wwfEarlier 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.

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  • John Baldwin

    It's not unlike Lush who have 9 factories in Poole that are all supplied with gas from Wytch Farm (including some fraccing!) and have been for 20 years<br /><br />Some of the anti fraccing protesters who appear in The Fylde, in a Balcolme, Salford and Gainsborough - the same people - do they have gas central heating? Do they drive cars with IC engine?<br /><br />A bit less hypocrisy and a but more focus on getting off coal and dirty diesel would be a good idea.

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  • Mark W Tebbutt

    So let’s get the premise of the argument right because grid power is not 100% renewable and the WWF building still uses some grid power then the WWF building is a failure? The building will even when powered with 85% fossil fuel generated grid power still produces less green house gases than if the building was directly heated by gas boilers.

    That’s the key Nick we need to decarbonise power generation by using all cheapest low carbon (no unabated gas is not low enough carbon) forms of energy available. Solar PV will be at grid parity in the UK around 2019. Onshore Wind and Solar and is already starting to outcompete fossil fuels for grid scale power generation in the sunnier parts of the world such as the US and especially in sunny Texas. “Texas utility chooses solar, claims it will be ‘coal free’ by 2016” link

    Largest-ever Minnesota solar project gets tentative regulatory approval displacing coal with gas as backup. Although I suspect given 10 years gas back up can be negated by the forthcoming with power storage revolution Link

    The Committee on Climate Change (the CCC) is an independent, statutory body established under the Climate Change Act 2008. Our purpose is to advise the UK Government and Devolved Administrations on emissions targets and report to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for climate change.

    The CCC had this to say about gas fired power generation in May 2012.

    “Unabated Gas-fired generation – 24 May 2012

    The Committee on Climate Change has responded to recent media enquiries about the organisation’s view on unabated gas-fired generation:

    Chief Executive David Kennedy said:

    “The Committee on Climate Change has recommended that the aim should be to reduce power sector emissions to 50 gCO2 / kWh by 2030 through investment in nuclear, renewables and CCS. Within this, there is a potentially important role for gas CCS, if this can be shown to be viable.

    “But the role for unabated gas fired power generation should be limited to balancing the system in 2030, by which time the share of unabated gas generation in the total should be no more than 10%, compared to 40% today. A second dash for gas, resulting in a higher share of unabated gas in 2030, would neither be economically sensible nor compatible with our legislated carbon budgets.” Link

    So come 2030 (only 15 years away) if UK power generation is decarbonised what then of the WWF building hey Nick?

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  • Guest

    Mark, all I'm saying is that a reality check is needed. One which David Kennedy's boss at the CCC is well aware of:
    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jan/20/fracking-lord-deben-climate-change

    The battle against global warming is being put at risk by far-left extremists in the green movement who are resisting a moderate consensus on issues such as fracking, the government's independent adviser on climate change has warned.

    Lord Deben, who is chairman of the Committee on Climate Change, said those who condemn fracking as extremely damaging are taking a "nonsensical position" and called on environmentalists who take a more "sensible" view to disassociate themselves from these groups.

    I'm sure you feel very strongly about renewable power. But it's not going to work. Sorry. Fighting against this is only going to keep gas supplies lower than they could be and thus put more coal on the system.
    Everything else could work. But pretending in only one technology is unwise.

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