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    Emit now, pay later: The case of shipping and its GHG emissions

    By Nishatabbas Rehmatulla, on 18 October 2016

    Blog by Nishatabbas Rehmatulla and Isabelle Rojon (UMAS)


    Something we’ve got used to in our daily purchasing habits is the term ‘buy now pay later’. Whilst this may be good for our personal lifestyles and ease the cash flow somewhat, we still have to pay, only later and usually with added interest. The same goes for our climate: we emit now, but due to finite CO2 budgets, we will ultimately have to pay and it is up to us to decide whether we prefer drastic mitigation or adaptation action as payment. For quite some time shipping, which accounts for approximately 2-3% of global CO2 emissions, has dodged the emissions regulatory bullet for various reasons (relative to other sectors), one of them being the public’s lack of awareness of the industry. Unless you live next to a busy port, you probably don’t think too much about the global shipping industry and its carbon footprint. Read the rest of this entry »

    A low carbon industrial strategy?

    By Peter Mallaburn, on 19 July 2016

    ideas (c) istockphoto tumpikuja

    DECC has been absorbed by BEIS. I’m cautiously optimistic about this because climate policy, particularly energy efficiency, didn’t really work out on its own. The value of DECC was securing the consensus for the 2008 Climate Change Act. It’s record in actually delivering effective policies, as the Committee on Climate Change bluntly pointed out last month[1], is less than stellar.

    So why do I think the new Department will be any different? Because climate and industry policy have many similarities. The UK has a serious and persistent productivity gap and BEIS marks a radical shift away from laissez-faire capitalism of BIS (and DTI before it) to a corporate interventionist model that sounds almost Bennite.

    What is interesting is that the UK also has a serious energy productivity gap. Take commercial buildings. Here, on average, their efficiency has flat lined since 2002. However in Australia, pretty much the world leader in this space, commercial buildings are twice as efficient now, and the best use 20% of the energy they used in 2002[2].

    Why is this? It’s not for want of trying. The UK has loads of policies aimed at buildings: DECs, EPCs, Building Regulations, MEEPS, CRC, CCL, ESOS. But there are two big problems with the current policy mix:

    • First the focus is on the building itself and not how it works in real life, so the market designs buildings for compliance and not for performance.
    • Second it’s all been developed with no real understanding of how the industry works or how it has evolved over the last 30 years.


    It’s a bit like being told to go on a diet without a set of weighing scales. It’s hardly surprising that nothing has happened in 15 years.

    Why is Australia so far ahead of us? Because they focus relentlessly on the real-world performance of their buildings. But there’s much, much more to it than that. The Australian system is a mini-industrial strategy for their commercial buildings sector:

    • It started as an industry-led voluntary scheme to build confidence and shake down the system.
    • It focused on the parts of the building that the developer can control – the “base building”.
    • It uses a 5-star system that rewards good performance (the UK system focuses on the worst).
    • It used “soft regulation” – public procurement standards – to remove the worst performers.
    • It was flexible enough to learn and develop as energy performance data began to build.
    • It doesn’t focus on carbon but on real market drivers: cost, asset value, void times, lease length.

    The system has been so successful that poorly performing buildings have all but vanished in many Australian cities. And the smart money has followed the market – there are so many top-performing buildings that they had to invent a sixth star for them. And, tellingly, the scheme survived the Abbott government, which for a climate-related policy is quite an achievement.

    I don’t know what a modern industrial strategy looks like mainly because we haven’t had one since 1974. But the Australians have showed that if you get it right, energy and industrial productivity can go hand in hand.

    I’m optimistic about BEIS because it gives our government the chance to do the same here.


    [1] Meeting Carbon Budgets –2016 Progress Report to Parliament – Committee on Climate Change 2016

    [2] UK Commitment Agreement Feasibility Study final report – Better Buildings Partnership 2016

    RIP DECC – but will we miss you?

    By Peter Mallaburn, on 15 July 2016

    Envionmental friendly light bulb.

    So after 8 years the DECC experiment is over. The immediate reaction is mixed with some saying that climate policy has been diluted. Others say that linking climate and industry policy is a sensible approach. Who is right?

    On energy efficiency, I’m optimistic. In DECC, energy efficiency was isolated in Whitehall. It needs to ride the waves of other policies and not compete with them. The strategic case for energy efficiency is compelling – but that is better done by a department of business and not a department of carbon.

    This is particularly true now we are to have an industrial strategy. Productivity, competitiveness, risk, cost and value are all pivotal industrial drivers, and they are all key selling points for energy efficiency. It should have a chapter of its own.

    I think the same applies to energy efficiency in homes. The reason why the Green Deal was such a disaster was that the “business case” for us as householders never worked. But more importantly selling energy efficiency to us is – or should be – a business proposition.

    And finally I don’t buy the assertion that energy efficiency will get buried. In 1992, we rescued energy efficiency from the old DTI because it wasn’t safe in the hands of neoclassical DTI economists. But now we have the Climate Change Act and, so far, no-one is trying to unpick that.

    So far.


    photo credit: iStock

    What would a better London transport system look like? How do we get there from here? And what could the next Mayor do about it?

    By Andrew ZP Smith, on 3 May 2016


    The next Mayor of Greater London has an easy time and a hard time ahead.

    The incumbent has shown little intention to do much with the power of the office. So the new mayor won’t have to work too hard to look busy or effective, by comparison. That’s the easy time ahead.

    But, in terms of managing London’s transport, they have a very hard time. For the first eight years of London’s new government, investment spanned all areas of transport, with vigorous interventions, and lots of long-term strategic planning and research. All that changed, with the change of mayor and the global financial crisis in 2008: in particular, the strategic planning and research capacities in Transport for London were cut back deeply. This is an apparently cheap strategy – a mayor that cuts long-term planning, but who had a predecessor who’d invested deeply in it, gets to live off yesterday’s investment, while leaving nothing for their successor. Like a farmer who only harvested and never sowed, there’s nothing at the next harvest. So when the next mayor wants to know what the long-term planning and strategic capacity is, they are in for a bit of a shock. And the picture gets worse: the money London receives from the Treasury to help meet the ongoing expenses its transport system, is to be phased out, leaving London with a £0.7bn shortfall. However, capital expenditure is still in place, and the go-ahead has been given for Crossrail 2. This a policy mistake that keeps getting repeated in transport in Britain: we invest in infrastructure, and then fail to provide for its operation and maintenance. Read the rest of this entry »

    Oil Producers Meeting in Doha, Qatar: Technical opinion

    By Andreas Economou, on 14 April 2016


    The objective of the so-called Doha Meeting in Qatar, on April 17, between the world’s top oil producers is fairly straightforward: to agree on a collective OPEC and non-OPEC oil output freeze to January 2016 levels, in an effort to halt the nearly two-year oil price collapse. Yet, the actual scope of the agreement is way less ambiguous and far more OPEC-specific.

    Amid the most dramatic quarter since the price fall (1Q2016) – i.e. prices hovering below $30/bbl to a 13-year low, a persistent supply-driven bear market, global economic growth forecasts being downgraded and a deep contango encouraging stocks to rise above 5-year average – Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Russia and Qatar have revived a very well crafted “As-Is Agreement”. The terms of the agreement are relatively painless for the participating oil producers, which are already producing near their capacity limit and near their average forecast levels for 2016 –see Table 1. For all oil producers, excluding Saudi Arabia and Iran, announcing that they will not increase production in the near-term, confirms merely what was already known given the global squeeze on capital resources towards upstream developments. Read the rest of this entry »

    What would be the impact of the April 17 OPEC meeting on the UK electricity market?

    By Giorgio Castagneto Gissey, on 13 April 2016


    A freeze in output would stop adding to the excess supply that has caused prices to collapse from levels above GBP 70 per barrel seen in June 2014. Oil is very rarely used for electricity generation, only about 1-2% of the times in the UK. Given that the UK electricity system is based on the merit order of electricity generators in the country – i.e. the marginal cost of producing an extra unit of electricity, by which electricity generators with progressively higher costs are dispatched as demand increases, in order to minimise prices for consumers – oil is always used as a last resort because it always has the highest cost. In such a system, when the marginal generator is used it always sets the price. Thus, when oil is used it always sets the electricity price. Read the rest of this entry »

    Gender equality in the workplace – Energy Demand in Practice seminar series

    By Pamela Fennell, on 8 March 2016

    crowd_abstract_behaviour_1Gender equality in the workplace has been a recurrent theme for Energy Demand in Practice, a student–led seminar series which explores the range of career paths in energy-related industries.  Our audiences, aware of historically low rates of female participation in the energy industry have been keen to ask the speakers what it is like in their workplaces and whether they feel opportunities are equal.  Read the rest of this entry »

    Athena SWAN in the Bartlett – Bringing Us Together

    By Emma Terama, on 8 March 2016


    Athena SWAN is the process for accreditation in higher education and research for their work to support women’s equal opportunities and advancement. The Bartlett, UCL’s global faculty of the built environment, chose to seek this accreditation as a whole, instead of the comprising Schools/Centres applying separately. This is a reflection on that process that started in October 2015 by one member of the self-assessment team. Read the rest of this entry »

    International women’s day, inspiration from the past, present and hope for the future

    By Nagore Sabio, on 8 March 2016

    I am a Research Associate in Energy Systems Modelling at UCL-Energy. I studied chemical engineering and for my PhD I developed multi-objective mathematical programming models that can help building more sustainable process industries and energy systems by looking to many different environmental life-cycle performance metrics in addition to economic criteria. My current job at UCL allows me to take the theories behind my modelling frameworks, with an initial focus on engineering and process unit operations, a step in further in aggregation to a systems level perspective. Within this systems perspective, the demand-side influence starts to take a bigger role and as much relevance as the supply-side operations. This allows me to exploit the synergies between my previous and current research experiences, which are very complementary in their theoretical perspectives. The arising combinations specifically tap on the pillars of sustainable development, which are based on integrating the economy, the environment and society, in a holistic manner.

    pic 1With regards to ‘women in science’, there are more than a few who inspire me. The earliest ‘women in science’ story that I heard about was Marie Curie’s one. Her life and career brought to my consciousness the very limited roles that women were expected and trained to play in society from their very early ages. These limitations of course translate in all the sorts of additional struggles and preconceptions that women face in society nowadays, and in particular in science still. I found very interesting how her success was in the end mostly in the hands of her husband, Pierre Curie, who decided to complain to the Nobel Prize jury against their discrimination towards his wife. Marie was about to be excluded from the nomination of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903 just because of her gender.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    The changing face of architecture: Value difference

    By Sofie Pelsmakers, on 8 March 2016


    The built environment is still not equated with a diverse work force unlike the stakeholders with whom we work with and for. The annual survey of women in architecture released last month, makes for uneasy reading: deep-rooted inequalities and perceptions of gender differences that seem to affect women architects particularly badly. So on international women’s day I’d briefly like to share my journey as a woman in architecture practice, research and academia. In June 2015, I was shortlisted among 11 others by the RIBA as one of its ‘Role Models’, hopefully inspiring others that they too can forge a successful career in architecture. Since I shared my story as part of the Role Model Project, I noticed a positive change within myself and how I view myself. It is hard to explain, but I am more at ease with myself and more accepting of myself. I no longer fear of speaking out about my background (read about it here) or being a woman in a still mostly male dominated profession (more about that here). On reflection, this makes sense: sharing our stories so publicly received positive responses and made me realise that I was wrong to be afraid to speak out. I no longer feel as vulnerable sharing my personal journey: I have a voice and I want to use my voice on issues that matter to me in the hope that it inspires others and to draw out the value of differences. I also realised I should no longer be embarrassed about my background, but celebrate how far I have come despite the challenges along the way and to see and use this as a strength. Read the rest of this entry »