2 on page 16), Ofgem question whether ROC retiral provides any additionality at all.

The degree to which a retired ROC leads to additional emission reductions is an interesting question, but for the sake of argument I'm happy to accept that there is some benefit. So I disagree with you (and Ofgem) here - I think he can claim some emission reductions, just nowhere near 100%.

"4. He *can* claim that that ton of emissions is now no longer his 'fault'"

"Fault" is a loaded term; as in tennis, it depends on the rules of the game, which we have yet to establish. There are many possible ways to allocate the "fault" (I prefer responsibility) for carbon emissions - I don't believe there is a single, natural and obvious method of carbon accounting. I'm interested in a system which reflects the actual effect of people's actions on the environment.

It's perfectly possible to define a complete and consistent carbon accounting methodology based on the principles you describe. I just don't think that this would be a very useful system.

So, no - under the principles I've advocated, I don't believe that Justin can claim that a ton of emissions is no longer his responsibility.

  • 130.
  • At 06:20 PM on 08 Jan 2007,
  • Spartacus wrote:

In response to MC(125): part 3 of 5 ...

"5. Consequently, he is justified in claiming a 1 ton reduction in his *personal* carbon footprint, while acknowleding (3)."

See 4. I think the fact that he could claim a 1 ton reduction without actually reducing emissions at all is one of the major weaknesses of the carbon accounting system you propose.

"6. Justin going green has made most other people a tiny bit browner."

Follows from (5) - the carbon has to go somewhere. I agree that, under the system of carbon accounting you describe, this is the case. In my view, this reflects the problem with this system - it allows people to redistribute blame for emissions at no or low cost, without having any effect on actual emissions.

"7. He will *not* be able to claim any further reduction in his personal carbon footprint [by reducing consumption]."

Under your system, yes. Again, I think this reflects a fundamental weakness of the system.

"8. He will be able to claim the related *national* CO2 savings."

I'm not sure how he'll be able to do this. Perhaps his carbon balance sheet will have different entries for "personal carbon footprint" and "contribution to national carbon footprint", but in my view this adds an unnecessary complication, and fails the cut of Occam's razor.

  • 131.
  • At 06:43 PM on 08 Jan 2007,
  • Spartacus wrote:

In response to MC(125): part 4 of 5 ...

"I don’t see a conflict between claiming he’s zeroed his personal electricity carbon footprint while not actually reducing national CO2 emissions".

Under the system you describe, there is no conflict. But this is one of the main reasons why I think it's not a particularly useful system.

"Those considering [green tariffs] are hardly going to be encouraged to change if they believe that doing so won’t make any difference."

For most of the green tariffs on offer, changing supplier *doesn't* actually make much difference, and the effect on the personal carbon footprint should reflect this. When (if ever) support for green energy pushes past the level of the Renewable Obligation, then there will be additional benefit to demanding additional green supply - but also additional expense. The people who are willing to pay this expense should be allowed to claim the additional carbon savings.

It's possible for suppliers to offer consumers carbon-free electricity today by providing a 100% renewable tariff where they redeem or retire all of their ROCs (ignoring the concerns raised above about system costs, brown balancing, large hydro and additionality). This would expose the true costs of supporting renewables, and thus be considerably more expensive than any existing tariff - anyone willing to pay these costs should be allowed to claim a 100% carbon saving (or at least a significant percentage).

I hope you agree this tariff would have a much greater effect on carbon emissions than a tariff which retires no ROCs. But there is no way to distinguish between the two under your carbon accounting system, unless the latter tariff includes a 1 ton addition to the "contribution to national emissions" line item in an individual's personal carbon balance sheet - I doubt many ethical consumers would be happy to see that.

Some tariffs have a greater impact on CO2 emissions than others, and as far as possible your personal carbon footprint should reflect this. Under your system of carbon accounting, it doesn't - and that's why I think it is flawed.

(By the way, I don't think it's ideal to have an electrical carbon balance sheet which only has one line for "personal carbon footprint", any more than it's useful to have a company balance sheet which merely states "profit". However, I think it's important to build these things up one step at a time, and I don't think it's necessary to introduce a separate item for "contribution to the national carbon footprint" at this stage.)

  • 132.
  • At 07:09 PM on 08 Jan 2007,
  • Spartacus wrote:

And finally, in response to MC(125): part 5 of 5 ...

"[negative reports] risk alienating people to the whole issue of climate change, and we really can’t afford that."

I couldn't agree more. Implying that switching to a green supplier saves more carbon than it actually does leaves some people feeling conned when they find out the truth, and this generates negative reports. This reflects a real problem, which needs to be solved. Replace [negative reports] with [over-hyped and misleading claims] in the quote above and you get my view. We should stamp out the misleading claims, not stifle the reporting - treat the cause, rather than the symptoms.

"Being able to feel that you’re “doing your bit” – and claim a 'decent' amount of credit for it – is an important incentive both to use renewables and to save energy."

We agree on most respects, but quibble over the definition of "decent". I believe a "decent" amount of credit should be closely related to actual carbon savings. This will allow people to prioritise their actions and focus on those which they judge to have the best balance of effort, cost and impact.

In my view, implying that switching to any of the green tariffs currently on offer has the same impact as reducing your electricity consumption to zero awards an "indecent" amount of credit to the green tariff.

  • 133.
  • At 12:43 AM on 09 Jan 2007,
  • MC wrote:

I wasn’t proposing a formal “carbon accounting system” or “carbon balance sheets”.

I was trying to explain in basic terms why I think Justin should take full credit for his choice – and without talk of ROCs, marginal generation, balancing services, and all the other stuff that most people not only aren’t aware of, but would really prefer not to be overloaded with (talk about Occam!).

As you say, when the uptake of green energy exceeds the RO, then signing up for green tariffs will have an overall positive effect. Until then those already on green tariffs are providing the base on which to build.

To say there’s no point in going for green electricity, effectively, because not enough other people have, is a good way of ensuring we’ll never get there. It’s the “LibDem? Wasted vote” argument.

Incidentally, while I have no stats to support the view, I strongly suspect that the (implied) idea that people just sign up for a green tariff and feel “that’s it” for their part isn’t right. Ok, there may be a few, but I’ll bet that the vast majority have done it as part of a greener lifestyle, not as an end in itself.

There are, clearly, issues to be sorted out, but I prefer to take a glass half-full view. As you say, we mostly agree, in particular on the “technical” matters. On the “personal perspective”, I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

  • 134.
  • At 11:54 AM on 09 Jan 2007,
  • Spartacus wrote:

MC, you're right - it's a bit rich for me to accuse you of complicating the issue! Let me try to boil it down to basics.

By "carbon accounting system" I mean the method by which you calculate an individual's carbon footprint. A "carbon balance sheet" shows the contribution of different sources to a carbon footprint, analagous to a company balance sheet (e.g. see the link below for what I'd call Justin's carbon balance sheet).

You believe that Justin should be able to claim that his supply from Good Energy is 100% carbon free, and thus claim a full 1 ton reduction in his personal carbon footprint from switching supplier. You accept that in doing so he's made everyone else's supply a little bit browner - let's say by 900kg.

Do you agree that he should be informed of this before he changes supplier? i.e. that his new supplier should present him with the following information:

Change in personal carbon footprint.................. -1,000 kg
Change in other consumer's carbon footprints..... +900 kg
Net change in UK CO2 emissions....................... -100 kg

Without this information, Justin's carbon footprint doesn't distinguish between the cases where he stops using electricity altogether - which would result in a 1 ton reduction in UK CO2 emissions - and where he simply switches supplier, which would not.

I would like my personal carbon footprint to reflect my net contribution to UK CO2 emissions - I can't think of any other reasons for having it. I believe most "ethical consumers" would think the same way. So I don't see the point of providing the three numbers above where just one (the last one) will do.

So here is my question: do you agree that Justin should be informed not only of the change in his personal carbon footprint when he switches supplier, but also of the resultant change in everyone else's carbon footprint, and therefore the net impact of his decision on UK CO2 emissions?

  • 135.
  • At 11:37 AM on 10 Jan 2007,
  • Spartacus wrote:

Justin isn't the only one confused about green tariffs - see this article by Sian Berry of the Green Party in the New Statesman.

I disagree with much of the article, but if even the co-leader of the Green Party finds green tariffs confusing then it's safe to say that the system's in a mess - principally, because there is no system.

You can't expect energy suppliers to sort this out by themselves (though Good Energy have made a decent effort). The only credible solution is a government-backed scheme where suppliers' claims are independently audited, with objective standards against which their claims can be judged.

To quote the article: "a recent Newsnight investigation, which exposed how little good a lot of “green” tariffs actually do, tried to explain the Renewables Obligation and only succeeded in generating a deluge of comments and questions on their website from flummoxed viewers!"

Flummoxed from Thrace

  • 136.
  • At 06:32 PM on 10 Jan 2007,
  • David G Kent F.C.A. wrote:

Domestic Wind Turbines

Britain accounts for 2% of the World’s carbon emissions, of which housing accounts for 50%. The Government is advocating the development of low carbon housing,

Wind Turbines are a method of achieving this goal. Unfortunately wind turbines are not effective in built up areas due to wind shear from the obstructions, and the output is poor. The typical output of a wind turbine increases incredibly in relation to an increase in wind speed, thus a 10 kw turbine’s output increase from 4 kw to 8 kw when the wind speed increases from 7 to 9 metres per second.

To achieve a reasonable output from a wind turbine they need to be positioned in the middle of a field or similar open space. These open spaces tend to be in the Green Belt and Local Authorities turn down Domestic wind Turbines as they are being proposed in the Green Belt.

Government is advocating Low Carbon Housing and the people who are trying to achieve No Carbon, and in our case a negative carbon house, are being thwarted by Luddite Local Authorities.

  • 137.
  • At 10:07 PM on 10 Jan 2007,
  • Philip wrote:

Hmm..Still didn't get an explanation about the tights - there's no smoke without fire, even with a green energy supplier...

  • 138.
  • At 08:09 PM on 11 Jan 2007,
  • Sally wrote:

One of the conclusions one can safely draw from the discussions above is that an effective way of reducing CO2 emissions is to use less electricity. If I do that, I save money, but my income stays the same, so I have more in hand to spend on other things. These other things will have a carbon content, and so the net reduction in CO2 will be less than just that from the lower electricity consumption. I may even choose to spend my savings on a cheap flight to Italy, thereby possibly producing a net increase in emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

My point is that that this technical analysis, essential though it is, should not take place without regard to the economic system in which we make our choices.

The discussion has also shown the limits of individual action. So I favour using the tax system to make electricity (etc) more expensive for everyone(with increased social security payments to the poor to avoid hardship and inequity) and I hope that the government will then use its additional net revenue on low carbon intensity services such as health and education. Or, if political considerations do not allow the tax burden to rise, then other taxes can be reduced to offset, tilted towards the low energy services by reducing taxes on the employment of labour.

I suspect that the tax rises on energy would have to be massive to achieve the large differences in consumption required. So be it.

Nothing wrong with wearing tights.
They are comfortable and provide the extra layer to keep you warm.

I fail to understand why eyebrows are raised if a bloke wears something associated with womens wear, Whereas there is no reaction when the reverse happens.

Tights were all the rage in Blackadders day!
I have been wearing tights for warmth and comfort for many years,
(Not the same pair!), and I am passed caring what others think.

Although when I asked for some that would fit me in a small shop in Yorkshire, the female assistant asked if I was going to rob a bank!

I think most men who wear tights are secretive about it, possibly due to reactions like your daughters teacher.

It seems to me that all the argumentation about ROCs and what is or is not justified is overlooking a rather basic point:

Electricity from fossil fuels and nuclear power is far too cheap.

Electricity from fossil fuels should be paying a proper price for carbon emissions (very much more than the absurdly low prices from very suspect 'carbon offset' schemes - see and nuclear power should lose its feather bed of hidden subsidies, including the massive hidden subsidy that it pays only a small fraction of the cost of insurance against the full costs of a Chernobyl-style accident or worse.

Because fossil-fuel electricity and nuclear electricity is far too cheap, the whole market is highly artificial.

Until we have a sane market for electricity, without all the many distortions, I believe that anyone who is prepared to pay a premium for 100% renewable electricity is, I believe, entitled to claim that their electricity is indeed carbon-free.

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