Why Can't the USA be as Energy Green as Europe?
America Takes a Backward Step
I was appalled to hear that America will start to increase coal production in preference to switching to Green Energy. Unlike Europe, who are doing the reverse and investing in renewable energy rather than being dependent on fossil fuels.
America Turns its Back on Renewables
USA vs UK Policy on Coal Production
67% of America’s electricity generation in 2016 was from burning coal.
In contrast, UK government policy since the 1980s is to reduce coal production, leaving 200 years of coal reserves in the ground; which to me, as someone who is not a natural green, almost seems like a waste of good natural resources.
However, I do find it magnanimous that, unlike some countries including Australia, China and America, Britain is turning its back on coal reserves in preference for cleaner energy and a healthier environment:-
- In 1990 67% of Britain’s electricity was produced from coal,
- In 2014 it was 30% and
- By 2016 it was down to just 22%, and
- In 2017 is averaging at about 2% (with the last coal power station scheduled to be closed in 2025).
I am sceptical of some of the Global Warming claims. I think Climate Change (includes nature as well as human impact) is a more appropriate label; albeit the issues are just as real, and we still need worldwide action to better protect our planet and the environment.
How Green Are You?
I'm Not a Natural Green
I'm not a Green fanatic. It's not in my nature, and I like my home comforts too much:-
- I find recycling household waste an inconvenience, and
- I haven't yet replaced all the old tungsten light bulbs around our home with more energy efficient lighting.
In the UK the penalty for not recycling household waste is £1,000 ($1,500). We’re required to put different types of waste into different boxes for weekly collection. Not having room in our kitchen for all the recycle boxes I’ve built a wooden bin outside our kitchen backdoor for storing them. I wouldn’t mind quite so much except for during the winter months it's rather inconvenient letting cold air in each time I open the backdoor to put waste out.
Although it does add to the electricity bill, I am still quite wasteful around the home by leaving things on which I could easily switch off. Albeit thanks to the energy usage monitor I use (a precursor to the smart energy meters) I am aware of where I and my family are wasting electricity. It does make us more energy concise, so we are beginning to switch things off more often.
The smart energy meters, currently being rolled out to every home in the UK by 2020 for free, comes with a display unit that sits in your living room; making it perfectly clear to you where you're using electricity and gas, and how much it's costing you.
Free Smart Meters For Every UK Home By 2020
In spite of not being a natural green I can’t help but notice the positive impact of Green policies, and I have become increasingly impressed with the great achievements being made across Europe.
For example, Bristol (where I live) and other counties in England have now become zero waste to landfill e.g. all recyclable household waste is now recycled, and non-recyclable waste is burnt to produce electricity.
In recent years I have become keenly interested in what Europe and the rest of the world is doing to become energy efficient. Having had my eyes opened to what can be achieved if the political will is there, I am disappointed that many industrialised countries around the modern world are dragging their feet. Especially when Europe has proven through its actions how green energy can create new employment opportunities and boost economic growth.
Therefore I am proud that Europe is leading the way, and in this article I aim to highlight some of the European green polices and achievements; as a showcase of what is possible when the political will is there.
Europe’s 2010 Vision
The EU’s energy vision originally launched in 2010 is straightforward enough.
A simple plan to meet or exceed specified targets of renewable energy in a specific time frame:-
- 20% by 2020
- 30% by 2030
- 80% by 2050
The EU's 2030 Green Energy Targets
Europe Already Ahead of Schedule
Since the launch of its green and renewable energy strategies in 2010, Europe has been beavering away to make our planet a greener and safer place to live. So much so that several European countries are already producing near 100% of its energy from renewable sources e.g. Germany, Denmark and Scotland. Even Britain exceeded its 2020 target of 20% in late 2016.
EU Takes Action While USA is in Denial
Europe’s Renewable Energy Growing Exponentially
There doesn’t seem to be a single source of data presented in simple terms to make direct comparisons. There’s a wealth of technical data available, but much of it tends to be in units of power rather than percentages, which makes it more difficult for a layperson like me to digest.
Therefore I’ve compiled some data from just three European countries to give a glimpse of the rapid growth of green renewable energy in recent years.
Percentage of Electricity Generated From Renewable Energy
The figures above are rather patchy, and over simplified; but it does give a flavour of the quiet revolution in renewable energy that is sweeping across Europe.
The other difficulty in trying to pinpoint accurate data for comparison is the rapid growth in renewables in countries like Scotland and Germany; even within just one year the increase can be dramatic.
For example, Germany’s renewables in 2014 climbed from less than 27% to over 30%, and Scotland’s renewables increased by over 15% between 2014 and 2015.
Denmark to Become 100% Renewable Energy
Even Britain, with a Conservative Government who are not renowned for being green, have exceeded their European target three years ahead of schedule.
Also, there are still plenty of projects in various stages of planning and construction to further increase green energy production. One of the more ambitious plans, recently approved by the Government, being the proposed Severn Barrage Tidal Power Generator; which when built could meet up to 5% of Britain’s energy needs.
Unfortunately (unlike Germany) England and France still consider nuclear power to be clean; so it’s not all good news.
Smart Power Grid UK
UK Home Owners Paid to Produce Electricity
I know similar schemes exist across the world (even in America), and in Germany it’s been key to their green revolution; although I don’t know how the schemes differ from country to country.
All I know is that in Britain, by having solar panels on your roof, you get paid generously for every kw of energy generated; regardless to whether it gets used; and then you get paid a further premium for any surplus electricity feed into the national grid.
The video below explains how the scheme works; I would be interested to hear in the comments on how this compares with any such schemes in your country.
UK Solar Feed-in Tariff Explained
I’m rather proud of Bristol (where I live) and its green achievements in recent years. Bristol is governed by Labour with the support of the Greens; two left wing socialist parties who are green by nature. Under their Administration, the green achievements in Bristol includes:-
- Becoming the Green Capital of Europe in 2015 (a prestigious award)
- Achieving zero waste to landfill; all waste that can be recycled is, and everything else is burnt to generate electricity.
- Producing green gas from human sewage; part of which is used to run a fleet of 100 public buses with the rest being fed into either the gas or electricity national grid.
Small Power plants in Bristol and elsewhere in the UK that produce gas from feeding anaerobic bacteria on waste have (dependent on greatest need) the option to either:-
- Feed the gas into the gas national grid for domestic heating, or
- Generating electricity to fed in the national grid for the supply of electrical power.
In this respect, when the National Grid control and command centre asks for electricity, it can be supplied on demand. Otherwise the gas can be pumped into the gas national grid, and if not immediately needed piped to storage tanks in Northern England.
Every part of Europe plays its role in energy production. One issue with renewable energy is finding ways of storing surplus energy, which can then be made available when needed.
Some systems already exist; like the Wale’s Electric Mountain low cost solution, which has been operational since 1984. Although to meet future needs there are countless schemes and technologies being researched and developed across Europe for efficient and cost effective storage of energy.
To meet the increasing demand to switch from fossil fuels to green energy, the British Government recently approved the construction of an ambitious tidal lagoon in Swansea, Wales; which when operational could generate up to 5% of Britain’s electricity needs.
Tidal Lagoon in Wales to Meet 5% of UK's Energey Needs
I’m particular impressed with Scotland because although they are sitting on huge reserves of fossil fuels, the socialist Government is pushing for Scotland to be green.
Scotland is ruled by a very progressive left wing socialist government who are intent on investing in green policies in preference to fossil fuels.
Scotland is sitting on:-
- 62.4% of Europe’s oil reserves
- 12.5% of Europe’s known gas reserves, and
- 69% of the UKs coal reserves.
Renewables in Scotland
Just like Scotland, Germany is one of the most innovative and successful countries worldwide for producing green renewable energy.
Nuclear power accounted for a quarter of Germany’s energy needs in 2010. However, following the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and Japan’s nuclear accidents in 2011, Germany has now all but stopped nuclear power production. All remaining nuclear power stations are scheduled to be decommissioned by 2022.
Germany's Renewable Energy Revolution
Main Sources of Renewable Energy Across Europe
Most of the production of renewable energy in Europe comes from:-
- Wind power
- Wave power
- Tidal power
- Hydro-electric power
- Solar power
- Biomass e.g. producing energy from bacteria eating waste
- Biofuels, and
- Micro systems e.g. solar and geothermal energy
2016 Germany Meets 93% of its Energy Needs from Renewables
Energy Sharing Across Europe
Each country within Europe has its own national power grid; which is pretty impressive in itself. The National Grid command and control centre in Britain constantly monitors electricity usage across Britain 24/7, and will take power from wherever it’s available to pipe it to wherever it’s needed at a moment’s notice.
However, to ensure continuity of power you need it to be available when needed. One of the main problems with renewable energy is that it's supply tends to be less predictable than conventional power stations e.g. wind and sun. Also, most of the wind is in northern Europe while the vast bulk of the sun is in southern Europe.
To overcome these issues, Europe is at an advanced stage of connecting all the individual national grids into one gigantic pan-European grid; called the Energy Union. So in future surplus electrical power can be directed across Europe to wherever and whenever it’s needed.
European Wide Energy Union
European's Solutions to Energy Storage
Part of the European strategy for sharing surplus energy is storage and distribution to meet demand wherever and whenever required. This is particularly important in that wind and solar power is so dependent on the weather that it is variable and unpredictable.
Numerous innovative solutions are being researched, developed and implemented across Europe, including battery storage; although I think hydropower offers some of the simplest and well tested solutions.
A number of hydroelectric power plants already exist across Europe, in places like the Alps, and the Electric Mountain in Wales (mentioned above). These provide an invaluable service to help maintain durability and resilience to the supply of energy.
To make this service event more resilient one of the more recent projects under construction is the connection of Norway to the pan-European energy network (Energy Union); taking advantage of its natural green and renewable hydropower energy resources. Once Norway is integrated into Europe’s energy grid it could have the potential to supply up to 50% of Europe’s additional energy needs during times of peak demand.
Norway’s Energy Storage for Europe
Europe as a whole is committed to being world leaders in renewable energy, and aims to be at least 80% (if not 100%) self-sufficient in green energy by 2050.
As with the UK, Scotland, Denmark and Germany, success across Europe in meeting these targets is remarkable. It clearly demonstrates anything is possible if the political will is there.
I just wish that America, China and other world leaders would take a leaf out of Europe's success at becoming green, and follow in our footsteps.