Optimal diversity of renewable energy alternatives

We are pleased to share the info about a paper 'Optimal diversity of renewable energy alternatives under multiple criteria: An application to the UK', which we have just published with Jeroen van den Bergh in Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews: Shmelev and van den Bergh (2016)

We propose a multi-criteria analysis of alternative combinations of renewable energy technologies to meet a sustainable energy supply. It takes into account a range of criteria to reflect relevant environmental, social and economic considerations, capture the value of diversity, and reflect innovative potential and learning capacity. The combination of these factors allows for solutions in which there is more balance between economic, environmental and social dimensions, unlike in previous studies. Scenarios that might have been preferred on the basis of, for example, minimal costs or low CO2 emissions, will have to be reconsidered because of negative effects in terms of land use or unemployment. The decision making philosophy in this case changes from that of optimization to multi-criteria satisficing. This article argues for consideration of the following dimensions of the energy system: costs, emissions, water use, land use and employment. Consideration of such dimensions will shift energy system into the direction of overall sustainability while making it more resilient in the long-term. The approach is applied to the case of the United Kingdom by making use of a MARKAL model, complementing its goal of cost-minimization with additional, social and environmental criteria. This gives rise to a number of suggestions for UK energy mix and policy.

Green Economy in Europe: the Keys to Success

The green economy is, today, seen as a strategic way of delivering a fairer society living in a better environment. Within the EU, the concept is gaining momentum as articulated across major EU strategies, including the Europe 2020 Strategy, and the 7th Environmental Action Programme.

Current trends
Trends in resource efficiency, indicate significant environmental improvements but will not guarantee long-term sustainability; the global economic and financial crisis have not resulted in improvements in resource efficiency, in some areas it has led to a decrease in efficiency. The major EU environment and climate objectives and targets for 2020 and beyond are unlikely to be met without additional effort and more radical re-orientation of the European economic system.
There are several enabling factors at the crossroads of policies and real-economy dynamics that could accelerate the transformation.

Enabling factors for success
Eco-innovation is a primary enabling factor as the policy framework for such innovation is already in place in the EU. Adoption and diffusion of eco-innovation are extremely important, even more so than invention, for the resource efficiency benefits of innovation to reach the macro-level.
The open circulation of green knowledge can open new opportunities for commercial transactions and economic pay-offs while encouraging the international community, as a whole, along the path to a resource-efficient green economy. EU has capacity to spread green knowledge internationally while interacting with other countries to diffuse green technologies e.g. environmental standards for air pollution and cars.
Fiscal reforms, using economic instruments, such as environmental taxes and emission trading schemes, can change pricing systems, which is essential for triggering the transformation process. Closely linked is the reform and phasing-out of environmentally harmful subsidies. Overall trends for both instruments in Europe are in the wrong direction.
Finally, financial resources are arguably the most important enabling condition for the long-term transition to a resource-efficient green economy. An estimated €270 billion per year is needed for the coming 40 years to support the transition to a low carbon economy – current investment trends fall far short of this.

Overall reflections
The potential for the shift to a resource-efficient green economy is great, but stronger interaction and greater coherence is needed between environmental and climate policies and other major EU policies, including fiscal and financial, innovation and industrial policies.
The on-going economic crisis as shortened political outlooks and emphasised immediate pay-offs, while weakening aspiration and confidence in Europe and its international role.
One of the challenges for environment and climate policies are their long-term perspective compared with the relatively short-term challenges and requirements of economic and social policies e.g. the creation of new jobs.
The transformation process requires acknowledgement of the multiple persistent problems (or systemic risks) faced by Europe and the rest of the world that require fundamental solutions. In this regard, regular policies offer no immediate solutions; nor do market creation and commodification; nor does incremental institutionalism; while resource efficiency gains are not sufficient for ensuring ecosystem, economic and societal resilience. Achieving a green economy requires long-term thinking and actions, the widespread application of a coherent framework that drives profound changes in dominant structures and thinking. Coherent integration of objectives across all policy areas is required, treating economic, social and environmental performance objectives as equal.

Jock Martin and Stefan Speck

Investment for Sustainability

Which economic sectors are particularly important for promoting sustainability? Could we define a sustainable trend as a path, which provides a compromise between economic growth and environmental performance? How can we simultaneously take into account direct and indirect (cross-sectoral) economic effects from investing in a particular sector and direct and indirect environmental effects (use of water, resources, emissions of CO2 and other substances)? How could input-output analysis and multi-criteria decision aid (MCDA) help?

This paper assesses the sustainability of investment in various economic sectors, with the aim of minimizing resource use and generation of emissions. The broad development focus of the paper and the potential for the proposed methodology to be applied in many different countries make it a useful methodological contribution to the global sustainability debate. The UK case is taken for illustration purposes, and (given the availability of the necessary data) this methodology could be applied in countries with various economic structures and specialisations. An environmentally extended static 123-sector UK input–output model is used, linking a range of physical flows(domestic extraction, use of water, and emissions of CO2, CH4, NOx) with the economic structure of the UK. A range of environmentally adjusted forward and backward linkage coefficients has been developed, adjusted according to final demand, domestic extraction, publicly supplied and directly abstracted water, and emissions of CO2 and NOx. The data on the final demand-adjusted and environmentally adjusted forward and backward linkage coefficients were used in amulti-criteria decision-aid assessment, employing a NAIADE method in three different sustainability settings. The assessment was constructed in such a way that each sector of the UK economy was assessed by means of a panel of sustainability criteria, maximizing economic effects and minimizing environmental effects. This type of multi-criteria analysis, applied here for the first time, could prove to be a valuable basis for similar studies, especially in the developing world, where trade-offs between economic development and environmental protection have been the subject of considerable debate.

You are welcome to download the QEH working paper here:

Creating Regenerative Cities

Large modern cities have effectively declared their independence from nature. But while they take up only three to four percent of the world’s land surface, their ecological footprints cover the entire globe. With current methods of resources use, cities are undermining the ecological basis of their own existence. The central contradiction we currently face is this: humanity is building an urban future, yet urbanisation in its current form is threatening the very future of humanity and the natural world. With ever larger numbers of people living in ever more resource-hungry cities, we are risking the long-term chances of human well-being and even survival. What positive initiatives can we take to address such fundamental systemic problems? To meet the aspirations of city people in developing as well as developed countries, bold new initiatives are needed.

Since the 1950s, in many parts of the world new cities of unprecedented size have sprung up on the locations of villages and small towns, yet few questions are being raised about whether this is inevitable and how it affects both the inhabitants and the global environment. Can a predominantly urban world be a pleasant, resilient home for humanity? Can we curtail our appetite for resources to create urban systems that are compatible with the living planet?

Mere 'sustainable development' is not enough. The planning of new cities, as well as the retrofit of existing cities, needs to undergo a profound paradigm shift. Instead of simply using resources more sustainably, cities need to take responsibility for their use of resources, making ‘regenerative development’ into an organising principle. We need to move away from linear systems of resource use, and assure that cities operate as circular systems.

Herbert Girardet’s new book, Creating Regenerative Citiesis being published by Routledge in October 2014. Itis a concise, solution-oriented manual for creating regenerative urbanisation. A wide range of technical, management and policy solutions already exist, but implementation has been too slow and too little, in large part because the kinds of holistic approaches needed are still unfamiliar to fragmented and process driven urban policy making and governance. Herbert Girardet's 30 year experience as an ecologist, thinker and consultant to cities around the world has created this unique combination of tried and tested best practices and policies, which outlines the fundamental shifts needed in the way we think about our cities.

Prof. Herbert Girardet is a prolific author, film maker and international consultant in the field of cultural and urban ecology. He is a recipient of a UN 'Global 500 Award for Outstanding Environmental Achievements', a member of the Club of Rome and the World Academy of Art and Science, and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. He is a former chairman of the Schumacher Society, UK, and a trustee of Artists Project Earth. In 2003 he was inaugural ‘Thinker in Residence’ in Adelaide, developing regenerative development strategies for South Australia which have been largely implemented. He is a co-founder, former programme director and honorary member of the World Future Council. Most recently he has been working extensively in the Middle East and also in Bristol

Global energy sustainability by 2050?

The world has endless renewable sources of energy- including solar heat and light, the winds, waves, tides, waters flows and biomass energy. There have been many reportssuggesting that, given significant attention to energy saving, renewables could supply near 100% of global electricity by around 2050, some even saying 100% of all energy might be possible by then.

On the way to that, the International Renewable Energy Agency says 30% or more of global energy could come from renewables by 2030.Some optimists say that some countries can move even faster: e.g. in the Centre for Alternative Technology’s ‘Zero Carbon Britain’ scenario, the UK gets near 100% of all its energy from renewables by 2030. But that is really pushing it. Denmark, the global leader, is only aiming for that by 2050.

Even so, there are major changes underway. Germany is aiming to get at least 80% of its electricity and 60% of all its energy from renewables by 2050.And by then, many others countries might be in a position to get high percentages too, including India, China and Japan, and also the USA.It’s worth noting that around 60 countries already get over 60% of their electricity from renewables in the form of , some near 100%

However, increasingly, across the world, the so-called new renewables, like wind and solar, and the other newly emerging electricity supplying renewables (like wave and tidal) could ramp up, feeding power grids. These sources are locally variable, so that smart grid and supergrid balancing systems have to be in place, helping to delay energy demand peaks when supply is low, and trading green energy surpluses across wide geographical areas, so as to meet local supply shortfalls.On the heat side, gas-fired Combined Heat and Power plants, linked to district heating and heat stores, could be widely used as an interim option, laying the basis for community-wide biogas, biomass, solar and geothermal based green heat systems. The transport side may be harder, given biofuel land-use limits, but surplus green power-to-gas conversion and the use of biomass wastes may help, and the switch to green electricity would allow public transport to be zero carbon.

While lobbyists press for action, looking so far ahead is hard- we don't know what will happen on the demand side (can 50% cuts really be achieved as some hope?), and new technologies may emerge that will change the supply side e.g. PV solar has boomed much more than many expected.What we do know is that renewables are getting cheaper and more efficient. As REN21 notes, they now supply 22% of global electricity and 19% of total global energy and are continuing to expand rapidly.

The real uncertainty is whether the political will be there to help progress continue. The fossil fuel lobby remains strong, as is the nuclear lobby, both offering unsustainable options with a range of social, economic, security and environmental problems. The renewables have none of these. As I argue in my new IoP book ‘Renewables’, they offer the only sustainable energy supply options for the future:

Prof. David Elliott, Open University, UK http://www.natta-renew.org

Oxford Summer School in Ecological Economics,

25-29 August, 2014

Environment Europe is pleased to announce the Oxford Summer School in Ecological Economics to take place 25-29 August 2014 in Oxford, UK.

This course explores the cutting edge methods and policy applications in ecological economics, an interdisciplinary field emerged in response to global sustainability crisis. With a clear sustainable development focus, it draws on the expertise of a range of disciplines: economics, ecology, physics, environmental sciences, sociology, psychology, complex systems theory, etc. to address the current challenges: climate change, biodiversity loss, sustainable urban development, resource depletion, water shortages, social cohesion and achieving sustainability. Ecological economics has been critical of the dominant approaches to decision making, namely cost-benefit analysis, the use of GDP as a key economic progress measure and the limits of the economic models not taking into account resource and environmental constraints. ‘Green Economy’ and ‘Beyond GDP’ movements are inspired by the ideas proposed by ecological economists.
This year the School will feature representatives of the European Environment Agency, Prof. Herbert Girardet and Prof. Dave Elliott.