Ed Davey, UK Energy Security and the US Chamber of Commerce

Two related articles appeared in Blowout Week last Sunday. In the first the Daily Express fulminated about how the UK government’s energy policies will send electricity bills skyrocketing and maybe snuff the lights out at the same time:

The green crusade of successive governments is set to double electricity bills for households and cost homes £26 billion a year by 2030, it was claimed yesterday. The cost of renewable energy and carbon taxes will put an extra £983 a year on household bills by then, compared to relying on a mix of nuclear and new gas-fired power stations, three experts told a Lords committee. The Scientific Alliance report highlights warnings by the regulator Ofgem that the margin for electricity production for the 2015-16 winter will be at an all-time low of 2 per cent compared to the pre-privatisation requirement of at least 20 per cent. It means that in times of high demand, such as during very cold weather, Britain would be at risk of power cuts.

The second article consisted of a rebuttal from Mr. Ed Davey, UK Energy and Climate Change Secretary, who clearly felt sufficiently exercised by the Express article to issue one, and it’s short enough to be reproduced in its entirety:
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Oil, economic growth and recessions revisited

Here I re-tread a well-trodden path, but with recent events in the oil market I thought a brief recap might be timely.

I begin with a photographic illustration of a typical US demand response to the tripling of oil prices that occurred during the first “oil shock” in 1974:

Demand response after a tripling of oil price, USA, 1974

Those long lines of gas-guzzlers were indeed a demand response, but not to the oil price increase. They were a reaction to the nationwide shortage of gasoline caused by the oil embargo that accompanied it. Americans, like George Patton’s tanks during the Normandy breakout, just gotta have gas. And still do.

Fluctuations in oil price, particularly “oil shocks” are nevertheless believed to have had a major impact not only on the US economy but on the global economy as a whole since 1974, and here we will revisit some basic macroeconomic data to see how well this contention holds up. Continue reading

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Blowout week 42

(Euan is taking a break this week. It’s also his birthday today, so Happy Birthday, Euan.)

Interest this week focuses on the budding oil price war between the US and Saudi Arabia, so we lead off with this story:

Marketwatch:  Can Saudi Arabia beat North Dakota in a price war?

Commodity strategists led by Seth Kleinman at Citi argue that the Saudis aren’t likely to throttle back output, in part because they apparently “think that they can win any price war” with U.S. shale producers. The bottom line, they said, is that the Saudis could conceivably win a price war, but it would be a “painful, pyrrhic and short-lived” victory as the price floor for shale continues to fall.

More stories below the fold, including a reported breakthrough in fusion technology, threats from Vladimir Putin and counterthreats from Tony Abbott, European car manufacturers begging the EU for mercy, anti-radiation pills for Canadians living near nuclear plants, a newly-discovered ocean methane sink, and to conclude, a pro-renewable energy rally that fell flat in every sense of the word. Continue reading

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Keeping the Lights On

I was invited to attend the annual “Global Warming Policy Foundation’s” annual lecture delivered by The Rt Honorable Owen Paterson MP on the evening of Wednesday 15th October and decided to blow last Monday’s donations on a trip to London ;-) Owen Paterson is the recently sacked Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and since he has until recently been at the heart of government I wanted to hear what he had to say.

We had advance warning that he would be making a call to have the UK 2008 Climate Change Act either amended or repealed. I was interested to hear what might take its place by way of a new government energy policy.

Mr Paterson gave a very measured and well informed 30 minute speech going out of his way to make clear that “Plan B” may actually deliver greater CO2 emissions reductions than “Plan A” whilst also keeping the lights on. His new energy policy proposals had 4 planks:

  1. Combined heat and power (CHP) district heating systems
  2. Shale gas development in the UK
  3. Deployment of small modular nuclear power stations
  4. Rational electricity demand management

Since I have long been an advocate of CHP and nuclear power I was bound to be in substantial agreement with this new set of proposals. But in pursuit of perfection I cannot resist highlighting some of the frailties too …..

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Drowning in oil again

For 4 years now the oil price (Brent) has been range bound between $90 and $130 per barrel (Figure 2). This is where it settled after the convulsions of the $148 per barrel peak in 2008 followed by the financial crash. Recently it has dipped below the $90 mark and looks set to break even lower.

With the world in turmoil, including OPEC producers Iraq and Libya ± Iran, and Russia cast out by the West, one might expect the oil price to be quite perky. But the opposite is true. This post takes a look at some of the key production indicators from OPEC, Europe, N America and Russia. But I believe one needs to look no further than Figure 1 to understand the weakness in the oil price. Rampant production in the USA, the world’s largest oil producer and importer, means that competition for supplies on the international markets is weakening. The world is once again drowning in oil.

Figure 1 USA oil production has grown an astonishing 4 million barrels per day in 4 years thanks largely to shale oil development supported by high oil price. 

So does that mean the real energy crisis is over? Well not quite. One needs to understand that shale oil, the US miracle, is expensive to produce. Over production of an expensive resource that dumps the price below the profit level is one of the effects of broken capitalism on the back side of Hubbert’s peak. Continue reading

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The terrestrial biosphere – a growing carbon sink

Over the course of time CO2 emitted to the atmosphere is sequestered in carbon sinks. There are two places it can go:

* Into the ocean sink, or
* Into the terrestrial biosphere sink (vegetation, soils etc.)

How much goes into each? I’m still looking into that. In the meantime I’m presenting some observational data which suggest that the terrestrial biosphere sink is growing rapidly and may be making a larger contribution than is generally supposed.

We begin with the monthly CO2 record for Point Barrow, Alaska. It shows an increase of about ~55 ppm CO2 between 1975 and 2008, which is within a few ppm of what CO2 records elsewhere in the world show, and the pronounced seasonal CO2 cycle characteristic of the Arctic. At first glance there’s nothing unusual about it. (Note: the unadjusted Scripps monthly CO2 data I used to construct the Figures in this post have now been overwritten by seasonally-adjusted monthly data, although daily data are still available):

Figure 1: Point Barrow CO2 record

But when we detrend the data and isolate the seasonal CO2 cycle, this is what we see:
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Blowout week 41

I lead off this week with one of Roger’s links to sliding oil prices. Are lower oil prices a good thing? The answer depends on who you are. If you are a consumer the answer is clearly yes (or is it?). If you are one of the new global dictators planning the world economy from the IMF or World Bank then you too will be pleased since lower oil prices should help stimulate global growth. But if you are an oil producer with expensive production then the answer is probably no since lower oil prices may herald losses, decreased investment and lower future supply. The high cost of marginal supply is an economics conundrum that the Keynesian economists have not yet got to grips with.

Forbes: Oil price slide continues

The slide in oil prices continued on Thursday with Brent crude prices dropping below $90 a barrel for the first time in two years and West Texas Intermediate prices entering bear market territory. The price drop comes amid general concerns over weakening demand globally and oversupply from the U.S. because of increasing shale oil production.

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The Carbon Cycle: a geologist’s view

Executive Summary

  1. IPCC AR5 carbon cycle model sees 8.9±1.4GtC emitted in a non-specified year. 2.6±1.2GtC was sequestered in land biomass, 2.3±0.7GtC sequestered in the oceans mainly by plankton and 4GtC remained in the atmosphere. These numbers are estimates but seem to be a reasonable rendering of current understanding.
  2. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution a total of 240GtC from human emissions have accumulated in the atmosphere while a similar amount has been sequestered by the non-permanent reservoirs of the deep ocean and terrestrial biomass, soils and biodetritus. What will be the fate of the emissions C in these non-permanent reservoirs and of that which remains in the atmosphere?
  3. The IPCC favour the Bern model for removal of C from atmosphere to sinks. This is founded upon the concept of reservoirs that have different “speeds of response” using 4 Taus (half life) of 1.2, 18.5 and 173 years and 1 Tau with infinity. The latter two represent 48% of emissions which basically says that 48% of emitted CO2 is going to hang around for a very long time. I am not aware of any physical basis for this approach which I argue is deeply flawed.
  4. Emissions can be matched to the evolution of the atmosphere using a single exponential decay model with decline rate of 2.8% representing a half life of about 24 years. If emissions can be modelled using a single exponential, why use 4?
  5. The concept of “reservoir speeds” is flawed. The appropriate way to approach this problem is to look at the amount of C sequestered by individual reservoirs on an annual basis. This approach shows that annual primary production of marine life of 50GtC that exports 13 GtC to the ocean depths is far more significant in the short term than rock weathering that perhaps deposits 0.2GtC into the shallow ocean.
  6. The concept that rock weathering by carbonic acid represents an important sink for CO2 emissions is a difficult one for a geologist to understand. All that this process does is to convert a relatively minuscule quantity of CO2 to HCO3 and deposits this in the ocean via river water. The CO2 simply takes a different route compared with direct absorption of CO2 into the oceans from the atmosphere where it is converted to HCO3 automatically by the pH equilibrium.
  7. The deep oceans have far higher C content and lower pH than surface waters. This makes it virtually impossible for C to be absorbed into the oceans to be sequestered by the solubility pump that does not appear to exist at the present day apart from the initial solution of CO2 into surface waters as part of the annual atmosphere – ocean flux.
  8. It appears that virtually all of the manmade emissions that are sequestered are removed by photosynthesis, trees on land and phytoplankton in the oceans. Land based sequestration is in live and dead biomass, biodetritus and soils. In the oceans, dead plankton sink quickly by gravity taking organic material and carbonate into the deep ocean where it is stored. It is relevant to ask for how long these sinks can go on absorbing ever larger quantities of CO2.
  9. If emissions were to be switched off, the biological pumps would continue working and would pump down atmospheric CO2 to pre-industrial levels in around 120 years (5* the 24 year half life). The fate of the emissions stored in these temporary reservoirs is another issue. Rates of geological (permanent) removal appear to be very slow, roughly 0.4 GtC per year. And so it would take  about 3250 years to remove a 1300 GtC slug of C. This “slow” process is removing C from non-permanent reservoirs, not from the atmosphere that will return to pre-industrial levels of CO2 quickly.

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Cycling Coal to Balance Electricity Grids

Reader Jacob sent me a couple of emails about the mechanics of ramping coal plant up and down to load balance an electricity grid.

I send you two links to articles about “cycling” or “ramping down” coal power stations. I don’t see how they can “cycle” except by keeping the fires burning.

And so the question is if a coal fired power station is “switched off” when demand for coal fired electricity goes down are the furnaces extinguished thus eliminating CO2 emissions or are they kept burning, perhaps at reduced levels? This post poses the question and provides background data to the problem. I’m hoping that informed commenters may provide the answers.

Figure 1 Slide 70 from Professor Bruno Burger’s summary of electricity production in Germany 2013.
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Electricity supply, electricity demand and 100% renewables

The difficulties of meeting cyclic demand for electricity with intermittent renewable generation have been addressed in a number of previous posts, but with wind, solar etc. usually considered separately. Here we will examine a hypothetical scenario involving a diversified mix of renewable energy sources that supplies 100% of electricity consumption in unspecified future year 20XX in Atlantis, an imaginary island country that is very much like, but not exactly the same as, the UK.

Details of the 20XX generation mix in Atlantis are summarized in the following Table.

This mix generates the same amount of electricity as the UK, and we will assume Atlantis too, generated from dominantly thermal sources in 2013 (380 vs. 374 TWh). Dispatchable capacity (biomass and hydro) provides 35% of total generation and non-dispatchable capacity (wind, solar, tidal) the remaining 65%.

And because Atlantis is very much like UK the scenario assumes that demand in Atlantis in 20XX will be the same as it was in the UK in 2013, so the 2013 Gridwatch data for the UK are used to define 20XX Atlantis demand. Atlantis generation in 20XX was estimated using the following simplifying assumptions:

Wind generation is the same as UK generation in 2013 but scaled up in proportion to the increase in output.

Biomass is assumed to provide constant baseload generation, although biomass plants would probably be able to operate in semi-load-following mode in the same way as UK coal plants do at present.

Hydro generation is used in either baseload or load-following mode with a maximum output of 13GW and no ramping restrictions. (Hydro supplying 15% of the UK’s energy is of course a pipe dream, but it’s not a problem in Atlantis.)

Solar generation is estimated using total solar radiation values for latitude 53 north on the 15th day of the month and is kept constant through the month.

Tidal power generation assumes tidal generators spaced around the coast of Atlantis in such a fashion as to cancel out diurnal and semidiurnal tidal fluctuations. (Tide times around the coast of UK vary enough to allow this to be done). Generation is estimated by straight-lining between a spring tide maximum of 5GW and a neap tide minimum of 1GW in accordance with the 28-day lunar cycle.

Imports and exports are not taken into account.

Cost is no object.

Generation from all sources was estimated at ~5 minute intervals to match the Gridwatch reading interval.

To keep the post to a manageable length only the power balances in the months of July and January 20XX, which are assumed to be “typical” summer and winter months both in the UK and Atlantis, are considered.
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Blowout week 40

I lead off this week with the exciting story of the world’s first large scale commercial CCS project in Canada. Published on a Norwegian website the author observes that the project went from conception to completion in only 5 years and that there are lessons to be learned. It’s not that hard to work out. The Boundary Dam project is linked to CO2 enhanced oil recovery which will make the owners money. In Europe, bonkers Green energy policies dictate that CO2 captured at power stations should simply be thrown away. It’s not rocket science to understand the difference between sensible and bonkers energy policies. 29 stories in all this week in a bumper issue of blowout.

Zero CO2: Boundary Dam integrated CCS project – counting down to the grand opening October 2, 2014

This is the first commercial-scale project in the world combining post-combustion CCS with coal-fired power generation.

Incredibly, this Canadian project will have gone from concept stage to start-up in just five years. With other CCS projects in Norway and elsewhere either cancelled or still on the starting blocks, there is clearly much to learn from SaskPower’s project.

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UK Wind Power in The Doldrums

The lack of wind in the UK this year has already been in the news resulting in poor performance of UK wind farms. UK wind now has 11.2 GW [1] of installed capacity amounting to 13.5% of total generating capacity in the UK. In September the wind park generated 739 GWh amounting to 3.3% of UK demand [2]. The load factor was only 9%.

Figure 1 The renewables revolution in the UK was barely visible in September 2014 as the UK imported twice as much electricity from the continent as was generated by the 11.2 GW of installed wind capacity. If it were not for a little bit of wind towards the end of the month, wind generation would have been close to zero. Click on chart for a very large version.

The generating data are summarised in Figure 2.

[Note added 4th October: It has emerged in comments that the wind metered by BM reports / Gridwatch may be a sub-set of installed capacity as reported by Renewable UK. This may result in an error of my calculation of wind load factor that may actually have been as high as 12% in September. Being able to access reliable and up to date statistics is an on-going problem.]

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Sequestration of ocean surface water by the Gulf Stream

There’s one story that the climate science community likes to scare the world’s population with even more than The Methane Time Bomb and that is saturation of the upper ocean layers with CO2 leading to ocean acidification and the extinction of all carbonate based ecosystems. The worry is that on our static planet removal of CO2 from the upper ocean layers by the deeper ocean layers takes place on “a very long time scale” of hundreds of years.

This concept is totally at odds with my own perceptions of wild oceans and ocean currents churning seawater about on a daily basis. From my geochemistry background I have recollection of the ocean mixing time being roughly 1000 years. And this got me thinking about the Gulf Stream, the gigantic ocean conveyer system that carries water from the Indian Ocean, round Cape of Good Hope, northwards along the full length of the Atlantic until it eventually sinks in the North Atlantic somewhere between northern Norway and Greenland.

The Gulf Stream transports nearly four billion cubic feet of water per second, an amount greater than that carried by all of the world’s rivers combined.

That is one BIG number. The calculation below the fold suggests that the Gulf Stream sequesters the equivalent of the surface waters (333m layer) of the whole Atlantic Ocean once every decade. Map image from Met Office.

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What’s up with the Bomb Model?

It has become a popular belief among climate sceptics that nuclear bomb test 14CO2 data falsifies the Bern model [1, 2010; 2, 2013]. The Bern model is used to link atmospheric rise in CO2 to manmade emissions and lies at the heart of IPCC projections for the future trajectory of global CO2. What could be more important?

In this post I present a simple ocean surface water mixing model that explains why 14C cannot be used to predict the sequestration rate of CO2. Each year the ocean inhales about 92Gt of carbon from the atmosphere that is tagged with 14C. This inhaled CO2 mixes with the 1020 Gt carbon in surface ocean water before about 90 Gt is exhaled. The CO2 exhaled is not the same CO2 that was inhaled and is depleted in 14C. If the 14C tracer were to work, it would be necessary to assume that the CO2 exhaled had the exact same 14C ratio as that inhaled, the portion of 14C removed from the atmosphere residing in the 2Gt sequestered C. The CO2 exhaled is depleted in 14C and this gives an artificial false picture of rapid CO2 sequestration rates.

The dilution of 14C in the atmosphere by burning fossil fuel that contains zero 14C is a further process that gives rise to artificial rapid decline in the 14C curve that is not related to sequestration rates [3]. The IPCC also recognises that 14C cannot easily be used to describe CO2 sequestration processes and on this occasion I agree with them.

Figure 1 Comparison of 14C decline from atomic bomb tests (red) with the Bern model (blue). The unlabelled Y-axis is 14C and the unlabelled X-axis is years since bomb test (1962). This post explains why 14CO2 cannot be used to model the sequestration rate of CO2 from the atmosphere and hence it cannot be used to falsify Bern. This does not mean that Bern is correct. Chart from WUWT [2].

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Blowout week 39

Blowout lite this week with 16 links mainly to renewable stories. The story  that caught my eye this week describes a massive $8billion Wyoming wind to Los Angeles renewables plan that includes compressed air storage in constructed salt caverns in Utah. In my opinion, all renewables projects should be mandated to provide load balancing capacity either through storage or fossil fuel based back up.

PennEnergy: $8B renewable energy initiative proposed for Los Angeles (Video)

Four companies today jointly proposed a first-in-the-U.S., $8-billion green energy initiative that would bring large amounts of clean electricity to the Los Angeles area by 2023.
The project would require construction of one of America’s largest wind farms in Wyoming, one of the world’s biggest energy storage facilities in Utah, and a 525-mile electric transmission line connecting the two sites.

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What’s up with the Bern Model?

In modelling the growth of CO2 in the atmosphere from emissions data it is standard practice to model what remains in the atmosphere since after all it is the residual CO2 that is of concern in climate studies. In this post I turn that approach on its head and look at what is sequestered. This gives a very different picture showing that the Bern T1.2 and T18.5 time constants account for virtually all of the sequestration of CO2 from the atmosphere on human timescales (see chart below). The much longer T173 and T∞ processes are doing virtually nothing. Their principle action is to remove CO2 from the fast sinks, not from the atmosphere, in a two stage process that should not be modelled as a single stage. Given time, the slow sinks will eventually sequester 100% of human emissions  and not 48% as the Bern model implies.

If emissions were switched off today the fast sinks would continue to pump down CO2 quickly, assuming they are not saturated, until a new equilibrium between the fast sinks is reached where the eventual CO2 concentration of the atmosphere may still contain 19% of total emissions over and above the pre-industrial baseline, that is until the slow sinks have time to pump that residual CO2 away.

The chart shows the amount of annual emissions removed by the various components of the Bern model. Unsurprisingly the T∞ component with a decline rate of 0% removes zero emissions and the T173 slow sink is not much better. Arguably, these components should not be in the model at all. The fast T1.2 and T18.5 sinks are doing all the work.  The model does not handle the pre-1965 emissions decline perfectly, shown as underlying, but these too will be removed by the fast sinks and should also be coloured yellow and blue. Note that year on year the amount of CO2 removed has risen as partial P of CO2 has gone up. The gap between the coloured slices and the black line is that portion of emissions that remained in the atmosphere.

This is Part 2 of the mini series on CO2 in the atmosphere. What’s up with the Bomb Model coming next. Continue reading

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Global warming and extinct species: three case studies.

One of the many projected impacts of global warming, or climate change if you prefer, is species extinction. And according to the IPCC AR4, as reported in Wikipedia, the impacts of climate change on species are potentially catastrophic:

There is medium confidence that approximately 20-30% of species assessed so far are likely to be at increased risk of extinction if increases in global average warming exceed 1.5-2.5 °C (relative to 1980-1999). As global average temperature increase exceeds about 3.5 °C, model projections suggest significant extinctions (40-70% of species assessed) around the globe.

It’s also been reported that some species have already been driven to extinction by climate change, with the implication being that we’re already seeing the thin end of the wedge. But are these reports true? Are the species definitely extinct, and if so was climate change really to blame? Here we will review three of the better-known reported extinctions to see what the data tell us. In order of disappearance, the three victims are:

1. The golden toad (extinct ~1989)
2. The Aldabra banded snail (extinct ~1997)
3. The white lemuroid possum (extinct ~2005)

Here is where they lived:

And in Section 2 the real reason for the disappearance of the banded snail from Aldabra Atoll will be revealed for the first time.

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The Half Life of CO2 in Earth’s Atmosphere – Part 1

  • Sequestration of CO2 from the atmosphere can be modelled using a single exponential decay constant of 2.5% per annum. There is no modelling need to introduce a multi time constant model such as the Bern Model.
  • The Bern model, favoured by the IPCC, uses four different time constants and combining these produces a decay curve that is not exponential but also matches atmosphere to emissions.
  • The fact that both single exponential decline and multi-time constant models of emissions can be made to fit atmospheric evolution of CO2 means that this approach does not provide proof of process. Either or neither of these models may be correct. But combined, both of these models do provide clues as to the rate of the CO2 sequestration processes.

Single time constant, 2.5% per annum, exponential decline model gives an excellent fit between emissions (LH scale, coloured bands) and actual atmosphere (RH scale, black line). This confirms Roger Andrew’s assertion from a couple of weeks ago that it was possible to model sequestration of CO2 from the atmosphere using a single decline constant. The Blue wedge at bottom is the pre-1965 emissions stack that is also declined at 2.5% per annum. The half life of ~27 years is equivalent to a residence time for CO2 of 39 years, slightly but not significantly different to Roger’s result.
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Blowout week 38

With the dust settled on the independence debate and a decisive win for Better Together, this edition of blowout comes from the still United Kingdom. 22 stories in all, about half of those from Roger.

Engineering and Technology: “UK oil and gas: Squeezing the last drop

Despite the UK’s ambitious plans for a sustainable low-carbon economy, with significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to be achieved by 2050, oil and gas are set to remain a crucial medium-term component of the energy mix.

RATS (rope access technicians) on a North Sea rig keeping the UK’s oil supplies flowing.

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Eigg – a model for a sustainable energy future

A short distance off the west coast of Scotland lies the island of Eigg, area 15 square miles, population 87 (2005). It has never had a grid connection to the mainland, so historically its residents have either had to generate their own electricity from diesel generators or go without.

Eigg scenery

Then on the 1st of February 2008 everything changed. Eigg proudly switched on its new power system, which generates around 90% of the island’s electricity from renewables and feeds it to consumers through a smart grid. In 2010 the system won a £300,000 share of the National Endowment for the Arts and Sciences Big Green Challenge award and also the prestigious Ashden gold award for energy efficiency. It’s been hailed as a example of how renewable energy can be made to work, and as a model for a sustainable energy future.

So using Eigg as our model, let’s see what a sustainable energy future might hold for us.
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