Green Party energy policy does not add up

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Reading through Green Party policies is a strange affair. Apparently these things are put together in a “democratic”, i.e. a rather shambolic manner, in which logical coherence, attachment to reality, and a desire to not make the party look zany and un-electable are secondary concerns.

The stories of course have already been written. Bans on alcohol on planes, bans on zoos, bans on coal, bans on fracking, bans on nuclear energy, bans on GM crops, bans on nanotechnology, bans on pleasure.

But what about their energy policy? The Green Party after all is partly out to save the planet. And it does in fact need saving, the science is quite clear on that.

It needs saving, but it won’t be saved by dogmatic, badly thought through policies that do not add up. And that’s what Green Party energy policy amounts to.

The full policies are listed here.

Let me go through them to highlight some glaring problems. Any Green Party members who want to defend their policies can leave a comment.

The scene is set with this one:

EN110 A green Government would cut energy costs across all sectors through demand reductions and improved efficiency. We will set clear and consistent targets and timetables for improving efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across all sectors of the economy. We will require energy use for space heating, and electrical use to be reduced by a third by 2020, by half by 2030 and by two-thirds by 2050, based on 2012 final energy demand levels. Specifically, we will aim to reduce total UK energy demand to 900 TWh/year by 2030, and to 600 TWh/year by 2050, i.e. reductions of approximately 40% and 60% respectively on 2012 final energy demand.

So, the Green Party will reduce electricity demand “by a third by 2020, a half by 2030, and by two thirds by 2050”. This sounds more than a little ambitious. But let’s just accept this target.

Further on we have this,

EN210 A Green government will accelerate production of electricity from renewable and low carbon sources. We will rapidly develop new renewable energy capacity to meet reducing final energy demand, (see EN110), primarily through clean electricity generation (see EN211-215 below). We will mandate a target to reduce carbon intensity of power generation to a maximum of 25gCO2 e/kWh by 2030 and to implement an emissions performance standard reducing in regular intervals to that level by 2030, with flexibility to adjust the carbon intensity target towards an average of 10gCO2e by 2030. Wind will provide the main source of power by 2030, followed later by wave and tidal power. Solar thermal, photovoltaics and hydropower will be important because of their potential for local and small-scale generation.

The Green Party will reduce the carbon intensity of electricity to a maximum of 25gCO2 e/kWh by 2030. This will require that at most 5% of Britain’s electricity comes from natural gas. Obviously there won’t be any nuclear – they hate that more than coal.

So, 95% of the time supply will be met by renewables.

I am not aware of a single study showing how this is technically feasible. No storage technology is readibly available that will store the sufficient energy for the times when the wind does not blow, and the use of many storage technologies will push us over these decarbonisation targets – it takes a lot of energy to make a battery.

Furthermore, Chinese built solar panels have emissions of close to 100 g CO2 e/kWh. So, presumably these will be ruled out in the Green Party’s future.

Next we have this,

EN211 We will aim for a largely electricity-based energy system in the UK to match a total final demand of about 900TWh/ year by 2030, which reduces to 600-650TWh /year by 2050. To meet this demand, average capacity for renewables is planned to be 40 GW by 2020, rising to 70 GW by 2030, excluding power for demand balancing and load shifting. This capacity will be provided by the range of renewables set out below (all figures are average capacities).

By this point I hope you are already confused. What do they mean by “average capacity for renewables is planned to be 40 GW by 2020”? Surely they mean total capacity, not average.

They could perhaps mean that renewables will supply an average of 40 GW. But this cannot be true. Current demand averages just over 40 GW, and if the Green Party is cutting demand then renewables cannot be producing 40 GW on average, and certainly not 70 GW. So, why are they referring to averages?

They then list the capacities of various renewables:

EN212 We will accelerate the deployment of both onshore and offshore wind power generation at rates sufficient to ensure the change to a stable electricity-based energy system of 87GW by 2030, but stabilising thereafter. This will require a rapid build of onshore wind to 2030 to provide an average capacity of 12GWe by 2030, and off-shore wind generation capacity will be increased to 17 GWe providing a total average capacity of 29GWe (including existing and currently planned capacity).

EN213 We will support the rapid commercialisation of tidal stream and wave-powered generators to ensure they are able to contribute at least 5GW each by 2030, and a combined input of at least 20GW by 2050.

EN214 Rapid deployment of solar photovoltaics will be fully supported, as a key source of decentralised generation, making full use of domestic, commercial and industrial roofspace and limited deployment of ‘solar farms’. We will review legislation and planning guidance to facilitate the potential for leasing roof and site space for local energy generation by third parties. We will target 8GW from PVs by 2030 and 10 GW by 2050.

EN215 We will urgently review UK potential for hydropower and will support in particular medium and small-scale installations in order to provide 3GW (average) by 2030. We will develop the capacity of pumped storage for demand balancing, subject to stringent environmental safeguards.

A proof reader, or perhaps someone with vague understanding of terminology is needed here. Wind farms are talked about in terms of “average capacity”. Again what do they mean be average capacity? Tidal and wave is referred to in terms of “input”. Solar is then referred to purely in terms of capacity, and we are then back to average capacity for hydro.

Further, in 2030, there is to be an “electricity-based energy system of 87GW”. What does the Green Party mean by this? They cannot be referring to average electricity supply. 87 GW is about twice the current level, but the Green Party want a demand reduction.

They cannot be referring to average total energy consumption. 87 GW works out as 762 TWh, not the 900 TWh mentioned earlier.

I am at a total loss here.

But this is minor stuff compared to the rest of the numbers. They have already told us that electricity demand is to fall significantly between 2030 and 2050. And in 2030 essentially all electricity supply will come from renewables.

But here is what the Green Party tells us what else will happen between 2030 and 2050. Wind electricity will stay the same, or “stabilize” as they put it. Tidal and wave will increase from 5 GW to 20 GW, while solar will increase from 8 to 10 GW.

In other words, Green Party energy policy will simultaneously increase supply of electricity and decrease demand for electricity. 

The Green Party’s hearts may be in the right place, but they really need to put more thought into the whereabouts of their brains.


7 thoughts on “Green Party energy policy does not add up

    johnrussell40 said:
    February 25, 2015 at 3:08 pm

    Politicians, of any party, who try to dictate demand and energy mix 20 or 30+ years’ hence are going to fall flat on their faces. The role of politicians is to set targets and/or limits, for (for example) total CO2 emissions and levels of pollution (say NOx, particulates, radiation safety, etc)—and also tax activities they want to discourage—and then just let engineers, scientists, companies and organisations get on with meeting the constraints society demands.

    Attempts to promote ‘favoured’ technologies (wind for the Greens, Fracking for the Tories) produces distortions we can do without. For example no politician 20 years ago, trying to dictate energy use today, could have predicted the development of LED lighting and the amazing energy savings it provides, so any steer towards or away from specific technologies could very lightly lead us up the garden path.


    Arthur Yip (@arthurhcyip) said:
    February 25, 2015 at 10:08 pm

    here is your missing electricity:

    EN520 We will ensure the shift of transport power sources to mainly renewable electricity.

    EN521 Full electrification of the rail network and bus fleet by 2030 will be targeted.

    EN523 We will aim for a 30% shift to electricity by 2030 and 90-100% by 2050 for cars and vans; the target for HGVs [heavy goods vehicles] will be 20% electric by 2030 and 90-100% by 2050.


      Robert Wilson said:
      February 26, 2015 at 11:26 am


      This is all to be done while reducing electricity demand. The Green Party’s one member of Parliament once put forward an amendment to the UK’s recent energy bill calling for a quantitative target for a reduction in electricity demand by 2030. The actual target she proposed was based on a misreading of a report by a consulting group. I suspect the numbers in their policy result from similar misunderstandings.


        Arthur Yip (@arthurhcyip) said:
        February 26, 2015 at 9:03 pm

        Thanks for the clarification – unfortunately not a surprise that Green policy doesn’t add up 😦


    Mark Brinkley @slopingsite said:
    February 26, 2015 at 1:46 pm

    There is an unresolved paradox here. If low carbon production really takes off in the way that it is envisaged, then we simply won’t need to bother with energy reduction. Far from it, we could have a glut of carbon-free leccy by 2050.

    OTOH, if low carbon leccy doesn’t deliver, then no amount of energy reduction will save us from being fried.


      Arthur Yip (@arthurhcyip) said:
      February 26, 2015 at 9:09 pm

      or just neither – low carbon electricity will hopefully deliver enough to meet some amount of reduced* energy consumption.

      *reduced from expected business as usual, or reduced growth, not absolute reductions


        Mark Brinkley said:
        February 27, 2015 at 8:09 am

        But of the 3 options, the one you outline is probably the least likely. If low carbon supply works well and becomes relatively cheap, why should we choose to limit its availability? Low or zero growth is a very important part of green thinking but it shouldn’t be used to cloud the argument about future energy use.


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