Did the UK sign up to 20% renewable energy by mistake?

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One of my pet peeves is the continued inability of many people to distinguish between energy and electricity. Headlines of “100% renewable energy by 2030” abound when they should say “100% renewable electricity.” This is not a trivial mistake, after all the majority of energy use is not in the form of electricity. And quite remarkably confusion energy and electricity may have resulted in Tony Blair signing up to the EU getting 20% of its energy from renewables by 2020. Apparently, he thought he was signing up to 20% renewable electricity, not energy. Whether this actually occurred has been a point of a little debate, but the evidence seems to indicate that it did.

According to the government’s chief scientist at the time, Sir David King, Blair thought he was signing up to 20% renewable electricity. However, some figures such as Blairite commentator John Rentoul have disputed that this occurred. David King’s view however seems to be backed up today by the BBC’s Roger Harrabin, who writes:

When the EU set its 2020 target of sourcing 20% of energy from renewables, some leaders thought the deal referred to electricity. (I know because I spoke to Downing Street on the day of the decision).

In fact, it included energy for transport and heating too, so the bar was set much higher than anticipated. Policies create opportunities and entrepreneurs were quick to exploit the potential of wood power, which will soon create more renewable energy in the UK than wind and solar combined.

The context of Harrabin’s story should give pause to those who supported the 2020 target: forests are being chopped down in the US to fuel UK biomass power stations. This unwelcome state of affairs is largely a result of the economically and technologically illiterate decision to mandate a percentage of the EU’s energy that comes from renewables, and burning anything from US trees to palm oil seems to meet the mark. Consider this: coal plants are ramping up, while gas plants are in decline throughout Europe, while we cut down trees to meet an unnecessary target.

If the environmental lobby dropped their obsession with renewable energy this mess may have been avoided.

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2 thoughts on “Did the UK sign up to 20% renewable energy by mistake?

    Andrew Wright (@wrightak) said:
    May 29, 2013 at 5:48 am

    “This unwelcome state of affairs is largely a result of the economically and technologically illiterate decision to mandate a percentage of the EU’s energy that comes from energy”

    should read

    “This unwelcome state of affairs is largely a result of the economically and technologically illiterate decision to mandate a percentage of the EU’s energy that comes from *renewable sources*”

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