...a blog by Richard Flowers

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Day 2248: MILLENNIUM'S MANIFESTO: Green Power – It's The Future


Mr Tristan asks – with some justification – that I make sure that my plan is for PROPER green power, not just power stations painted green!

He is RIGHT.

We should stop being all DOOM MONGERS too. We do not want people to be put off!

The ability to take advantage of naturally renewed sources of energy shouldn't be a burden heaped upon us by the fear of climate change, but the most exciting new opportunity in a hundred years!

We should seize this opportunity right now to get a head start on THE industry of the new millennium.

We need to have a plan that will lead the world and transform the way we make our power.

This means both direct government investment in some of the really big projects, and also using the tax system to give people incentives to go green. Yes, that means skewing the market a bit – tilting the table towards our favoured outcome.

People can get too excited about things like CARBON CAPTURE – which is one way of painting our current power stations green – but that is really just burying the problem. Literally. It is a very typical solution – hide the problem somewhere a long way away and hope it disappears. Like building taller chimneys for clean air or dumping sewage further out at sea for clean beaches, it is a problem that will come back to haunt us in the end.

Instead, the twenty-first century is when it all has to change – the industrial revolution was the CARBON revolution, the age of power from coal and oil. We have to leave the carbon economy behind now, and start a new revolution, a HYDROGEN revolution, generating power no longer from finite resources but from elemental powers of the wind and the sun.


Britain is exceptionally lucky in that we are amply provided with open windy landscapes and seas well able to support extensive wind farming. Why should we even be thinking about buying in gas from Russia or nuclear power from France when we have it within our grasp to generate limitless free clean green electricity?

People's main complaints about wind power are that the wind doesn't always blow when you want the power; the machinery is expensive and not as efficient as comparable conventional power stations; and they are an ugly blight on the landscape.

In the first place, the wind is not nearly so unpredictable as people suggest, particularly at sea, and anyway the answer is obvious: storage.

Storage: 1 large scale - Hydroelectric
    Use off-peak electricity to pump water up to higher reservoirs where it can quickly be released to drive turbines to create extra power for additional demand at peak times, like Dinowig Power Station, Llanberis, Wales.

    These are huge scale projects, requiring government investment, but the rewards in jobs and energy security will last for lifetimes. There are plenty of mountains in Wales and Scotland where additional energy reservoirs could be built, with the additional benefit of seeing the government invest in the regions.
Storage: 2 small scale – Hydrogen Fuel Cells

    Use platforms floating out at sea, no longer to mine for oil but to gather wind energy and use it to split sea water into oxygen and hydrogen.

    Liquid Hydrogen is no more dangerous than the petrol that we use at the moment, and when used in a hydrogen fuel cell (or even just burnt) gives off clean water as the only by-product. (It doesn't even use up extra oxygen, because you released an equivalent amount of oxygen when you made the hydrogen in the first place!)

    Hydrogen powered cars already exist and even if they are not yet as efficient or convenient as conventional petrol driven ones it can only be a matter of time and investment. We need to make hydrogen refuelling available with the convenience of petrol refuelling so that people who want to buy hydrogen cars will have that choice. Once we have overcome the "barrier to entry" of the hydrogen car it will compete with the petrol car and then the market will drive the industry to produce better more efficient models.

    And remember, if we are making OUR OWN Hydrogen in the North Sea, then we aren't paying a fortune for our petrol to some barely post mediaeval Middle Eastern dictatorship in the middle of the Monkey-in-Chief's war zone.

As for the aesthetic argument… Anyone who has seen a field of majestic wind turbines turning on the horizon must realise that they are far more attractive than the alternative. No, I don't mean a nuclear power station, hideous dangerous concrete cubes though they are, I mean huddling around a candle in the dark because President Putin is in a bad mood with us this week and has turned the gas taps off.


While modern solar cells are so much more efficient that it makes investment in micro-generation a serious possibility for houses up and down the country, we have to admit we just don't get enough sunshine in Britain to make large scale solar generation worthwhile.

But there are large parts of the Earth where that isn't true, particularly Saharan regions of North Africa, and – especially if global warming carries on – much of Southern Europe.

Looking to create partnerships for investment in those countries where sunlight is abundant should be a top priority, enabling them to turn unproductive land into a valuable "cash crop" of electricity.

Work and trade have always been the Liberal answer to poverty around the world – and it works! Access to the markets of the European Union has transformed the likes of Spain and Greece not just into vibrant modern economies but also free, open, democratic societies, and is already having the same effects in Poland and the Baltic.

A fair trade means both sides benefit, and means that we have an investment in supporting each other. Rather than seeking to barricade out the people of Africa, we should be giving them the opportunity to make their own countries as rich and free as we are in Europe. Africa should be the richest continent in the world, not the poorest.

And diversifying our suppliers of energy has got to be good for security too – if one breaks down, then not only do we have a back-up but hopefully they can help each other too. And strengthening the ties of trade and support between different countries helps with another sort of security too.

Entrenched poverty is a breeding ground for the terrorists who plague our world; limited resources make it easy for dictatorships to control those resources. We can give people the opportunities to get themselves out of poverty, rather than relying on our handouts forever. It is the "give a man a fish/teach a man to fish" principle on a larger scale.


These should be by no means the limit of our green policies. These are "big ticket" items, eye-catching initiatives to get people excited and get people thinking, they are "what is a Liberal Democrat Government for" answers.

We should not forget all of the things that we can do personally and locally, from low-energy light bulbs to recycling to improving cycle paths.

Now go and put some GREEN ACTION on a Focus Leaflet!


Tristan said...

The pumped storage station at Dinorwig is great. They carved out a massive hole in the mountain to put all the bits in. Its very cool to look round.

Fuel cells are also becoming much better and safe ways to store hydrogen are being developed.

We also have lots of waves, they can help us too.

What would be really cool would be to try and create photosynthesis to create energy from the excess CO2 in the atmosphere and convert it to oxygen and carbon to use in other things.

And not to worry about skewing the market, if its proper pigouvian tax then its merely correcting the market a bit.
The other thing which will help is the rising price of oil, which will slowly rise from now on I think.

Roger Thomas said...

Dinorwig is great. I remember doing an energy conversion flow chart of the entire process which included Transfynedd, if thats how you spell it, nuclear power station. Anglesey Aluminium was good also to complete the tour.
I've been working on that photosynthesis thing. Do you think Branson will give me the $25 million if I send him an acorn.