Edtior's Blog: Green power

Posted: 30 June 2009

As the world graph of greenhouse gas emissions keeps on rising and entrenched fossil fuel lobbies are fed millions of dollars to scupper radical clean-up measures, it is easy to overlook the quiet progress that is being made to step up the transition to a renewable energy future.

In only the last few weeks our website has carried a series of stories on wind power and other green energy projects, which show just how quickly these industries are scaling up to make a real impact on the problem.

Offshore windfarm, Scroby Sands
Offshore windfarm, Scroby Sands
Offshore windfarm, Scroby Sands, off Great Yarmouth. Similar generators will be used for the London Array.
Most recently the United Kingdom, already the leading offshore wind power, has seen agreement to go ahead with the London Array, the world's largest offshore wind farm in the Thames Estuary, potentially able to power a quarter of Greater London's homes. At the same time, Europe's largest on-shore wind farm was turned on in Scotland near Glasgow (see Europe's largest on-shore wind farm turned on). Already able to meet all of Glasgow's electricity needs, it is due to expand by another third. Meanwhile, plans were lodged to build a huge community-owned 150-turbine scheme in Shetland. Both projects form part of the Scottish government's aim to generate 31 per cent of Scotland's electricity from renewable sources by 2011 - a target that has already been exceeded - and 50 per cent by 2020. This is encouraging, but as Friends of the Earth has pointed out much more needs to be done to tackle the barriers to green energy development in the UK, including accessible finance and a new offshore super grid.

Globally, the Worldwatch Institute's Vital Signs publication has reported that 2008 saw the fastest growth ever in wind power, with a 29 per cent increase in installations (see Wind power installations up 29 per cent in 2008). Such exponential growth is a significant example of the potential of green energy to lower the demand for fossil fuels and combat climate change. Though the United States and Europe led this growth, adding more renewables than conventional power (see More renewable than conventional energy added in EU and USA), China is also stepping up its drive for green energy, as Kari Cameron reports from Beijing (see China steps up drive for green energy). The Chinese government plans to generate 10 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by next year, and 15 per cent by 2020. And once again the importance of government policy is paramount, with the roots of China's push for green energy resting in the 2005 law which gives incentives such as fixed tariffs and carbon credits to renewable energy companies. For China, clean energy is not a luxury but a 'necessity for survival' as Chris Flavin of Worldwatch points out.

In fact green energy and green living is essential for the well-being and survival of our civilisation and for everyone in our crowded world. As the United Nations has reported, a green economy could generate many millions of jobs in renewable energy, buildings, construction, transport, basic industries, agriculture and forestry (see Green economy could generate millions of jobs). Already, China employs 600,000 in solar thermal enterprises, while in South Africa 25,000 previously unemployed people have found work as part of that country's 'Working for Water' initiative. But, once again, the UN report finds that green markets have thrived most "where there has been strong and consistent political support at the highest level, including targets, penalties and incentives." That and a decisive agreement at the year-end Copenhagen climate convention meeting are what are needed.

John Rowley

PS: The Climate Change Overview and Factfiles sections of this website have now been re-written and updated, with maps, charts and other illustrations. Click here to check these out.