Green Targetism jumps the shark

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Last week the Green Party’s sole MP Caroline Lucas tabled an amendment to the UK’s Energy Bill calling for electricity demand to be reduced by 103 terawatt hours by 2020.

In full:

(1) The Secretary of State must within 12 months of the passing of this Act publish
a strategy setting out policies to achieve a reduction in demand for electricity of
at least 103 TWh by 2020 and 154 TWh by 2030.
(2) The strategy must include an assessment of the cost effectiveness of the policies
included in it.
(3) Before publishing the strategy the Secretary of State must consult such persons
as in his opinion may have information that will assist him in drawing up the
(4) The Secretary of State must—
(a) implement the strategy; and
(b) report to Parliament every year on progress.’.

For context total electricity demand in the UK was 365 terawatt hours in 2011. So, Lucas is proposing a 30% drop in total demand in a mere 7 years, or roughly 5% per year until 2020. The 2030 figure is even more absurd. This requires us to reduce UK electricity use to 58% of 2011 levels by 2030. How exactly can this be done while also making serious efforts to electrify cars and heating?

Lucas also seems to want the government to set out policies within 12 months of the act passing to get demand down 103 TWh by 2020. Well, the act hasn’t passed yet. This means the government would need to come along in the middle of 2014 with a plan to reduce electricity demand by 30% within 6 years. If there is a credible strategy to do this it would be better for Lucas to provide it than proposing silly amendments.

And what exactly is the point of having such precise numbers? Does Caroline Lucas know what the UK population will be in 2030? Does she know how much the economy will grow? Does she know how many electric cars will be on the roads? Such precise figures either imply incredible foresight, the trumping of ideology over reality, or ignorance of the role of electricity in the economy, and I will leave it to the reader to decide which is more likely.

[Update: As Vinny in the comments has pointed out, the source for Lucas’s TWh figure reduction figure appears to be a McKinsey report that she has not understood very well. McKinsey argued that the UK could reduce electricity demand about 36% in 2030 using efficiency measures. This comes to around 146 TWh of demand reduction, not too far off Lucas’s 154 TWh figure. The problem however is that McKinsey’s 146 TWh demand reduction was not in comparison with today’s demand, but projected demand for 2030. Demand today is 328 TWh, 2030 demand is projected to be 411 TWh. So, instead of a potential to reduce electricity demand by 150 TWh from today we are really looking at a demand reduction of 63 TWh. The difference? Lucas’s amendment would have electricity demand reduced to 35% below the levels which McKinsey says are feasible, and this is the report she based the amendment on.

Getting the numbers correct is essential when it comes to our carbon emissions, yet too many environmentalists appear to believe that the only thing that matters for a statistic is that it makes a good talking point. Will this ever change?



4 thoughts on “Green Targetism jumps the shark

    […] Worstall and Rob Wilson have also blogged about this amendment. (Thank you, Tim Worstall for a gracious acknowledgement of […]


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    Vinny Burgoo said:
    June 10, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    Lucas got the 103 TWh from the DECC/McKinsey report. See page 14. The 154 might be a thinko. McKinsey’s 146 TWh 2030 abatement potential is right next to a 54 on that page.

    McKinsey did look at the electrification of vehicles and heating. Demand increase of 38 TWh/yr by 2030 in middling scenarios. Dunno if they were in the headline numbers.

    Lucas defending her amendment:

    I think her ‘only 13% of that’ is another thinko. McKinsey said 37%.


      Robert Wilson said:
      June 10, 2013 at 2:34 pm

      Thanks Vinny

      So it seems she has proposed the amendment on the basis of a McKinsey report she does not understand. McKinsey says 36% reductions are possible compared with projected electricity demand of 411 TWh in 2030. Of course demand today is 328 TWh, so these 36% reductions from today in total demand that Lucas’s amendment assumes are just a result of innumeracy, not McKinsey’s analysis. Does the Green Party not employ people who are numerate? You would think parliamentary amendments might be checked by someone, but alas.


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