Earlier this week I did over a dozen radio interviews in the UK as well as on Sky News and BBC World Television. Among various misconceptions, the strongest was one that fracking is dangerous and there is a history of damage in the US. I use misconception as no one appeared to know of any specific case, although the old liar, liar, taps on fire scenario from Gasland is still widely out there.
One irrational, almost religious as the Prime Minister might put it, widely held popular belief is that renewable energy presents a currently obtainable physically deliverable alternative to carbon fuel. The only thing stopping it is a lack of funding and belief: we can have a carbon free future very shortly if we believe in it strongly enough. There are degrees of course and although some have the notion that 100% green power is here today, many more people appear to believe that we can operate a modern industrial society on various percentages of renewables today. The idea that Germany for example is getting over 50% of it's power from renewables is widely held, even if as the EEX platform demonstrates, the reality on a winter's day is far less and the UK is no different.
Reality intrudes, as it often does, and enters the conversation here via the WWF’s new UK headquarters in Woking Surrey.
In one of the greenest buildings in the UK, we’re showing how it’s possible for people to live in harmony with nature. And we can’t wait to welcome you.
The Living Planet Centre is home to the WWF Experience - an exciting interactive exhibition that brings to life the secrets of the natural world, and the threats it faces. Experience first-hand the sights and sounds of the diverse natural environments which we're working to protect.
As far as European Green organisations go, the WWF is relatively open minded and reality based about natural gas compared to the FoE, Food and Water Watch or Greenpeace. Jenny Banks is open minded enough to be involved with Parliamentary Group on Shale and I've had a number of interesting conversations with Dr Stephan Singer their European Climate Director. I do sometimes wonder if the WWF has morphed from wildlife protection to climate activism without thinking it through and diverting themselves from their key business. Speaking of business, the WWF, as well as running “experiences” that while free probably raise plenty of donations much as any free museums do, appears to be emerging from the chrysalis of wildlife protection and transforming into a monstrous online shop full of cuddly toys.
No one can accuse the WWF of not having their hearts in the right place, nor of walking the talk, and talk they certainly do
Nick Molho, head of climate and energy policy at WWF-UK, said: "At a time when the Government has an important decision to make on our future climate change ambitions and in urging European partners to agree challenging emission reduction targets for the next 20 years, one has to hope that their boundless enthusiasm for shale gas will at least be matched by a similar willingness to rapidly decarbonise the UK's energy system.
The WWF Experience provides an excellent example of environmental best practice through design and construction. No one can accuse the WWF of not lacking the will to make a demonstration project that provides an example, and they don’t seem short of cash in putting ideas into practice:
One of the greenest buildings in the UK
From the underground heat pumps to the solar panels on the roof, we’ve created the greenest building we possibly could.
We want to show that, through the smart use of design, materials and technology, it’s possible to create a state-of-the-art building with minimal environmental impact.
The devil, as it usually is, is in the details. It’s perfectly possible to create a state of the art building and this provides a valuable demonstration project of many achievable technologies:
The Living Planet Centre’s 80m arched diagrid roof features photovoltaic panels for solar energy and extensive glass to maximise natural light. Four specially-designed recycled aluminium wind cowls provide natural ventilation as air circulates through the building. The water management system includes rainwater harvesting and grey water recycling; ground-source heat pumps and ground air heat exchangers (earth ducts) mean less energy is used for heating and cooling the building, and there is extensive use of sustainable technology. All materials used in construction were responsibly sourced and analysed for their embodied carbon; substitutions were made in favour of materials with the least whole life carbon impacts. All wood comes from responsibly managed forests and some of the refurbished technology was originally used to power the London 2012 Olympic Games.
An especially valuable lesson, if perhaps not the WWF's intent, is to demonstrate that in day to day use of keeping the lights on, employees connected and visitors and staff warm and fed, power remains overwhelmingly dependent on fossil fuels:
Predicted electricity consumption – kWh/m2: 26.7 kWh/m2/year for heating, cooling, lighting and hot water, 48.17kWh/m2/year for small power (i.e. appliances)
Predicted fossil fuel consumption kWh/m2 65.17 kWh/m2/year
Predicted renewable energy generation kW/m2 9.7 kWh/m2/year (13%)
I’m in no way mocking the WWF or accusing them of being sanctimonious or affecting piety - exactly the opposite because such a building is not only useful in itself but as a demonstration project, even if one perhaps that the WWF didn't consider. The building provides a valuable object lesson that even with the best of intentions, and the greatest of will, the present day reality is that there is no alternative but to use large amounts of fossil fuels. I’m not in anyway denying that climate change is a great challenge. But it ’s a challenge that needs natural gas as a companion fuel to renewables. How long for depends not only on technology but how strongly the WWF, Greenpeace and FoE continue to shoot the planet in the foot by ignoring coal and their misplaced obsession with the lowest carbon fuel. Opposing all fossil fuels is not best practice in today’s reality - and the WWF have, even if in all innocence, confirmed this. I hope that they draw the logical conclusions from their experience and share them as widely as their other visions.
If I ever wore a hat, a giant tip of it to John Baldwin for bringing this to my attention.