The British Energy challenge arrived at Austin Court in Birmingham on Thursday 11 July where we welcomed representatives from nearby Universities, members of the Council and local energy groups, as well as scientists and local residents curious about the challenge. In partnership with Birmingham City Council our hosts Mark Lynas and David Mackay began to take our audience on a journey to a carbon-free 2050 using the Pathways Calculator (which you can see in action in the British Energy Challenge at Liverpool video).
Once Dr Mackay had given an over-view of the calculator and its versatility the debate was underway. Our Birmingham audience revealed that aviation, freight transportation and hydrogen-powered busses were some of the first energy demand issues they wanted to change. They began their pathway by imposing the most extreme measures for the reduction of emissions from transport, voting for a 100% reduction in CO2 emissions levels by 2050 and half of all road freight changing to electric rail transport.
With a strong interest in energy saving measures in the home, they choose to insulate 24 million houses, reducing heat leaks by 50%, and turning the average thermostat down to 17 degrees. Our audience also voted that 60% of all new built homes would be heated by electricity alone.
As the debate turned towards energy supply, the audience voted to increase nuclear energy production to 30GW, and very keen to see more hydro and wind energy, both off and on-shore. Dr Mackay’s expertise was ready to clarify the consequences and the scope of choices made.
“Does the calculator account for the CO2 used to produce the wind turbines?”
“Is the calculator saying we’re putting demand on other countries?”
“Do we build our wind turbines here or abroad?”
Dr Mackay revealed that a global calculator was possible and that it could provide a perspective on what our impacts might be across the world.
The vote to cover all suitable roof-space with solar panels provoked further questions about how technology may improve in the future. “Does it account for advances in solar PV technology?”
Dr Mackay explained the technological aspect as well as putting the question into a wider context stating that the cost of more efficient solar panels is falling, but also that their effectiveness is always subject to the UK’s temperate weather.
It became apparent that energy saving measures and investment in new technology were only one side of the challenge. The pathway was providing enough energy to sell to European neighbours, but the 80% emissions target was still out of reach and our hour was up.
Dr Mackay ran though some of possible solutions like geo-sequestration – machines which act as ‘artificial trees’ sucking the CO2 from the atmosphere where it is then piped into depleted oil wells and locked safely away. With one possible pathway to a carbon-free 2050 laid out, it became apparent how complex the British Energy Challenge is.