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The Scottish Energy & Environment Conference 2008

Ian Marchant, Chief Executive, Scottish & Southern Energy plc

“Oil is Running Out” was one of the first statements to come out of Ian Marchant, the keynote speaker at the Scottish Energy & Environment Conference (SEEC) on the 5th February 2008. Ian is not the first person to work this out; his statement was leading up to the focus of his talk, which was “so what are we doing about it?”

Although this was not a green car event, SEEC contained many items of interest for people with a concern about green issues, and the highlights from the day are summarised as follows.

Ian, Chief Executive of Scottish & Southern Energy, went on to remind the audience that our use of crude oil is just one example of our over-consumption, and that we are living beyond the planet’s means. It is well documented that we need three planets to support our current demand for resources.

Ian confirmed our expectation that energy prices will continue to rise. The current price of oil at $100 a barrel will appear cheap compared to scenarios at the recent Davos summit that forecasted oil to reach $500 a barrel – as will happen when oil really does start to run out. This will be accelerated as India and China increase their demand for oil – if India and China used the same amount of oil per capita as America, we would need three times as much oil as we need now.

‘Pathetic’ was a term that Ian used many times in relation to the UK’s performance in the development of renewable sources of energy. Although the UK has 40% of the wind resources of Europe, we only have 5% of the wind power of Europe.

In terms of renewable energy as a whole, 1.5% of our total energy in the UK currently comes from renewables. This means we are 25th out of 27 countries in Europe – with only Malta and Luxemburg being worse. Ian suggested there is lots of talk about renewables in the UK, but we’re not doing it in practice.

Ian summarised by saying that we need to make sustainable choices – now.

James Curran, Director, Entrading

“Don’t mess with the planet’s ecosystems services” was the headline message from James Curran.

Yes, CO2 levels are now much higher than they have ever been – but the real danger is when positive feedback mechanisms swing into effect. This means that when the changing climate causes ecosystems such as the Amazon rainforest to die out – the lungs of the planet – then locked up carbon will be released and make matters much worse.

A similar scenario could happen with peat bogs in Scotland and throughout the UK. Such tipping points mean that even if we stop man-made emissions of CO2, the planet will continue to emit CO2 by itself.

James argued that although there is ever more awareness and acknowledgement of climate change, there is no sign of it being taken seriously in terms of action.

By 2050 the economy is forecast to be 3 times larger than it is now. Even if there was no growth in energy use, we would still need to reduce emissions by 80%.

Unusually, James actually provided a whole list of solutions that we could adopt to get our carbon emissions down – however whether such actions will be taken or not is another matter.

So, according to James, we need a massive leap in renewable energy. We also need gas and coal energy generation to have carbon capture and sequestration. Nuclear power stations would be required. Along with local biofuels. And hydrogen.

Radical solutions such as public planning or even ownership of energy supply might be needed.

Houses, both new build and refurbished, would need solar, ground source heat, micro-renewables, combined heat and power, and smart appliances that turn themselves off.

In terms of travel, as the internal combustion engine is only 20% efficient, all cars would have to be electric. And there would have to be no growth in cars or car use. There would also be no domestic flights. Electric rail services would have to replace HGVs. And there might have to be public ownership of the transport infrastructure.

Consumption will have to reduce – and taxes such as VAT could encourage this to happen by being linked to a full lifecycle analysis of a product. More sustainable products could enjoy zero-VAT.

In terms of food, we’ll all have to go vegetarian as an organic vegetarian diet has 40% less CO2 impact than that of meat-eaters.

And we’ll need to double our amount of forests, to act as carbon sinks.

James concluded with the phrase “Let’s live life on the planet as if we intend to stay here”.

Terry Hill, Chairman, ARUP Group Ltd

Terry’s subject was Climate Change and the Built Environment, however he broadened his talk to cover some wider issues, based on ARUP’s approach of looking at what the main drivers of change will be just over the horizon.

Even as he began, Terry made the point that we pretty much know what to do, so when are we going to start doing it?

He set the scene by reminding us that the world is experiencing population growth of 200,000 people per day – which will obviously translate to greater levels of consumption.

He saw 2006 as a key year, when Al Gore raised the profile of climate change to a worldwide audience, but also the Stern Report of the same year made the business and economic case for doing the right thing – showing it was possible to be green and to grow.

Proof of energy efficiency being a good investment is now being shown by houses in the seven year old BedZed zero carbon development, which are now being sold for a premium.

Market drivers for energy efficiency will include peak oil and the price of solar panels dropping drastically due to manufacture in China.

Terry suggested new ethos and behaviour was required – such as living where you work and not having to travel.

Finally, in response to a question, Terry quoted the example of the Clean Air Act that was so successful in eliminating smog in the UK’s cities. He suggested similar legislation could prove to be a key driver in accelerating our move to a low carbon economy – as long as it’s not too prescriptive for how businesses achieve the targets.

This final point is very relevant to the motor industry – it has already been evident how many manufacturers can find inventive ways to bring a whole range of sub-120g/km CO2 cars to market in anticipation of possible exemption from the London congestion charge.

The Scottish Energy & Environment Conference (SEEC) is organised by Washingtondowling Associates. Their next energy and environment conference is Envirenergy North West on 11th March 2008, see
www.envirenergy.org.uk