Sunday, March 04, 2007

Eco Bollocks Award: Ken Livingstone

Thanks to an alert reader, I have been delving into the real London Climate Change Action Plan, not the Evening Standard’s bastardized version that I was reading on the underground the other day.

It’s a deeply depressing document. On the surface, it looks as though the Mayor, Ken Livingstone, is hitting all the right buttons and he has been widely praised for this by the greenerati for coming up with a plan to reduce London’s carbon emissions by 60% by 2025. But the devil is always in the detail and when you start analysing the proposals, it is pretty obvious that a) there is actually very little Ken Livingstone can do about the situation and therefore b) he is simply spinning a green fantasy. So Ken, I have no choice but to award you my third Eco Bollocks Award for this work of fiction, The Mayor’s Climate Change Action Plan.

Why has Ken’s tour de force so irked me? Put very simply, the math is wrong. The figures don’t add up. And the great bulk of the savings are to be derived from actions over which the Mayor has no control or influence.

If you make a bold claim that you can reduce London’s CO2 emissions by 60%, you have to have some figures to back it up. And there are lots of figures in the Plan. The unit of measurement we have to get our heads around here is the “million tonnes of carbon dioxide released per annum.” For clarities sake, I will refer to these as MTCAs.

London as a whole is reckoned to currently produce around 45 MTCA. If the headline in the plan is to be believed then, by 2025 this figure should have fallen by 60%. The accompanying chart indicates how this will work. If you can’t see it clearly, click on it and it should open in a resizeable window.




Two points to note here. Firstly, the second grey bar shows that under a Business As Usual scenario (BAU), that far from falling, London’s carbon emissions are set to grow to 51 MCTA by 2025. This is accounted for by the new homes and offices that are due to be built. No worries. The cunning Plan will just shave it all off again in order to get the 2025 figure down to 18MCTA, the target figure which represents 60% of the 1990 figure. To its credit, this chart does at least make this clear.

The second point is that you will note that the carbon reduction measures are split into two parts. The first, 19.6 MCTA is described a savings achievable through the Mayor’s Plan whilst the second, 13.4 MCTA, are additional savings required to meet the 60% target.

So already, the Mayor has admitted that around a third of his carbon reduction target is out of his control. In fact, the Plan as a whole is remarkably coy about how these additional savings might be achieved. It merely calls for the rapid introduction of comprehensive carbon pricing across all sectors, including aviation. This is crucial to create incentives for widespread take-up of carbon reduction measures and to drive development of new technologies.

Reading between the lines, what this is saying is that carbon needs to be either heavily taxed or rationed. It needs to be so expensive that people are coerced into changing their behaviour. This is something it is clear is beyond the powers of the Mayor and may well require widespread international co-operation in order to become effective, as its not something one country could do unilaterally.

You could lie in bed all day arguing the merits of carbon rationing as opposed to carbon taxes but it doesn’t really get you anywhere and it doesn’t contribute anything to London’s Climate Change Plan. A more honest appraisal would state that “we simply have no power to influence events in these areas and therefore we will not make claims that we can.” An even more brutal appraisal would say that if comprehensive (for which read punitive) carbon pricing was introduced across all sectors, as the Plan suggests it needs to be, then the Climate Action plan would be superfluous, as everything suggested elsewhere in the Plan would be implemented as a matter of course.

1st beef: It’s not really a 60% reduction, it’s just 31%. The rest requires action at national or international level.

Still 31% is still a hell of a big reduction, 19.6 MCTA. Well worth having if it helps slow climate change.

Now as everybody knows there are only two ways to cut carbon emissions. One is to reduce demand; the other is to supply power from carbon-free (or carbon-lite) resources. The Plan is full of lots of suggestions for improvements to be made in both areas. But when you get down to look at the details, you find that the policies to be implemented will have only a marginal impact.

Let’s look at the plan for housing and development. There are no less than 28 pages in the Plan devoted to tackling the 16.7 MTCA from London’s existing 3.1 million homes. It starts by making a bold claim:

Londoners can still do everything they want and need to do at home - staying warm, watching TV, cooking, etc. You don’t have to reduce your quality of life to tackle climate change, but you do have to change the way you live.

Sounds fine, doesn’t it. Painless carbon reductions all round. Then, on p 35, it looks at the targets.

Taking the target of a 60 per cent reduction from the 1990 baseline, to be achieved by 2025, the domestic sector would need to emit 12.2 MTCA less by 2025 (including savings from a reduced carbon energy supply and more energy efficient new building). Achieving this reduction will be extremely challenging, and realistically requires the establishment of a UK carbon pricing system. However, in the current policy environment, a saving of 7.7 MTCA is achievable by 2025.



There’s no point delving into the bit of the jigsaw that can only be done with a “UK carbon pricing system” again, but let’s look instead at how the Plan hopes to save the 7.7MTCA that is says is achievable.

So how is this 7.7MTCA made up? Figure 16 (illustrated) indicates just how it’s to be delivered. Amazingly, 5% is said to derive from future housing becoming more energy efficient. The fact that these houses will still be net contributors to the overall emissions is hidden elsewhere in the calculations.

But that still leaves around 7 MTCA to account for. The plan claims that around half this figure can be met by a combination of the following:


• 70% improvement in energy efficiency from lightbulbs and appliances in 70% of households
• 10% reduction from simple changes in behaviour in 60% of London households (e.g., switching off lights, turning down thermostats)
• 15% increase in thermal efficiency in 40% of London households


To back this up, look at the claim (on p42, widely repeated in the media) that If every lightbulb in every London home was energy efficient, London could save 575,000 tonnes of CO2

and that If all appliances in homes were energy efficient, this could translate into savings of £150 million off electricity bills and cut 620,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.

Combine these two totals and you would have a saving 1.2 MTCA. But the plan isn’t suggesting that this is feasible and is only talking about a 70% improvement in 70% of households, which halves the theoretical saving from 1.2 to 0.6 MTCA. That’s just 8% of the total required to meet the 7.7 MTCA reduction the Plan says it can implement. Yet Figure 16 suggests that the savings on lighting and appliances should account for 23% of the total. 8% or 23%? Which is it, Ken?

Figure 16 also suggests that 18% of this 7.7 MTCA can be found by behavioural changes, otherwise known as switching off lights and turning down thermostats. No figures are presented to back up this claim but it seems highly unlikely that London will save 1.4 MTCA from behavioural changes if they can only save half this amount by a huge switchover to energy efficient lighting and appliances.

The third claim is that there will be a 10% saving (0.8 MTCA) from an increase in thermal insulation, basically cavity wall insulation, better loft insulation and double-glazing. This figure seems plausible but it isn’t verified elsewhere, though there is an interesting chart, Figure 28 on p 47, which shows how few London homes actually have cavity walls (about 15%) and that 60% of these already have their cavities insulated. Double glazing has already penetrated 55% of the possible market and 90% of London’s lofts are already insulated, though only 5% comply with current best practice (around 300mm depth of mineral wool).

Figure 16 suggests that these three areas — i.e. better lights and appliances, behavioural changes and thermal improvements — will have to account for half of the total savings, which would be around 3.3 MTCA. Whilst the thermal efficiency figure of 0.8 MTCA is credible, the lighting and appliances figure are just plain wrong and the behavioral changes figure is just speculation. It looks extremely unlikely that the actual savings would be more than half the 3.3 MTCA suggested.

2nd beef: The figures for energy demand reduction in housing don’t add up. The text suggests a saving of around 2 MTCA, the chart requires 3.3 MTCA in order to work.

Figure 16 also shows a 44% saving in CO2 emission from London’s housing from greener energy supply. Just how is London’s existing housing stock going to save 3 MTCA from its energy supply?

Energy supplies are dealt with in a separate chapter. It starts by admitting that less than 10% of London’s electricity and 5% of its heat is generated in London itself, so once again its hard for London to have much impact on its energy generation mix. The Mayor’s plan is to:

move as much of London as possible away from reliance on the national grid and on to local, lower-carbon energy supply (decentralised energy, including combined cooling heat and power networks, energy from waste, and on-site renewable energy - such as solar panels). This approach is often termed ‘decentralised energy’. The Mayor’s goal is to enable a quarter of London’s energy supply to be moved off the grid and on to local, decentralised systems by 2025, with more than half of London’s energy being supplied in this way by 2050.


Sounds good. But how would it work? And would decentralised production really save that much energy? The targets are set out in Figure 44, shown here. There is the same growth in CO2 emissions shown between now and 2025 on the Business as Usual principle, pushing London CO2 emissions up from 34.7 MTCA in 2006 to 39.4 MTCA in 2025 which it suggests will be driven by the projected growth in both the number of dwellings and net energy consumption per capita. Figure 44 then shows two red bars, the first bit describes energy which can be saved through the Plan and the second, once again, is those additional savings requiring external intervention.

No matter. At least a 7.2 MTCA reduction would be still be useful. How does the mayor plan to deliver this? Well, almost half of London’s 7.2 MTCA savings turn out not to come from London’s actions at all but from:

projected changes to the mix of fuel sources in the national grid, which includes the achievement of the Government’s target of 20% of energy from renewables sources, would save 3.4 MTCA by 2025.

It also probably includes a contribution from new nuclear power plants, but somehow this fact is glossed over, as nuclear power is something the Mayor opposes.

So let’s get this straight. The Plan’s energy production policy requires a total of 13.8 MTCA to be saved in order to deliver the overall 60% saving. But 6.6 MTCA is coming from external government action, and now 3.4 MTCA is coming from the greening of the National Grid, which incidentally will only happen as a result of external government action. So London itself now only has to contribute the remaining 3.8 MTCA, just 28% of the total.

But 3.8MTCA is still a large and useful contribution. This is to be made up from:

• an increased contribution from combined cooling, heat and power. CCHP generated in London would save 2.2 MTCA by 2025
• an increased contribution from energy from waste and biomass. Energy generated from waste and biomass using non-incineration based technologies and used to fuel biomass CCHP would save 1.1 MTCA by 2025
• an increased contribution from micro generation in London’s homes
and businesses including micro-wind and PV would save 0.5 MTCA
by 2025


I don’t know enough about the workings of combined heat and power and biomass generation to pass any judgement on whether these savings are realistic, but I suspect there is an element of double accounting going on here. The savings are likely to be expressed in terms of how much better they are in efficiency terms compared to today’s grid generated electricity. But grid electricity in 2025 is set to be a whole lot greener (that’s where the 3.8 MTCA savings are coming from) and I suspect that the savings from generating decentralised electricity will by then be much smaller relative to the national grid. Combined heat and power is not a renewable power source. It burns mains gas and the benefit you derive is that it throws off some electricity as well as heating hot water. But it has to be very well matched to its end user demand in order to make significant savings.

Interestingly the Plan refers to CCHP, not the more usual CHP. The extra C is for cooling, an admission that there is already large demand for air conditioning. The fact that this is set to grow as the climate gets warmer is addressed only in passing (on p 86) and natural ventilation as a cooling strategy doesn’t feature as a significant aspect of the Plan. An interesting omission.

What about micro generation? That does feature in the plan and the summary reckons it can save as much as 0.5 MTCA. Given that it is now established micro wind turbines contribute approximately zero power because they don’t work, this puts most of the workload onto roof-mounted solar panels, which do. But just how many would be needed to produce 0.5 MTCA of savings? It’s a good question. Here is the maths:

• A 1kW rated PV roof mounted array would expect to produce around 800kWh of electricity each year
• Each kWh, at the current UK electricity production efficiencies, releases 0.43kg of CO2
• So a 1kW PV array, producing 800kWh of electricity each year, would save 0.34t of CO2 per annum. That’s a third of a tonne.
• The cost? About £10,000 per kW is the market price, though 50% grants are currently available, if you are lucky. The grant system is currently falling apart but that’s another story.

Now the Mayor’s plan is looking to save 0.5MTCA from micro generation, so the maths suggests with each array saving just a third of a tonne of CO2 a year, that London will need no less than 1.4 million PV arrays by 2025. Or the equivalent in other similar technologies, which may be a little bit cheaper, but not a lot.

Remember there is only 3.1 million homes in London and many of these are flats which don’t even have roofs.

But then read what the plan has to say on p113:

Micro-generation technologies are already available and functioning. 1.5 MTCA of CO2 could be saved by 2025 if 25% of homes and new commercial buildings installed solar PV or micro-wind.

This is utter bollocks. It’s virtually an order of magnitude out in its inaccuracy.

It continues:

The Mayor’s vision of London in 2050 is one where every building is fitted with some sort of micro-renewable generation.

Not to mention the garden sheds as well. To get to 1.5MTCA, you’d need no less than 4.2 million installations, greater than the number of buildings in London.

And who is going to pay for all this? Funnily enough, the only mention of grants says that they must be maintained in order to encourage take-up. However, funding these renewables seems to be something the Plan is quite happy to leave to central government. Why does that not surprise me.

3rd Beef: The claims made for decentralised energy in general and micro renewables in particular are utterly unrealistic.

I would argue that pretty much the same could be said of the Mayor’s Climate Action Plan as a whole. It just doesn’t stand up under scrutiny. It would be far more useful and practical exercise to look at what could be achieved, even if it was only to illustrate just how difficult a task it is going to be to bring about meaningful reductions in CO2 emissions. But that of course wouldn’t make for a good headline. Better for all to believe that somehow the Mayor can conjure up a 60% reduction, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat. This way we can all sleep happy in our beds at night, safe in the knowledge that our future is in good hands.

The reality is that the actions set out in this plan are unlikely to have more than a marginal effect on London’s carbon emissions. The plan still envisages growth and new homes, new offices and more people equate to more carbon emissions. This is, if you like, the big lie at the centre of this debate and the one that is increasingly troubling me, as regular blog readers will be well aware.

4th Beef: the 60% CO2 reduction figure is fantasy.

Not that this seems to have stopped lots of people jumping on the bandwagon and declaring Ken Livingstone some sort of green visionary.

• John Sauven, director of Greenpeace, is quoted as saying the following: "Ken Livingstone is showing how the largest city in Europe can combat climate change. No other leader is on the same page. The Government talks about cutting emissions, but is unwilling to confront the vested interests in the power sector, the building industry, the aviation lobby and the motor industry. Ken Livingstone is prepared to lead and take risks in responding to the challenge of climate change."

Yeah, right on John.

• Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth, quoted in the Guardian: “The government must now follow the mayor's lead and ensure that its forthcoming climate change bill requires cuts in UK carbon dioxide emissions of at least 3% every year.”

Tony, read the text. The Mayor is still projecting dynamic growth for London. His energy saving measures are unlikely to offset the effects of this growth. This 3% annual reduction is fantasy.

• Chris Church, head of London 21 Network said the Plan was “probably the best city-level plan of its kind in the world".

Have you been at the Carlsberg, Chris? I don’t even know if any other cities have ever adopted a climate change strategy, but if they use London’s as a model for how to go about it, then God help them!

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