Thursday, February 18, 2016

Fossil Futures

Published as a podcast on iTunes and at on Friday 19th February

I’ve been to see “No Such Thing as a Fish” at Leeds City Varieties. It’s the stage show of a podcast. Watch out for the stage show of this podcast, the Sustainable Futures Report, coming soon to a theatre near you.

In this edition for Friday 19th February 2016 I’m talking about why the new nuclear power staton at Hinkley may never be built and how China is closing coal mines, but the UK is planning to open a new one. PwC is taking the circular route to sustainability - Bridget Jackson tells us how - and Maggie Smallwood is leading Biovale on a similar journey. They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The French are planning to pave a road with solar panels. Why is Queen Street Mill closing, and should we be concerned? But first, Platts London Oil Forum.

Hello, this is Anthony Day with your weekly Sustainable Futures Report, brought to you as usual without advertising, subscription or subsidy. A big welcome to the increasing number of listeners from all over the world.

The Platts London Oil Forum is annual event where oil traders come together to review the market and assess how others see the future for the industry. I attended this year as the guest of James Spencer of Portland Fuels.

Of course, some people might express shock that I have been involving myself with the oil industry. Aren’t we all selling our investments in the oil companies? Don’t we need to decarbonise and abandon fossil fuels? Didn’t people come away from the Paris Climate Conference last year saying that the oil companies were finished? Well if they did, nobody at Platts seems to have heard them.

The truth is that we live in an oil-based economy, and that will continue to be true next week, next month and next year. Yes, we do need to decarbonise all forms of energy and eventually phase out oil completely. But for the moment, every car, bus, lorry, train and aircraft in Britain’s transport fleet, and across the world needs to start up tomorrow morning or the global economy will collapse. The people attending Platts London Oil Forum are the people who ensure that the right oil at the right price is in the right place at the right time, to make sure that there’s fuel for every one of the world’s vehicles. 

The morning started with a review of oil markets by Joel Hanley. This time last year, he said, we were looking at $40-$50 a barrel. Now oil is down to $30 and it's difficult to see which way it's going to move. There was growth in US oil production in 2015 but stocks are up at record levels across the world. Even geopolitics seem to have stopped influencing the market. War in Syria and nuclear tests in North Korea have had little effect. The constant fall in prices is driven by OPEC's overproduction. 

We had an instant poll: will OPEC agree to cut its production in 2016? 76% of people in the room said No.

In the face of low oil prices the industry is in cost-saving mode, cutting capital expenditure and reducing the rig count in the US by 62%. Even so, production remains strong. While some fracking companies have gone to the wall in the US, fracking is generally working well. 
Until the end of last year it had always been illegal to export crude oil from the United States. This has now changed but again, with little effect on world oil prices. At current levels transport costs make this US oil uneconomic for most markets. At the same time, since there have been no crude oil exports from the United States for the last 40 years there is very little suitable infrastructure for getting the oil out of the country.
Global demand for oil continues to rise, although at a slower rate. Demand from China is falling, but remains significant. Diesel cars are losing market share rapidly following the VW scandal. New diesel car registrations in the EU are down by about 5% so far this year. In fact they will be banned from Paris altogether from 2020. Gasoline underpins product demand.

Where will the Brent crude price be this time next year? Another instant poll. 40% said between $45 and $55 a barrel. 30% said between $35 and $45. Maybe such a wide spread indicates that nobody really knows.

It’s only in the last few weeks that sanctions on Iran have finally been lifted and the next instant poll asked whether Iran would be able to regain its pre-sanctions European market share in 2016. 77% said No, which is unsurprising a) because Iran needs the money and b) because it has said that it will not cut its prices. 

This week there have been talks between Saudi and Russia about working together to stabilise the price. Markets have hardly reacted because they know that Russia needs all the oil revenue it can get and it has a poor track record for respecting agreements.

I came away from the event with the impression of a highly complex industry successfully serving a highly complex market. Don’t underestimate the effort involved in matching buyer with vendor and delivering petrol to a pump near you so that it’s always there when you want it. You could almost say there’s no such thing as oil. There’s light oil, there’s heavy oil; sweet oil and sour oil. There’s oil with high or low sulphur content, and high or low content of other chemicals. Then there’s a whole range of issues relating to where the oil actually is, and how it can be transported. Pipelines are one method, supertankers are another, and trains, lorries and barges complete the picture. Can the supertanker access a port near the buyer? Can the ship get through the Panama Canal? Can the train carry enough to keep up with the refiners’ needs? Will a given refinery be able to process a particular grade of crude? All these factors have to be managed to keep the distribution of oil running smoothly. When we do eventually transition from oil to cleaner fuels, the distribution of energy is likely to be every bit as challenging. Possibly more so, because everyone knows what they are doing with oil after many years of practice!

Thanks again to James Spencer of Portland Fuels for the opportunity to see the industry in action.

Green vision, part of the Centre for Knowledge Exchange at Leeds Beckett University, hosted an event on the circular economy at Bradford University. It was held in the Bright Building or re: centre. I’ve been to this building before, for events hosted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. It’s BREEAM Outstanding. BREEAM is Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology, so the building is outstanding in all things environmental. It’s made of hempcrete and timber, and could theoretically be dismantled. It uses natural light and natural ventilation and rainwater harvesting. With a solar atrium and extensive insulation there is little need for a heating system. (Although it has a small one.)

Bridget Jackson, Director of Corporate Sustainability at consultants PwC, explained the firm’s commitment to going circular and how this would potentially involve changing products and services, the supply chain and operations, with the target of decoupling the impacts of operations from growth. They have set themselves three 5-year phases. The targets for the first is to send zero to landfill. For the second, to reuse and recycle 100% of all materials. The final phase is to achieve complete circularity. They are already advancing with re-use and recycling. For example, outdated paper archives are being converted to hand towels. corporate uniforms, which used to be thrown away by the user when they were no longer required, are now taken back - 3,300 of them each year. 30% go to new markets and 50% for industrial rages. Used cooking oil from the staff restaurant goes into a tri-generator combined heat and power unit. Since 2007 they have saved £14.1 million on energy. They send only 1% of waste to landfill. 
The two office buildings in London are BREEAM outstanding; achieved by retro-fit, not new build.

In the 18th December episode of this podcast Tracey Rawling Church of Kyocera explained the concept of servitisation. This is where a consumer purchases the service that an asset provides, not the asset itself. The supplier’s responsibility is to ensure that that asset is providing the contracted service at all times. A classic example is Philips selling guaranteed lumens, light levels, and PwC has servitised its printers and copiers. They are leased and maintained by the supplier who takes them back for refurbishment or recycling at the end of their lives. (Not sure whether they are Kyocera printers.) PwC also uses Interface Floor. This company provides a flooring service based on carpet tiles. If parts of it get worn they are taken away for re-manufacture and replaced.

PwC has adopted the circular path because its clients expect it to walk the talk. They believe it is the right thing to do and there are commercial benefits as well. Apart from energy savings, the firm has saved £1m on the cost of paper. They find that the working conditions attract and retain employees. Of course, this is a very big organisation, and few companies will be able to power their building from waste oil from the canteen, to contract with specialist waste carriers or influence their suppliers. PwC does share its experiences. Search their website for “Going Circular”, the progress report they published last November. And increasingly, as we heard in last February’s episode, Sharing BESST Practice, there are clusters of organisations combining together to achieve the scale where environmental solutions can be viable.

Maggie Smallwood of Biovale was also in Bradford last week. And she’ll be leading a discussion at the Sustainable Best Practice Exchange in Harrogate in April. She spoke about the circular bio-economy. She explained how companies in the Biovale cluster were working on renewable resources and aiming to displace fossil-fuel feedstocks. Exploiting the full potential of materials was an avenue of research. For example, wheat straw has traditionally been thrown away. In fact it contains 75% of the crop’s energy. Straw may be no good for making flour or for animal feed, but it’s an energy resource which has previously been ignored. Biovale exists to build new supply chains and link organisations together to explore every opportunity for extracting value from materials, before finally classifying them as waste. To put things into context, the bio economy is worth £153 billion and employs some 4 million people. Aerospace is worth an annual £80 billion. More about all this in April.

You’re listening to me, Anthony Day, and the Sustainable Futures Report. Still to come: Hinkley Power Station, coal mines in China and the UK, the solar road and Queen Street Mill.

The planned power station at Hinkley C is constantly in the news. Latest word is that the board of EDF, the only company that bid for the contract, cannot raise the finance and is looking for a way out. This in spite of the fact that the Chinese have been persuaded to put up 30% of the money and the government has guaranteed that it will buy the electricity produced at twice the current rate under a 30-year index-linked agreement. The French government owns 82% of EDF and will not let it withdraw. However, with technical problems at Flamanville, where a similar plant is under construction, overdue and substantially over budget there are growing doubts that Hinkley C will ever go ahead. What will we use to fill the energy gap instead I wonder?

According to Bloomberg, China is to stop approving new coal mines for the next three years and continue to trim production capacity by closing 1,000 mines. You will remember that Beijing issued its first red alert for dangerous air pollution at the time of the Paris conference. This has reinforced China’s intention to shift away from coal. It plans to cut coal’s share of energy consumption by nearly 3% in 2016, although it will still be at 62.6%

Meanwhile in the UK the Coal Authority licensing body has backed a plan to build an opencast coal-mine on the northeast coast of England. Over its 7-year life the mine is expected to produce 3m tonnes of coal. According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy, UK coal consumption fell by 20% between 2013 and 2014, the latest year reported. Those 3m tonnes represent 10% of the UK’s consumption at 2014 levels, but only 1.5% per year over the life of the mine. Is it really worth devastating an unspoilt tourist area for just 1.5% of the nation’s coal requirements? We’ll still be relying on the USA, Colombia and Russia for the rest, until we phase out coal power stations as the government plans, in 2025.

Of course 3m tonnes of coal at £33/tonne comes to about £100m. So perhaps that’s got something to do with it. Certainly good for the balance of payments, but not so good for road congestion and air quality in rural Northumberland.

Building on the Climate Accord reached in Paris last December, France’s minister of Ecology and Energy recently announced that it will pave 1000 km of road with solar panels over the next five years. The goal of the project is to provide enough energy to power homes for 5 million people – roughly 10 percent of the country’s population. Do you remember I told you a while ago about a YouTube video on something called Solar Freakin’ Roadways?  It’s still there. Seemed a bit wacky at the time. Maybe it was just ahead of its time.

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” That was said by George Santayana in 1863, and many other people subsequently. I mention it because a piece of history is set to disappear. Queen Street Mill in Burnley is the last surviving 19th century steam powered weaving mill in the world. Queen Street Mill is a Grade 1 Listed building and is designated as having an Outstanding Collection of National Importance, but along with a number of other museums in Lancashire it will close for good at the end of next month. This has been known since last November and I’m amazed that nothing has been done, but there’s a shortfall of some £1.3m due to government austerity policies. There’s a petition on, but it’s struggling to reach 500 signatures. The press has noted that at the same time £60 million of public money is being donated to the new “Garden Bridge” in London, which will serve very little purpose, will be managed by a private company and will be closed to the public for part of the time.

Sustainable Futures is about the future, but I wonder if a future can truly be sustainable if we abandon our past.

And that’s it for another week. I’m Anthony Day. Get in touch with me to talk about planning your sustainable future, or to talk about topics you’d like to see covered in future. Remember to sign up for the Sustainable Best Practice Exchange at - some places still available - and remember that the full archive of these shows, going back to 2007, is at

Bye for now!

3m tonnes coal = 2.1m tonnes oil equivalent or 7% of 2014 consumption

29.5 down from 37.1 (20% fall)

Coal is at £33/tonne ($43/short ton) - value of output is therefore £100m.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Unpacking the Paris Agreement

Published as a podcast at on Friday 12th February


Unpacking the Paris Agreement - Is it enough to limit dangerous climate change? That’s the question that was posed at an event at Leeds University last week. At a meeting of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society this week Professor Paul Rogers of Bradford University broadened the debate to talk about Climate Change and the risk of conflict. President Obama’s commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement has been prejudiced by the US Supreme Court, and after you’ve listened to this, search out The Bottom Line on BBC Radio iPlayer. It covered the UK energy debate in some detail, although a lot of it will be familiar to regular listeners to this podcast.

Supreme Court slows Clean Power Plan

The United States Supreme Court has ruled in favour of 29 states pursuing litigation against President Obama’s Clean Power Plan to regulate greenhouse emissions from power plants. It stated that until the bill was introduced, there was no federal limit to the amount of pollution plants could emit. The ruling has caused some surprise because the Supreme Court acted without a lower court’s initial ruling. The Court was divided 5-4 in its ruling and U.S. media are discussing about “liberal” and “conservative” judges, and hinting at partisanship. The result is that a major part of the president’s carbon reduction commitment is now on hold. If Donald Trump makes it to the White House - “Climate Change? I call it weather” - he could do for the Paris Agreement what George W Bush did for the Kyoto Agreement.


Unpacking the Paris Agreement at Leeds University was sponsored by the Royal Meteorological Society, the Priestley International Centre for Climate Change and the Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy, and it was chaired by Kate Lock. On the panel were Piers Forster, Professor of Physical Climate Change, Andy Gouldson, Professor of Environmental Policy, John Barrett, Professor of Energy and Climate Policy and Harriet Thew, Postgraduate Researcher and Teaching Assistant

Piers Forster is an IPCC lead author. (That’s the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) You may remember him from the episode “Can we trust the IPCC?”, which appeared on this podcast on 10th November 2014, when he explained about all the background negotiations that go on in finalising the text of an IPCC report. He started off the meeting with a show of hands which revealed that the majority of the audience was pessimistic about the outcome of COP21. But he’s an optimist and so is Andy Hilton.

The atmosphere in Paris, they said, was so much better than in Copenhagen - more governments came together than ever before - there was a greater sense of cooperation - the rich nations were working with the poor nations - the agreement provided for ratcheting up the targets and auditing performance. An ultimate target of limiting temperature rises to 1.5℃, not the expected 2℃ was clearly stated. The INDCs, each nation’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution to emissions reduction, would reduce potential global warming to a 2.7℃ temperature increase. Less than hoped for, but countries could under-promise and over-deliver. Andy suggested that public opinion could bring change. He cited the example of toxic emissions in the US. Once they had been publicly shared, public opinion made the operators clean up. The Paris Agreement provides for 5-yearly reviews with the expectation that targets will be tightened each time. It provides for each nation’s performance to be audited.
The agreement might not have been perfect but it was the best deal possible. “12th December 2015 will go down in history”, they said, “as the day the world changed”. 

Harriet Thew was more cautious. COP21 was the third UN climate change conference that she had attended and she didn't detect a very different atmosphere. On the other hand there were many more closed sessions than at previous conferences, and lessons had been clearly learnt to avoid over-promises. There was a wide range of external groups, making their points despite the restrictions of the state of emergency. After the agreement she perceived a whole spectrum of emotions. Extreme optimism from Christiana Figueras and Ban Ki Moon of the United Nations, while others were highly critical claiming that there had been no justice for vulnerable nations and that the finance needed to help them would not be available. They underlined their point by printing a replica of the agreement on a toilet roll. Was it a disappointment that world leaders had signed a bad agreement or was it a triumph that they had all signed something?

John Barrett made three concise points: timing, technology and demand. 
  • Greenhouse gases accumulate over time and persist in the atmosphere, so there is inertia in the system. This means that if we stop emissions now, the emissions already in the atmosphere will continue to have an effect for years to come. Remember that video I mentioned to you a while ago by Alice Bows-Larkin? It was a TED talk.  The point was that the longer we delay cutting carbon emissions the harder it will be to get them down to a manageable level. The longer we leave it, the more carbon emissions will persist in the atmosphere affecting the climate. 
  • John’s second point was that we were over-reliant on technology. Piers Forster had already suggested that we would have to rely on technologies which have not yet been developed. We need to massively decarbonise our electricity supply for example. Carbon capture and storage is an essential technology for this, but it has never been proven to work on a commercial scale.
  • John’s third point was energy demand. He said that we lacked the ability, in the UK at least, to reduce demand. He showed a graph which demonstrated how energy demand had remained constant in the UK for 40 years. However, taking into account the embedded energy in imported goods, UK energy consumption had been steadily rising for years.


In the Q & A session the points which most engaged both the panel and the audience were about UK policies. The U.K.'s Climate Change Act is ground-breaking and its carbon budgets and Climate Change Committee are world-class. However, the present government, with its doctrinaire  belief in shrinking the state, has rapidly dismantled and backtracked on policies since the election. The state could enable research and create the conditions for technological development but it is no longer doing that. It has a laissez-faire approach. It was suggested that officials at DECC and DEFRA were preparing to defend those policies which remain and hoping to hold on until there is a change of government. There’s more than four years to wait! 

The private sector may enter the renewables market when they get to cost parity with other energies, but they are not there yet. There is therefore a clear question over whether renewables industries can survive in the UK. In the face of uncertainties about government policy renewables will be seen as risky, and investors will demand a higher return, making it more difficult for markets to deliver the technologies required. The state needs to support the community towards a low carbon future. A key issue is the development of carbon capture and storage (CCS), essential to the government's commitment to coal and gas. But at the time of the Autumn Statement last year the government announced to the London Stock Exchange that £1bn prize fund for the first company to develop commercial-scale carbon capture and storage was withdrawn. Subsequently Drax Power withdrew from the White Rose CCS pilot plant. With its concentration of power stations, steelworks and chemical plants, Yorkshire was the ideal location for utilising CCS. Not any more, although Andy Hilton suggested that the government was regretting its decision and would reverse it within 6 months. We’ll see.

Government Action

According to the panel the government should restore the feed-in tariff for solar panels for a few more years until cost parity is achieved. Of course that parity could also be accelerated by cutting direct and indirect subsidies to fossil fuels. Heathrow expansion should be cancelled and the carbon floor price should no longer be frozen. The energy market should be managed to achieve its objectives as a provider of heat, light and power, rather than focussing solely on price reduction. Civil society can hold governments account, but the panel admitted that they were unlikely to see people marching on Downing Street in support of feed-in tariffs.

Should we have individual carbon budgets as they do in Switzerland? 60% of household emissions are indirect, in other words they are created by producing the goods and services that consumers buy. The other 40% relates mainly to heating and the use of cars, which consumers control. This could be a regressive tax, penalising poorer people living in badly-insulated homes.

There were questions about geo-engineering. This involves changing climate patterns by launching mirrors into space, sowing the seas with iron filings to stimulate carbon-absorbing plankton, creating artificial clouds to reflect sunlight or other ingenious - and highly expensive - strategies. The problem with that is that no-one can predict the side effects, so the risks are really too great. 

Should we give up meat and dairy products? Global emissions from livestock farming account for 15% of the total, equivalent to the emissions from all forms of transport. According to a graduate student in the audience, a meat free diet would limit global warming by 0.25°C. A healthy diet–not specified–would produce a 0.2°C reduction.

Awareness of climate change in the UK is poor, because we are generally unaffected by it. The good thing about the recent floods - a bad thing themselves - was that they did make people start to think that climate change might be important. Education is needed - at all levels. The Paris Agreement specifically mentioned it. It should start in primary schools, where children are already forming their ideas and beliefs.

What next?

And finally, what did the panel think we should do next?

  • Piers Forster: We should cut our vehicle emissions by giving up our cars
  • Andy Gouldson: We should write to our MPs and demand that the government meets its carbon budgets by investing in Carbon Capture and Storage
  • Harriet Thew: We should urge the government to implement Article 12 of the Paris Agreement about Climate Change Education in Schools
  • John Bartlett: We should be positive about the Paris Agreement. Don’t reject it because it’s not perfect.

What are you going to do?

Climate Change and the Risk of Conflict 

This was the title of a presentation to the Yorkshire Philosophical Society by Paul Rogers, professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University. He believes that the 100 years from 1945 to 2045 could be the most significant century in human history for two reasons. First, 1945 marked the introduction of nuclear weapons of mass destruction. This went on to the Cold War with proliferation of nuclear warheads. Although we have survived, more by luck than wisdom, and the numbers of nuclear weapons have now diminished, there is still a significant threat. And new biological weapons are potentially just as deadly. Secondly we are approaching the limits of global resources and an environmental disaster.

He went on to tell us how he had worked with senior members of the military and of the security agencies. These were people of great ability charged with protecting the state. They had no responsibility for addressing the underlying causes of threats to the state and their success in protecting the security of the nation leads politicians to underestimate the true scale of problems. Problems most frequently reported by relief agencies in developing countries are problems of climate change. Problems from floods or droughts which devastate agriculture and lead to starvation. Starvation which leads to migration. He cited a controversial film made by the BBC in 1990 called The March. You can find it on YouTube.  It’s the story of refugees fleeing starvation and attempting to reach Europe. The migration problem that we have today is far smaller and driven by war, not by climate change. 

Climate Change

There is no doubt that climate change is a reality. In northern Europe spring comes three weeks earlier than it did 40 years ago and winter comes later. Globally, weather events are more violent. In some areas rainfall patterns over land are declining. As a result agriculture is affected and many farmers cannot survive. Climate change is accelerating after a relatively stable period of six or seven years. 2014 was the hottest year on record until 2015 proved to be hotter still. The scenario in the film, as refugees flee from famine, could be played out in reality. In the film, Europe had no clear plan to handle migrants. And today our government is more concerned to keep migrants out than to address the causes of migration. 


Another problem facing the world is growing inequality. 80% of the world’s population does not share in global economic growth. The divide between rich and poor is rapidly becoming wider in both developing and developed nations. In China, for example, 150 million people enjoy a lifestyle equivalent to the British middle classes. The other 90% do not. In the professor’s view the world economic system is no longer fit for purpose. He told us about Tunisia. This is a country moving towards democracy with an educated population but serious inequality. More people leave this country than any other in order to join the Taliban, Isis or similar groups. The reason is frustration at unfulfilled aspirations. As people become more educated and yet see themselves excluded from a fair share of the world's wealth they will either try to move to other countries or resort to violence. 


Then there’s the issue of resources as the world’s population grows and life-style expectations increase. The book, Limits to Growth, was published in the Seventies. I’ve mentioned its sequel, The 30-year Update, in previous episodes. Now New Scientist magazine has produced a 40-year review. The methodology was sound. On present trends we will have serious resource problems in the 2020s.

Despite all this Paul Rogers sees grounds for cautious optimism. Renewable technologies are developing rapidly. The Paris Climate Change conference has raised the profile of the climate change issue. While progress was blocked for 8 years by the Bush administration and by energy-dependent Russia, Canada and Australia, the governments have changed in all those countries, except Russia. (But see comments about Donald Trump, above.) We have the ability to solve the problems, but at the moment we do not have the political will. As a member of the audience said: things will not change until the effluent hits the affluent. When a serious and urgent problem is clearly presented then governments will act. At least 10,000 people died in the London Smog of 1952. The government brought in the Clean Air Act. When the British Antarctic Survey discovered the hole in the Ozone Layer the world rapidly signed the Montreal Convention to ban the gases that were causing the damage.

I can’t help thinking that if it had been the Thames Barrier in London that failed on Boxing Day, and not the Foss Barrier in York, government reactions would have been very different.

Professor Rogers said that it’s all about aspirations. Reducing inequality and taking action to address these problems is simply a matter of enlightened self-interest for those who have the power.

Didn't somebody say that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance? I think you could argue that the price of survival is much the same.

And that’s it for another episode of the Sustainable Futures Report. Don’t forget, booking is open for the Sustainable Best Practice Exchange via Updates on Twitter @sbpe16.

Next time I'll bring you news from the London Oil Forum and from the re:gen centre in Bradford.

Don’t miss it! And with comments, questions or ideas, please do get in touch via

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Let there be Light!

Published as a podcast on Friday 5th February 

My guest on today’s Sustainable Futures Report is David Emslie of Novalux LED. He explains how much money you can save by changing your lighting. Before that, we consider a world in transition. Are we truly transitioning away from fossil fuels? Jeremy Leggett thinks so. Moody’s, the ratings agency, seems to think so. There’s still no clear picture on the oil price, there’s confusion on environmental policy in Australia, the Hinkley C - EDF - Areva nuclear power station saga goes on. On the other hand investors  are beginning to see opportunities coming out of COP21 for developing the world’s energy infrastructure - maybe as much as $13 trillion. I’ll throw some light on that.

Jeremy Leggett completed his book, The Winning of the Carbon War, with his account of the COP21 Paris conference. He came away optimistic and he’s continued to chronicle the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy in his blog at He tells us that the low oil price has forced the 40th North American driller into bankruptcy and Arch Coal, America’s second-largest coal miner, has filed for bankruptcy as well. On the other hand, the US solar industry now provides more jobs than oil & gas extraction: more than 200,000 in 2015, a 20% increase from the previous year, amounting to more than 1% of all American jobs.

Oil giant BP released its fourth quarter and full-year earnings on February 2, reporting a $6.5 billion loss for 2015, the worst result in decades.It also said that it would slash another 3,000 people from its payroll by the end of 2017 from its refining unit, which comes on top of the 4,000 job cuts the company announced in January for its exploration and production division. BP’s share price plunged by more than 9.5 percent in the hours after it revealed its dismal figures.

Brent Crude was at $56/barrel in October, but had halved to $28 last month. Today it’s at $35; maybe more by the time you hear this. Is it back on the way up? Pundits and tipsters claim it will reach $80 by June this year, but how do they know? If it does go up it will make renewable energy far more competitive.

Just a footnote on the planned nuclear power station at Hinkley C. Both Reuters and the Bridgwater Mercury have picked up the ongoing story. Aveva, the French nuclear construction company hovers on the brink of bankruptcy while the nuclear inspectorate determines whether flaws in the reactor vessel of the plant under construction in Flamanville will mean it has to be replaced. Until that is settled it is going to be impossible for parent EDF to commit to a start date for Hinkley C. The inspectors are not expected to have an answer before the end of this year.

Others are drawing positive conclusions from the result of COP21.

Writing in Investment and Pensions Europe Raj Thamotheram says that for investors, the conclusion should be forceful stewardship. Post COP21, investors should be requiring companies to publish and implement their 2°C transition plans. This will create real demand for renewables and catalyse the energy transition. Of course, this depends on getting fund managers to engage but this is possible using resolutions at annual general meetings where votes are public. Raj Thamotheram is CEO of Preventable Surprises and a visiting fellow at the Smith School, Oxford University

A report from global ratings agency Moody’s suggests that there could be more than $50 billion in green bonds issued this year as the world builds on the momentum generated at the Paris conference. They believe the outcome is likely to motivate record levels of green bond investments this year as companies and governments adopt clean energy strategies, cut carbon use and increase the share of renewable energy. reports that to meet growing demand in emerging markets for electricity, up to $13 trillion will need to be invested between 2015 and 2040. This is the conclusion of a report issued by the World Economic Forum and consultancy Bain. Following agreements at COP21, they say, about what is required to meet the 2.0C limit, or the possible 1.5C limit, countries can now start to create the stable environments required to meet investors’ expectations. 

Generally good news, then, but Chris White in picks up mixed messages. Australia plans to end its green energy fund at the end of the year despite the country’s prime minister championing anti-global warming measures. At COP21 Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who ousted his global warming skeptic predecessor Tony Abbott in 2015, backed calls to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees. At the same time Australia is still opening coal mines and planning new railways and port expansion in the Great Barrier Reef area to ship it out.

Now, who wants to save some money? I’ve got a man here who can help you. 

Just before we get to that, did I mention the Sustainable Best Practice Exchange? It takes place in Harrogate on 14th April. As you know, the Sustainable Futures Report is brought to you without advertising, subsidy or sponsorship, so please allow me a plug for my conference. You’ll find full details on the website at It’s a major event for businesses and public organisations across the North of England. Meet the people behind the real Northern Powerhouse; learn from them, discuss with them and share your expertise and experience. We’re adding new speakers to the line-up all the time. Full details on the website at   

And now, a conversation with David Emslie of Novalux LED Ltd, but to hear it you'll have to link to the podcast via

David explained how LED lights have developed over the last few years. They save significant amounts of electricity over "low-energy" lights and a typical installation with a life of more than 10 years can pay for itself in about 2 years.

You can contact David at 

Before I go, let’s visit the Wacky ideas department. Well it sounds wacky, but it seems to be working. It involves storing energy in balloons. Underwater balloons.

According to, Canada’s Hydrostor has developed a creative energy storage solution that is half the cost of the best battery technology and lasts twice as long. This clean energy startup is storing energy as compressed air and then housing the air underwater inside giant balloons. Though it sounds ridiculous, the idea is efficient at energy storage, and an environmentally friendly, zero-emissions solution.
Cleantech startup Hydrostor designed and is now partnering with Toronto Hydro to operate the world’s first underwater compressed air energy storage system. Located 3 kilometres off the shore of Toronto Island, a series of underwater balloons containing compressed air are submerged under 55 meters of water and connected to Hydrostor’s power facility via a pipe. The facility currently is being used to store excess energy from Toronto’s existing power grid during non-peak times. It also can be adapted to store energy from renewable energy sources such as wind or solar power, providing the ability to store energy during peak energy generation times to compensate for the occasional downtimes.

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And that’s it. This is Anthony Day and another Sustainable Futures Report draws to a close. This week I went to an event at Leeds University called “Unpacking the Paris Agreement: Is it enough to limit dangerous climate change?” I’ll tell you all about that next time.