There is also set to be a huge government investment of £20bn in the Trojan Horse of carbon capture technology. This unproven, un-implemented technology is being promoted by big oil and gas businesses as a way to allow them to carry on as normal. It will be the oil and gas giants who yet again pocket public money.
That is why Environmental groups from across Scotland have called for a protest at: Thursday 30 March, 12.30 UK Government Offices, 1 Sibbald Walk EDINBURGH, EH8 8FTSupported by: Edinburgh Climate Coalition, Friends of the Earth Scotland, Stop Cambo, ScotE3 Bring placards, banners and friends!
Decisions made now will affect generations to come. Join the protest.
Mike Downham and Pete Cannell review CLIMATE CHANGE AS CLASS WARby Matthew T. Huber: Verso 2022
A couple of weeks ago one of us had the opportunity to join an early morning direct action outside the SSE offices in Glasgow. The action, called by Unite rank-and-file construction workers and the Black List Support Group was against the dismissal on Christmas Eve of high-voltage electrician Greig McArthur by Kirby Engineering, an SSE subcontractor. No reason was given for the dismissal, but it followed closely on McArthur’s request for recognition of Unite as the negotiating Union in his workplace. The direct action, which consisted of about 20 of us with leaflets, banners and a film-crew outside the main entrance, resulted in McArthur’s reinstatement. No attempt was made to enter the building, but the perceived threat of entry resulted in the main entrance doors being locked, and visible panic of staff in the foyer as they directed arriving employees to the back entrance of the building. On the back of this win, against one of the five big energy companies in the UK, McArthur’s branch is organising a combine of all electrical and mechanical workers in Scotland to not only push for recognition but also for proper wages and conditions.
As the power of rank-and-file of workers grows, the seizure of the means of production of energy and its distribution moves from being a pipe-dream to something highly possible. Nothing less than public ownership and democratic control of energy is necessary to prevent climate chaos. It’s the only way we can decarbonise energy in time, and the only way we can make sure that workers in the energy sector have secure jobs with proper wages and conditions – two goals which are inextricably linked.
When so much is at stake, when there’s so little time, and when left politics, nationally and globally, remains so weak, it’s inevitable that this will be a time when many people suggest different strategies. None of them will have all the answers. Rather than accept or reject a particular view-point, we need to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each proposal and evolve a strategy which is truly collective. Discussion of each contribution to the debate is an opportunity to move forward to address the most urgent issue of our time. In our view Mathew Huber’s book Climate Change as Class War has significant strengths but also significant weaknesses. First, we’ll discuss the strengths.
Huber writes with refreshing urgency. In his first paragraph he reminds us that
in 2018 the IPCC gave us 12 years (now eight!) to implement rapid far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society
Scientists are saying that humanity must unite and face what could be its last fight.
It’s also helpful to be reminded that capitalism has made human emancipation possible because on the one hand it has developed production to the necessary level, and on the other hand it has created a class which has the collective power to emancipate.
Seizing the means of production
This is the focus of Huber’s call to action – as it surely must be for any successful and sustainable climate strategy. The only solution is for global production to become socially coordinated. We need to seize the means of production of energy, housing, transport and food so that they can all be decarbonised.
Reconciliation with nature
Also unarguable is Huber’s contention that the working class, now the vast majority of humanity, is most critically separated from the land, so that its livelihood no longer has a direct relationship with nature. The working class is entirely dependent on a wage for survival. This social coordination of global production, Huber says, needs to be entrenched in a reconciliation of humanity’s relationship with nature.
Social coordination of production, Huber says, also needs to be rooted in “species solidarity” – which looks beyond international solidarity towards a world ethos
where workers in all countries recognise that the very conditions for species survival are at stake, and that survival depends on defeating the small minority of our species who control production
Recognising the daunting scale of the difficulties ahead of us, Huber encourages us by pointing to the current growth of strikes in the US. Here in the UK, we are also seeing a big resurgence of strike action. Particularly inspiring is the intensification of strikes by NHS workers – Click here to watch video (8 mins 24 secs)
At the same time, we should keep in mind that most strike action is still dominated by a trade union leadership who are concerned to operate within the straitjacket of anti-union law, desperate to get to the negotiating table and ready to compromise on agreements that don’t meet the needs of their members and fail to tackle systemic issues that underpin appalling working conditions. At the moment we don’t have a strong enough rank and file to resist these poor compromises and operate independently of the leadership. Huber also offers the encouraging point that the increasingly stark indifference of the wealthy and powerful to working-class well-being is creating increased militancy. He reminds us too that the working class in the US was able to turn round quickly it’s powerlessness in the late 1920s and early 1930s into power which forced the New Deal of 1933-36.
Where to start? It’s also helpful to be given suggestions of where to make a start. Huber suggests reviving the simple demand of public good over private profit. And he goes to some length to argue his case that we should start by seizing the means of production and distribution of electricity. But there are also significant weaknesses in Huber’s book:
Repetition Huber sets out his arguments four times – in a long introductory chapter, then in a chapter dedicated to each main argument, then in a Conclusion at the end of each chapter, and in a final chapter headed Conclusions. This makes the book a bit of a slog for the reader. It could have been a shorter and more easily digestible book. Moreover, the multiple Conclusions are not always consistent with each other (see the next point).
Professional Class Huber devotes a whole section to his theory that there is a distinct “Professional Class” and that its class interests determine the politics of the climate movement. This argument is not convincing. He seems confused between the idea that almost anyone with a degree is in this class, or whether it’s only some people, particularly lawyers and managers, who occupy contradictory class positions. Furthermore, the Professional Class concept doesn’t survive into the conclusive final chapter, where it gets no mention at all. It’s true, though Huber doesn’t specifically mention this, that in the US non-profit organisations tend to dominate social movements and struggles. They often have shed-loads of money and pay their employees fat salaries. But does this constitute a distinct class? In contrast, Cooperation Jackson made the political decision not to be a non-profit, based on years of activism in organisations where nobody was paid (see Michael Haber’s Breaking Out of the Nonprofit Industrial Complex). US exceptionalism The concept of a Professional Class is perhaps, at least partially, an example of US exceptionalism. Although Huber recurrently and correctly emphases that climate solutions have to be global, he sometimes slips into assuming that the US context is representative of the global context. For example, the considerable detail he goes into about the electricity sector in the US may not be transposable to the electricity sectors of other nations. And levels of unionisation vary widely internationally.
Workers’ Power and State Power Huber argues that organised workers have the potential power to force a transition into new sustainable forms of production. To shift from potential power to actual power he advocates a rank-and-file strategy (RFS). The case for building from the grass roots is clearly made – however, the politics of the strategy and the relationship between the rank and file and the union leadership is less clearly articulated. Is the RFS a means to an end – a reinvigorated union movement – or should it be more than that? Put simply the strategy seems to be that a resurgent working class can force change through the ballot box and then the state can take the decisive action required to transform the economy.
In conclusion Climate Change as Class War is a valuable contribution to the debate about building the power to avert a climate catastrophe. It asks the right questions and does the movement a service in putting production under capitalism at the centre of its concerns. However, in our view, its critique of the politics of the climate movement is undermined by a concentration on the material interests of a so-called professional class. Important questions about why the left internationally is at such low ebb; about the relationship between social movements, parties and working class organisation; and about the role of trade union bureaucracies are not addressed.
We have a small number of copies of the book available at the reduced price of £11 – use the contact on the menu to get in touch if you are interested in a copy.
Thanks to REEL News for this report and access to video from Friday’s direct action in Glasgow
UNITE Scottish Construction rank and file and the Blacklist Support Group were celebrating a very significant victory after a campaign of direct action forced Scottish energy giant SSE to reinstate Greig McArthur, branch secretary of the biggest construction branch in Scotland, and two of his colleagues. They were disgracefully sacked two days before Christmas for seeking trade union recognition, despite being only weeks away from an agreement. Now that recognition agreement appears to be imminent – as well as full compensation for loss of earnings.
This is a particularly important victory as it is in the high voltage sector, a key sector in moving away from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
Here’s a video clip of Greig McArthur talking about the importance of the high voltage sector to the transition to a sustainable economy
Now Greig’s branch are organising a combine to not only push for recognition and proper wages and conditions across all renewable energy sectors, but to fight for proper wages and conditions in every single electrical and mechanical sector. They are also calling on the Scottish Government to put some teeth into their “Fair Work Convention” which calls for much better employment conditions, and to put guarantees of stable, well paid direct employment into their at present very weak Just Transition policy.
In addition they calling for UNITE Scotland to step up and start organising properly with the rank and file, something which has been sadly lacking. So the rank and file also visited another site to protest the excessive use of agency staff, and to start a campaign for an above inflation pay rise which should have been started by the union months ago. This is the start of a major campaign by the branch – and the next step is to elect officers to the new combine at a meeting on Saturday January 28th, which will also be a chance to come together to share ideas about winning on all the issues mentioned above. If you’re a construction worker in Scotland and you’re not already a member of the branch, this is the time to join (details at the end of the video) – and build a powerful combine to win.
This article by John Szabo and Gareth Dale was first published in shortened form in the Conversation and then on 13th January by the Ecologist. We are grateful to the authors and the Ecologist for their permission to publish it here.
The hydrogen economy appears to enjoying its great leap forward. Assuming its construction goes to plan, a €2.5bn undersea pipeline will from 2030 convey “green hydrogen” from Spain to France. It is one element in a hydrogen infrastructure package that the European Commission announced earlier this year.
In the USA, some power stations are being upgraded to allow hydrogen to be blended with fossil gas, and the Norwegian oil company Equinor is teaming up with Thermal SSE to build a 1,800MW “blue hydrogen” power plant in Britain. China, earlier this year, unveiled a long-term hydrogen plan which includes major technological and infrastructure investments.
If the number of projects is growing at pace, one may suppose, a large supply of the resource must exist somewhere. Well, it does and it doesn’t.
Hydrogen is produced in multiple ways. A colour spectrum is used to render it simple. “Grey” and “brown/black” refer to hydrogen produced from fossil gas (methane) and coal (brown or black coal) respectively—a process that, for every ton of hydrogen, emits between ten and twelve tons of carbon dioxide for grey hydrogen or eighteen to twenty for brown.
“Blue” is the same process but filed under “low carbon” because the carbon dioxide is supposed to be captured and stored underground. “Green” hydrogen is conventionally defined as generated from renewable electricity passed through water to split it into hydrogen and oxygen.
When you zoom in on hydrogen’s “colours,” however, they appear slippery. The hydrogen economy is not a palette of technological options but a grey-brown oil refinery behind an eye-catching blue-green front gate. All the chatter is of the latter.
Green and blue hydrogen yield 11 million and 320,000 Google hits respectively, as against 95,000 for grey and 49,000 for brown. The reality curves in the opposite direction: only 0.04 per cent of hydrogen is green, and blue hydrogen is also less than one per cent. At least 96 per cent is grey or brown, most of which is used in oil refineries and for manufacturing ammonia and methanol.
It’s an enormous industry, responsible for emitting more carbon dioxide than all of Britain’s and France’s emissions combined. The test of any government or corporate hydrogen agenda, then, is the nature—or even the existence—of its plans to decarbonise the 96 per cent. In some cases this is beginning to happen. But if the focus is on producing more ‘blue’ and more ‘green’ for other purposes, something is amiss.
When you look closely at green hydrogen, some of it resolves into shades of grey. It’s not simply that its production is extremely energy-intensive or that in its double transformation—from electricity to hydrogen and thence to its final usage—so much energy is wasted.
It is partly that, if combusted, it emits nitrogen oxides, and also that, if scaled up to play a significant economic role by 2050 (as in recent projections by the International Energy Agency), its freshwater requirements will exceed one quarter of today’s global annual consumption, causing water stress in some regions.
Above all, green hydrogen is meaningfully green only if the renewable energy that generates it cannot be fed into the grid to replace power from gas or coal plants.
A similar but much more harmful trick of the light occurs with blue hydrogen. Look closely and you see that in reality it’s either chequered blue/grey or even blank, a mere fiction.
Blue hydrogen is still in its infancy and we don’t yet know whether most of the CCS costs will be loaded onto taxpayers, as the gas companies demand.
Price projections should be treated with the utmost scepticism. One boosterish paper cites blue hydrogen from Alberta (Canada) at $1.50 to $2.0 per kg. It adds that blue hydrogen production will help Canada achieve its decarbonisation goals.
In fact, research at Shell’s CCS plant in Alberta discovered that it emits more carbon than it captures. For the foreseeable future, this is not a “low carbon” product in any sense of the term. It is a hypothetical solution the costs of which remain unknown, as the development of projects has been slow and costly with few realised, while future operating costs are also unclear.
Given the question marks that surround blue hydrogen, it’s widely hoped that a silver lining of today’s high gas prices will be that green hydrogen becomes cost competitive.
In terms of inputs, the green-blue price difference boils down to the cost of electricity versus fossil gas. With the global energy crisis exacerbated by Russia’s war on Ukraine, many are asking: will high gas prices favour green hydrogen? Spoiler alert: probably not.
In the EU, as in many economies, electricity pricing is based on the principle of marginal costs, and that usually means the price of power from fossil gas plants. When it is high, renewable electricity generators will seek to sell to the grid. In this way, blue and green prices are largely interwoven in the current market setup; their inputs move in sync.
Of course, there are geographical and temporal differences. During sunny spells, electricity prices may collapse as solar PV-based generation picks up.
This unlinks electricity and natural gas prices, but only momentarily, often only for a few hours—not enough to justify investment in electrolysers to produce green hydrogen. On the whole, the price gap between blue and green will remain fairly narrow until electricity markets are fundamentally restructured.
There’s worse. The high price of hydrocarbons has turbocharged the industry’s expansion. The US government is exhorting oil and fracking firms to ‘drill baby drill.’ Britain’s government has issued over one hundred additional licenses to drill. Colossal new fossil fuel investments have been announced across the Middle East and Africa.
All this will have long-term ramifications. First, in a few years when the new production comes on stream, and particularly if the current growth slowdown substantially depresses demand, gas and oil will again become cheaper—until the next price spike prompts new rounds of investment, and the infernal cycle continues.
Second, the owners of the new-drilled wells and other infrastructure will fight tooth and nail to defend those assets, and to stall the decarbonisation agenda. The peculiarity of hydrogen is that it is a means to both the stalling and the decarbonisation.
The latter can be simply stated. Green hydrogen will be important to the decarbonisation of certain sectors such as steel, and ammonia for fertilisers, and possibly shipping and trucking.
The role of hydrogen in stalling the transition is complex but no less important. It begins with the recognition that the fossil fuel corporations are rebranding themselves as agents of “carbon management.”
The goals are to prevent their assets from getting stranded by repurposing them, above all by marketing grey and blue hydrogen as “bridge” fuels; to lock in hydrocarbon production for decades to come; and to defray the costs onto taxpayers.
For this, hydrogen offers the perfect vehicle, in view of its confusion of shades and colours. Fossil fuel interests use it to counter opposition to new investments in fossil gas through an aggressive marketing and lobbying campaign that presents a largely fictional substance, blue hydrogen, as a low-carbon “bridge” to an unspecified future genuinely-green transition.
Other sectors have joined the oil-led coalition. As the engineer Tom Baxter observes, it is seen by gas network operators and boiler manufacturers as their survival route.
Likewise, power utility companies are keen, as hydrogen’s inefficiencies mean they’ll sell more power. Relatively conservative trade unions, such as Britain’s GMB (General, Municipal, Boilermakers), are onboard too.
To tackle this stalling operation, a strong role for public policy is indispensable. Governments will need to regulate or tax carbon out of the market while simultaneously ramping up renewables.
Fiscal and subsidy schemes need to pivot from supporting fossil fuels to supporting renewables. The approach to electricity pricing must shift, to decouple the prices of electricity and fossil gas.
Instead of the marginal pricing system, it requires incentivising rewards for generators according to their average costs plus a slight surplus, either through a robustly regulated market system or by nationalising the energy companies and setting prices and production.
Such interventions would give green hydrogen a competitive advantage, one that can be furthered by other subsidies, such as tax credits on the model of the US Inflation Reduction Act. Above all, energy demand needs to be scaled down. The lower the demand, the less the upward pressure on price.
In any future energy system, hydrogen will have a role. But its expansion needs to be carefully designed, to prevent the promise of green hydrogen being mis-used, in opening the back door to its ecologically malign blue and grey cousins.
John Szabo is a Fellow at the Institute of World Economics, Centre for Economic and Regional Studies as well as an Assistant Lecturer at the Department of Eötvös Loránd University International Relations and European Studies, Eötvös Loránd University. His research focuses on the energy-society nexus, especially in the context of the energy transition.
Around 80 people, with a strong contingent from Aberdeen, rallied at the Scottish Parliament yesterday to demand that the Scottish Government stops developments in Torry, Aberdeen that would see the end of St Fitticks park, a hugely important green space in a heavily built up area. The message from the protestors was that there’s no justice if ‘transition’ is driven by the Oil Industry seeking new sources of profit at the expense of working people and the environment.
The protestors called for supporters to text, tweet and use every available means to tell Minister Tom Arthur and your local MSP to order the removal of the rezoning of St Fittick’s Park from Aberdeen’s new Local Development Plan.
Here’s an updated version of Briefing 13 on the use and abuse of hydrogen. You can download the briefing as a PDF.
Check through the news bulletins and the financial papers and you’ll find hydrogen in the news. Big energy companies, the Westminster and Holyrood governments and some trade unions are all heralding hydrogen as a ‘green’ alternative to the natural gas which most of us use for heating and cooking. For example, SGN who run Scotland’s gas network are promoting a plan in which hydrogen would be produced and stored at the St Fergus gas terminal, north of Peterhead. It envisages starting to use hydrogen in Aberdeen and then extending the hydrogen network to the rest of the northeast coast and the central belt by 2045.
Natural gas used for heating and cooking accounts for around 30% of the UK’s carbon emissions. In contrast burning hydrogen for heat results in zero emissions. But while Westminster and Holyrood continue to advocate investment in hydrogen a string of expert reports have been published warning that going down this road will be disastrous. So, what should we believe and what should we campaign for?
Grey, blue and green?
You will hear talk about grey, blue, and green hydrogen. The colours refer to how the hydrogen is produced – and it’s the production method that determines the impact of hydrogen on the environment.
Grey hydrogen is made from natural gas. Almost all the hydrogen that’s in use now is produced in this way. World-wide production currently amounts to 70 million tonnes. Greenhouse gases are a by-product of the production process, and current production has a similar impact on global warming to the whole aviation industry.
Much of the current hype is over blue hydrogen. Blue hydrogen is produced from natural gas in the same way as grey – the difference is that the production process incorporates carbon capture and storage. Greenhouse gases are stored rather than released to the atmosphere. Using blue hydrogen for all our domestic heating and cooking would require carbon capture on a massive scale. Large-scale carbon capture is untested, the technology for capture is not yet available and there are serious concerns about the long-term safety of large-scale storage. The production process for blue hydrogen is energy intensive and needs large amounts of green electricity. One example – Northern Gas Networks have a plan to convert domestic gas supplies to hydrogen. The aim is to have converted 15.7 million homes by 2050. This would require 8 million tonnes of hydrogen and need the equivalent of 60 production plants of the size of the largest currently operational, plus a huge deployment of unproven carbon capture and storage technology.
Green hydrogen is produced by electrolysing water – if that electricity is from a renewable source the process is zero carbon. However, the process requires even more green electricity than producing blue hydrogen. The NGN scheme to supply 15.7 million homes would require around seven times as much wind generated electricity as is currently produced in the UK.
Generating electricity to provide the energy to ‘reform’ natural gas or electrolyse water into hydrogen and then using the hydrogen for heat is inherently inefficient. Direct use of electricity is cheaper, more efficient and would require much less generating capacity.
So why the hydrogen hype?
A new hydrogen economy (dependent on carbon capture and storage technology) is at the heart of the North Sea Transition Deal, dreamed up by the industry body Oil and Gas UK, published by the UK government in March 2021 and endorsed by Holyrood. The transition deal aims at continuing extraction of oil and gas through to 2050 and beyond. To be sure of cutting emissions with the speed that is required we need to phase out oil and gas now and invest in proven technologies that are based on renewable energy sources.
Ed Matthew Associate Director at independent climate and energy think tank E3G says hydrogen is the wrong choice for heating homes. Blue hydrogen (manufactured from natural gas) needs CCS so would be massively expensive and keeps us hooked on gas. Green hydrogen (made by electrolysis using renewable electricity) is 4 times less efficient than using heat pumps. “Hydrogen is being pushed by the gas industry. Beware.” Dave Toke, reader in energy politics at Aberdeen University agrees. He calls it: “the start of one of the greatest pieces of greenwash that have been committed in the UK.”
It’s currently hard to see how even green hydrogen can have more than a very specialised place in a fully decarbonised economy. Hydrogen fuel cells are currently being used for buses, and mass transport is of great importance in decarbonisation. But it seems likely that electric buses will make more sense than using large amounts of renewable energy to produce green hydrogen.
The priority uses for renewable energy are to replace gas and coal in power stations and to heat homes and other buildings with electrically driven heat pumps. It’s possible however that hydrogen will have a roll in transporting heavy loads and in sea transport.”
The main message of this briefing is that the hydrogen + CCS strategy is designed to maintain the profits of the big energy companies and will not achieve the cuts in carbon emissions that are needed. It puts profit before people and planet. There are alternatives that will work.
To decarbonise heat, we need retrofitted insulation, heat pumps and district heating schemes on a mass scale that can only be achieved by the public sector.
Firms producing filthy-dirty “grey” hydrogen must be required to take action to reduce the horrendous levels of greenhouse gas emissions they produce.
Hydrogen use must be limited to applications that are socially useful and don’t add to the climate crisis.
Neil Barnes is lead for Linlith-Go-Solar & Voluntary Trustee of Linlithgow Community Development Trust. In this post he makes the case for a new Scottish Community Energy Partnership. The post raises lots of issues. How do you win hearts and minds? How do you make the links with the immediate issues of fuel poverty and the cost of living crisis? How can community energy deliver renewable energy at the scale that is demanded by the climate crisis? And how does community generation intersect with the need for public ownership and public investment though a national energy company which we at ScotE3 advocate?We welcome responses to all these questions and to Neil’s article.
Have we reached a pivotal moment in our modern history to radically change the course in how energy is developed, delivered and managed in Scotland, the UK and other parts of the world?
Is the case for community-owned renewable energy and storage systems now overwhelming?
Millions more homes across the land have just been plunged into fuel poverty through no fault of their own. Our energy market is broken.
Despite the vast resources of renewable energy at our disposal – particularly solar which globally can provide more than 80 times what we need with existing technologies – we continue to rely on fossil fuels for so much of our energy supply to every rational scientist’s incredulity. In 2021, we used more fossil fuel than at any point in our history. We even set market prices for grid electricity on the price of gas-fired generation for the additional electricity required when renewables are in short supply. A key reason why the terrible invasion of Ukraine has been so damaging – especially the poorest families – as we continue to rely on gas for heating and a significant proportion of our electricity generation in power stations. Even though we know the incontrovertible fact that renewable energy (particularly land wind and solar) is cheaper to deliver. It has been for years.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, we march inexorably to climate catastrophe and the end of a viable biosphere than can maintain life as we know it.
Nevertheless, there is hope.
Did you know that when communities own their renewable energy generating systems, they could be earning as much as 30 times the revenue compared with commercial developers?
Point and Sandwick Trust (Outer Hebrides islands in Scotland) is a case in point, where they earn £170k per MW of wind turbine power installed, compared to £5k, or 34 times the community benefit generated from their wind farm compared to what they would get if led by a commercial developer.
Wind turbine just outside Lerwick image by Pete Cannell CC0
There are now over 1900 ‘official’ or constituted community energy cooperatives across Europe according to REScoop.eu. The majority are not only earning more for their communities than commercially developed systems, but they are also providing ethical investment opportunities for local people and wider populations enjoying decent but ‘ethical’ rates of interest.
What’s more, where they are in power purchase agreements (or PPAs) with building owners or tenants using the renewable electricity (or heat in some instances) they can keep energy prices lower than the National Grid because they have fewer overheads to pay.
Such local energy schemes can also pin any price increases lower than energy inflation whilst undertaking fair and friendly negotiations directly with customers. Beating the general rates of inflation is particularly easy now given the recent and humungous hikes in energy prices. Such eye-watering increases are forcing people to switch off. We’ve heard of householders reopening open coal fires and chimneys, foraging for local wood supplies and even burning furniture and clothes. The authorities and fire services are worried about an increase in domestic fires and fatalities too. This is also making it harder and harder for small businesses to survive. One in seven could go bust.
The winter of 2022 might be like no other in living memory.
Here in our wee town of Linlithgow, West Lothian, in 2019, our local community development trust started a small energy enterprise with big ambitions. Through ‘Linlith-Go-Solar’ we have installed 5 Solar PV systems in 3 local community sports clubs that have cut carbon emissions, reduced electricity costs by at least 15%, and provided an affordable ethical investment opportunity for local people. We now generate a modest amount of surplus that we reinvest into further community benefits, including educational initiatives.
The core of our model is a ‘Power Purchase Agreement’ (PPA). Indeed we all have one of these as bill payers to our utility suppliers. The ‘PPA’ price we charge the clubs for using our solar electricity is below 14p/kWh. It was only raised by 1.8% this year. A fraction of current energy inflation. And we are highly unlikely to see increases beyond that sort of level throughout the 25-year lifespan of the solar panels.
Whereas your domestic and business electricity tariffs are now moving upwards of 25 p/kWh. We have recently heard of a commercial price as high as 61 p/kWh!
Of course, there are many other factors to take into consideration and energy prices are made up of different components that a micro-supplier doesn’t face, such as network charges. But we at Linlith-Go-Solar also had significant upfront development and capital costs that means paying back bond holders with interest, as well as ongoing maintenance, metering subscription, insurance and contingencies, e.g. inverter replacement, before making surplus.
So a like-for-like comparison is still probably unfair to a great degree. Nevertheless, if we consider the vast sums that we as taxpayers and customers have already paid into the National Grid infrastructure and the enormous fossil fuel subsidies that persist, perhaps our comparison might not be wildly outside the realms of logic. Caroline Lucas MP of the UK Green Party has regularly posted on social media that fossil fuel subsidies and tax break in the UK are 9 times the rate for renewable energy. Utter folly.
On the moral front, many in the environmental campaigning sector believe it’s down to sheer avarice, if not corruption, from the large fossil fuel generators. Gas prices were rising before the Russians invaded Ukraine. Watch the recent BBC documentary: “Big oil Versus the World”. The level of disinformation and deception is startling. Rational scientists have been left feeling powerless.
Nevertheless, with the political will and right support at grassroots level, we could begin to turn the oil tanker.
In local community-owned energy projects, the community itself can decide how any surplus can be reinvested back into local community benefits. So not only are we saving carbon, we are making communities more economically resilient. The ‘multiplier’ effect means that each pound reinvested attracts at least another, and spent in the locality, and this will further benefit local people building new projects, services & assets. A social return on investment assessment would no doubt reveal even more added value for communities.
We appreciate the significant strides in greening the UK and particularly the electricity supplying the Scottish National Grid through wind, hydro and solar. It reached 98% last year. So some might question whether the carbon saving is really worth the bother. Given the embedded energy in the National Grid, the fact that in Scotland we still import fossil-fuel fired power when the wind isn’t blowing, and the knowledge that Solar PV panels, for example, will provide at least 4 times, in some cases up to 30 times, the electricity over their useful lifetime of 25 years or more, compared to the energy consumed in their manufacture (and we are not blind to other environmental impacts they might cause in other parts of the world) suggests more carbon will be saved for the foreseeable future. It should also be noted that Solar PV panels are continually improving in efficiency and alternatives, including Perovskite (a potentially more efficient replacement for silicon-based panels), solar film, solar glass and solar car ports now popping up in local neighbourhoods like the one at Falkirk FC Stadium 10 miles from Linlithgow.
Electricity demand is still rising too, around 3% per year on average, especially with the advent of Electric Vehicles, and the exponential rise in sales globally. So for some ‘District Network Operators’, the cost of reinforcing the grid and for generators to build more power stations (and many countries are still blindly bringing new fossil fuel plants online) will be prohibitive. In some places where there are constraints on the grid capacity, renewables and other power generators are forced to inhibit supply when we should be storing the surplus green energy in hydro, heat and electric batteries. This must be part of the new community energy revolution and rapid shift to come.
Scottish Power Energy Networks, who operate and manage the grid transmission and distribution in southern Scotland and elsewhere, even have their own Community Energy Strategy and have invested millions in local embedded community energy projects, including Solar PV, battery storage and green transport because they understand the strong local sustainable economic and environmental case. Linlith-Go-Solar benefited from this through Local Energy Scotland’s astute initiative in the 2nd phase of our enterprise. SPEN have just launched their Transmission Net Zero Fund for local communities, a successor to their successful Green Economy Fund, which community groups, charities and the like can apply for in their transmission area.
Yes, successive governments have provided – now much-lamented – incentives such as the Feed-in-Tariff and the Renewable Heat Incentive, but communities really struggle to find the development revenue to prospect, plan, develop and then ultimately build, own and operate their own renewable energy and storage systems. It’s been the ‘Holy Grail’ of community development of any form for decades and part of the wider local democratic deficit in Scotland in particular. Some believe independence will unleash a new surge in local empowerment. Others are sceptical. When compared to other par” and Lesley Riddock’s seminal book – ‘Blossom’.
Raising capital does not seem to be such a major challenge as experienced in many community renewable energy shares or bond schemes, often oversubscribed, and earning anywhere between 0.5% and 4% interest. The average invested is somewhere in the region of £1500 per investor with some schemes starting at £5 for low income households to be part of this local investment. Some projects like ours – part funded by over £40k worth of community bonds delivered in partnership with Scottish Communities Finance Limited (SCFL) – have deliberately kept interest rates under 1.75%. Firstly, because the nature of our community bonds is that they should not be about making profit as the prime motivation, but helping communities become more carbon-free and resilient through developing locally-owned renewable energy. And we’re pretty disciplined about our small budget ensuring it’s kept well into the black for all eventualities. Furthermore, we are bound by certain rules and regulations by the Finance Conduct Authority to exercise financial discipline so as not to favour the large high-return distant investor. Also, because we want local people to invest in it, sharing the returns far and wide across our community, and at investment purchase levels as low as £50 for a bond, it reinforces that sense of ownership. And in an SCFL survey over 80% say they will invest again. Bonds can also be bought as an ‘eco gift’ for children and grandchildren, creating a legacy for future generations.
The Scottish Government have provided £50 mill over 10 years from the Community and Renewable Energy Scheme (CARES) via Local Energy Scotland – a very supportive scheme – and you can also cite the Climate Challenge Fund, and both south and north of the border there are various funds for communities to tap into to help fund a range of regeneration initiatives and now COVID resilience from the public purse. But it is woefully inadequate, especially when one considers the billions – nay trillions – invested in fossil fuel subsidies globally; or vast amounts given to private companies during the pandemic without due public procurement process or scrutiny. Of course, we sympathised with the terrible predicament the UK Government and public servants were in, attempting to keep us all safe. But when we look back at the money squandered in Test and Trace, PPE contracts and so on, we may just become very irked indeed by the fact that this could have been invested far more sustainably in something as far-reaching and cross cutting as cheaper community energy.
Investing in community energy is apolitical; it cuts across all mainstream party policies. It’s enterprising in the way profits are generated and used as ‘community surplus’ that can be locked into a community. It is cooperative in that it works with the community, often supporting different sites, some more conducive to development than others that could be overlooked to help cut costs, or giving them the option to invest first. It connects strategically with local authorities for use of land and assets, potentially providing rent, planning permission and building warrant and other fees, as well as helping their Climate & Renewables Strategies, or working with different officer experts. It partners with industry and local SMEs for advice, supply of goods, installation, maintenance, monitoring and other innovations. Such activity can boost jobs, education & training opportunities for so many. It can work with fellow communities with lower volunteer and know-how capacity to deliver, or give more benefits to those localities with greater need.
What’s not to like about that?
All things considered, even if you are a local community volunteer, with the passion, hunger and energy, you may become exhausted or disillusioned quickly at the lack of accessible development revenue to employ staff to deal with the mountain of red tape of setting a scheme up. It often takes less than a week to install a small scale rooftop Solar PV system but a whole year to do all the rest! This is a form of modern day madness. It might actually explain a great deal as to why many of us – particularly those in fuel poverty and more worried than ever about their energy bills – have not enjoyed the benefits of ubiquitous renewable forms of energy owned and delivered by their local community. Indeed, the FiT was set up partly to help people in poverty to afford micro-renewable energy systems but failed to deliver. Yet rich landowners and large companies benefited enormously.
The sun provides many more times the – technically capturable – energy we need as an entire planet. This is in the form of existing solar power technologies alone in their various electricity and heat generating forms. So not some fanciful sci-fi movie. Actual, deliverable technologies that right now can power the entire planet in a much cleaner, greener way. Read “10 Short Lessons in Renewable Energy” by Stephen Peake.
The saddest news of all is that scientists, engineers, industrialists, banks, governments and many of us, knew that we should have done this decades ago. The great physicist and mathematician – Arrhenius – knew and lectured about the risk of burning fossil fuels 120 years ago in 1902! His warnings – after studying the effect of thick greenhouse gases on Venus causing surface temperatures over 500oC, above which no carbon-based life like ours or any on our planet can survive – were cast asunder. Now where have we heard that before? There are not too many climate sceptics around now. But unfortunately for my two children and yours, too many are still flying the fossil fuel, or ‘transition fuel’ flag. And the simple matter is, we just don’t need to. We don’t have time to delay either.
The other great opportunity – albeit poorer brother of the ‘renewables bling’ – is energy efficiency. In my 20 or so years in or around the energy sector, I haven’t visited a building yet – new or old – that couldn’t save considerable amounts of energy through simple energy-saving and efficiency measures. And much of it is sheer common sense in simple behavioural or low cost/no cost measures such as draught proofing or basic insulation.
But even those energy efficiency measures can take considerable time, effort and money to pay – preferably local – people to get them done. Or to rely on caring volunteers to help mobilise.
It’s no wonder local volunteers get exhausted trying to support their local folk – never mind those trying to run food banks. Food sustainability is another huge subject and carbon conundrum to explore for our communities, never mind building local resilience through local energy generation. We could marry the two as in other parts of the world developing solar-agriculture.
We should be employing an army of new ‘Green Miners’. Young and old alike to work in local communities with local groups, volunteers, retrofit clubs, charities and SMEs to deal in this new carbon-saving currency in the new community energy revolution.
In our wee toon, we are very keen to have young people at the heart of this revolution. Having reached out to the local academy and young graduates and undergraduates, we are doing our bit to try and engage them and our Young Energy Enterprise Group in real STEM activities to develop their careers. We are still trawling the funding landscape for pennies to invest in our ambitions to employ local folk to do this green stuff, and are also talking closely with fellow community development trusts in our region and elsewhere to lever in this elusive resource. Despite several knock-backs and near misses, we are still trying.
Now it really is up to big government to properly invest and incentivise the community energy sector.
This provides more hope that a more open, accessible grid and talk of potential nationalisation too, could support communities to develop and store energy they own at scale without those often insurmountable connection barriers and costs. Some communities might go off grid altogether.
Want some more inspiration? Watch the documentary film “We the Power – the Future of Energy is Community-Owned”. Two community energy activists in Germany even managed to wrestle the local grid from the regional nuclear power company via a referendum. People power can work.
Yet in Scotland those communities and homes living closer to cheaper, greener renewable energy generating systems, including wind, hydro and solar, are being unfairly penalised. In the Highlands & Islands, fuel poverty is the highest in the UK, perhaps above 80% in some cases, exacerbated by a ‘Highland premium’, a disproportionate number of higher-cost prepayment meters, solid fuel and electric storage heaters and lower temperatures of course. The whole system is topsy turvy and stacked against those communities in greatest need.
The campaign group ‘Power for People’ in the UK have now managed to sign up over 300 MPs for the implementation of their Local Electricity Bill, now progressing through the UK Parliament. If this goes through, it will provide local communities with the freedom, and remove the red tape and regulatory fees and barriers to effectively sell on their renewable energy and energy surplus to each other and their residents via the National Grid. Indeed, our regulator, OfGEM, have been under huge criticism recently for its lack of teeth and nous in failing to prevent some of the energy market failures we have experienced recently and the unprecedented rise in energy prices, whilst it had been warned about the risks faced by smaller utility suppliers entering the market. The energy price cap is a very blunt instrument and lack of innovation in such policy tools and other incentives are key barriers to resolving our energy crisis.
Earlier this year, our very own MP Martyn Day SNP, deposited our wee petition for a new ‘Community Energy Booster’ form the UK Government. Martyn presented the petition and ‘complaint’ to the Houses of Parliament. We did receive a reasonably positive response from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan). There are some funds being put into the mix to support the community energy cause. And they graciously cited the Scottish Government’s CARES scheme too, which we’ve already enjoyed. But it is still way insufficient for the type of support that would kick start a new community energy revolution.
On a more positive note, we had visit from MSP and Minister Mairi MacAllan in July and she was very interested in all our local climate action activity, including Linlith-Go-Solar. We shall continue to impress upon our politicians the need for more support. And we continue to learn from others, including the examples above, the Big Solar Coop with its first live investment opportunity to build community solar systems in England, REScoop, Edinburgh Solar Coop, Local Energy Scotland, Community Energy Scotland & England, Scot.e3, Scotland’s Towns Partnership (over 60% of Scotland’s people live in towns and villages and many could be accelerated towards Net Zero and modes of best practice) and many like-minded communities, some of whom have come directly to us to learn about our modest wee enterprise. This collective sharing can only be a good thing for all. We’re keen to marry our ambitions with mass retrofit schemes including those under the new Scottish Government’s Heat In Buildings Strategy, as well as like-minded communities with community sheds, tool libraries, emerging retrofit clubs, business improvement district schemes to support SMEs, local schools, colleges and universities. The potential for such wholesome collaborations is massive.
Perhaps we need to form – urgently – a new Scottish Community Energy Partnership, made up of energy and non-energy bodies, led by grassroots community representatives, starting with a summit on the future of community energy in 2023, building on our assets and good people with the right values and passion to drive us towards a far more sustainable energy system?
Now, will you join us in the new community energy revolution?
Taking the Fight for St Fittick’s Park to Parliament
THURS, 12 JANUARY 2023 1.30pm
At the Scottish Parliament – Holyrood, Edinburgh
This post is a copy of the call from Aberdeen campaigners
Come and join people from Torry and the Friends of St Fitticks Park, outside the Scottish Parliament to demand the government uses its powers to stop the industrialisation of the last remaining accessible greenspace in Torry, Aberdeen.
Meet and hear directly from the people who will be most affected by the reckless plans. And the why destroying a thriving and much loved greenspace is not the answer for Aberdeen’s, or indeed Scotland’s energy transition.
Why are we at the Parliament?
Time is running out. The minister for Planning, Tom Arthur has until Monday 16th January to use his powers to direct Aberdeen City Council’s new development plan is changed to ensure St Fitticks Park is protected from an unjust corporate land grab in the name of energy transition. For more details visit here: https://saintfittickstorry.com
We need as many locals and friends of the park to demand the Scottish Government acts in the interest of people and not profit.
For those travelling from Aberdeen the Friends of St Fitticks Park will provide free coach travel for the day. Booking details will be released early in the new year, but you can provisionally book places by emailing FriendsofStFitticksPark@proton.me .
Climate activist and ex-offshore worker Neil Rothnie has written this letter to climate justice activists and organisations in Glasgow. It has already attracted some interesting and positive responses. As ScotE3 we’d like to share the letter across Scotland at the beginning of the new year. The letter raises important issues and we’d welcome your thoughts and responses. You can email ScotE3 directly via the contact form – and if you would like to contact Neil use the form and we’ll pass your message on.
The climate justice movement shares a common enemy with striking workers, and with those in our communities facing cold and hunger this winter due to energy price gouging,
A quick look at BP, Total, Shell and Equinor’s profits for the first 3 quarters of this year certainly suggests that it’s inflation, caused largely by the profiteering of North Sea gas producers, that’s driving the strike wave and the cost of living crisis.
Is this not why the climate justice movement should be on every picket line, offering our moral and practical support to striking workers?
Energy price inflation, caused by North Sea gas profiteering, is also set to drive many thousands of people into having to organise against cold and hunger and debt this winter.
Should then the climate justice movement not be thinking about how to help to organise locally, to ensure that everyone has access to warmth and food as the crisis bites?
We don’t need to be endlessly pushing the climate science. The people being forced into struggle today are not contemplating the end of the world, they’re trying to get to the end of the month, warm and fed and without more debt. If they want to know why the climate justice movement is on their side they’ll ask, and then we can tell them why.
The point is surely not just to understand the role of fossil fuels in climate change, but to end the oil and gas industry’s stranglehold on energy production, their profiteering, and the misery this is causing
What then are the slogans that we should take to the picket lines on our placards, and into the communities on posters, to expose the role of the North Sea gas profiteers?
How can we collaborate to encourage grass roots organisation, and resistance to the cold and hunger that North Sea gas profiteering promises?
On 10th December 2022 we held an online public meeting taking a critical look at the way in which the oil and gas industry and governments are using hydrogen as part of a greenwashing strategy that undermines serious progress on cutting carbon emissions.
We’re talking about Hydrogen today because of the current focus on Hydrogen in both the Westminster and Holyrood Governments’ climate policies, and because it’s also the focus of the big energy companies.
We were pleased to welcome the author and activist Simon Pirani as the main speaker. Simon is the author of Burning Up – A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption and has written extensively about the future for Hydrogen in a sustainable economy. He’s also the author of the highly recommended people nature blog
After Simon had spoken we welcomed Ishbel Shand who spoke briefly on behalf of the campaign to save St Fittick’s Park in Torry, Aberdeen from the threat of industrial development, which is said to be necessary for Hydrogen production and storage. Here’s the video of Ishbel’s introduction:
You may also like to read, download or utilise the ScotE3 briefing on the use and abuse of hydrogen.
The introductions were followed by a wide-ranging discussion. Several participants spoke about the importance of linking the cost of living crisis, action against austerity and climate.
One of the questions in the discussion was concerned with hydrogen and transport.
Do you rule out H for ALL transport uses? What about shipping, and heavy road transport – what alternatives are there for these?
In response Simon noted that:
The first options should be reducing the amount of travel: that’s a decision for society to make collectively. It can’t be left to companies who it suits to move stuff around the world cheaply. There are no simple answers to this. A good survey of the options by the Tyndall centre is here.
Another question addressed hydrogen as a means of storing energy. There were a number of responses from participants, including:
My understanding of what engineering researchers write is that batteries, hydro storage (pumping water up a hill and then down again) and other techniques are in most circumstances preferable to hydrogen. There’s also a need for all these technologies to be integrated, with an emphasis on reducing throughput. Neither the oil and gas companies or the government want to talk about this
Pumped storage hydro is the most widely used energy storage technology – in excess of 90%. It requires particular topography – there needs to be an upper and a lower reservoir with a significant distance between them. Scotland has many good sites, but the last plant was built in 1965 (Cruachan).
Another option for storage is to use large scale heat pump technology that could also underpin district heating schemes. The technology is fairly straightforward. It would be flexible and local.
There’s a Finnish company, polar night, that have developed a thermal storage system using sand. An Italian company is using a carbon dioxide “battery” – there are lots of alternatives.
There are also domestic thermal stores using phase change materials, which enables load spreading on a short term basis.
Another question referred to so-called turquoise hydrogen. Simon’s response was:
Turqoise hydrogen, i.e. producing hydrogen from methane pyrolysis. It’s at a very early stage, i.e. in the lab. It might work, might not. The Russian company Gazprom was investing in it 2-3 years back, as they have huge amounts of cheap gas. But obviously this year their business has been sacrificed to the government’s aim of bullying Ukraine, and even if they have made any progress I doubt that we would hear about it.
There was a question about whether steel could be recycled and it was confirmed that it can be, and is, although not on as big. a scale as would be desirable.