It’s the season for decorating your tree, wrapping presents in dubiously recyclable paper and heading off to see friends and family.
Here at SEG all we really want for Christmas is a low carbon transition, but even as the evidence for climate change piles up some people remain unconvinced. So if Great Uncle Nigel starts a sherry driven tirade about all things ‘green’ over Christmas dinner, what are you going to say to win him round?
Luckily SEG academics Benjamin Sovacool, Mari Martiskainen, Andrew Hook and Lucy Baker have delivered the present you need in the not so festively titled Beyond cost and carbon: The multidimensional co-benefits of low carbon transitions in Europe. Published in this month’s issue of Ecological Economics, the paper outlines 128 reasons to adopt low carbon practices, examining the side benefits of German solar energy, French nuclear power, smart meters in the UK, and electric vehicles in Norway.
You can read the full paper here. We’ve also boiled them down to the somewhat festively themed 12 Benefits of the Low Carbon Transition.
Improving access to affordable energy:
As low carbon energy technologies are rolled out worldwide, vital social goals can be targeted as a core part of the process. France’s pioneering expansion of nuclear energy included the ‘péréquation tarifair’, a cross subsidy which equalises tariffs across the country, particularly benefitting groups such as rural energy users who historically paid higher energy costs.
In the UK, gas and electricity customers using pre-payment meters have paid more than households on standard meters, with the added burden of enforced shop visits to top up credit. Smart-prepayment meters have not only reduced the price differential, but also allow customers to top up their credit online or over the phone.
Helping the Neighbours:
Large German investment and subsidies for solar PV systems are recognised to have played a huge role in kick-starting the global market. The economies of scale created by the German market led to a huge fall in the price of PV systems, which has produced global benefits for individual households and public/commercial bodies incorporating solar in their energy mixes
France’s substantial investment in nuclear provides a surplus which is exported to their neighbouring counties. Along with providing other European countries with low carbon electricity, France has benefited from €3 billion a year coming from energy exports, and increased energy security through reducing its reliance on imports.
In Norway, EV drivers report that, beyond the environmental benefits, their cars are quieter, smoother and just ‘nicer’ to drive than conventionally fuelled vehicles. One participant in the focus groups used in this study noted:
“Anyone who has an EV feels it is a better car, just more comfortable for the driver. That comes in addition to the environmental benefits. It is smoother, responds better to your signals, can drive as slow as you like or it accelerates easily, you have better control. Most people I know who have bought an EV say “Oh! It is so nice to drive.” It works very quietly, compared to a traditional car with gears.”
The Giving Spirit
Government subsidies are often pivotal in encouraging the public to adopt new low carbon technologies. Norway has approached this issue with a comprehensive set of benefits to entice its population to electric vehicles. Not only are they exempt from purchase tax and VAT, but they also enjoy free charging, free parking, access to bus lanes and reduced rates on toll roads and ferries. In 2020/21, the UK will reduce the current 16% ‘benefit in kind’ tax rate for company car drivers to 0%, helping making electric vehicles a low cost option for company car drivers, and hopefully a broader set of benefits will follow for regular consumers.
Adopting smart meters can encourage better (cheaper) decisions regarding energy use. The increased level of energy visibility and awareness they provide can lead consumers to change their energy use habits, switching off appliances and using energy more strategically.
Unexpected visits by strangers are a common source of anxiety for older people. Smart meters remove the need for meter readings, and eliminate this potential source of anxiety.
Smart meters may even have the capacity to help monitoring vulnerable households. For example: if a resident has not turned their cooker or TV for a period of time, it could be cause to alert family members in order to check on their wellbeing.
Bringing People Together:
Renewable energy facilities are generally installed in the countryside. In Germany, a large social benefit of solar, along with other technologies such as wind and biomass, has been reversing the tide of people moving from the countryside to the cities through the employment these large projects can bring.
Solar PV in Germany has also led to a greater level of autonomy in communities through self-supply, which has allowed them to move away from the dominant energy suppliers. This trend has brought benefits such as generating awareness of renewables and widening civic participation in policymaking, along with increasing individual choice in an increasingly competitive energy market.
Look to the Future Now – It’s Only Just Begun
Adopting one environmentally friendly technology can spark changes in other areas of people’s lives. In Norway, focus group members commented on how “people become green after buying an EV”, and how their widespread adoption had spurred interest from beyond the initial groups of environmentally-motivated ‘pioneers’ to the wider public.
Have yourself a carbon-neutral Christmas
(And a merry one too)
Sovacool, BK, M Martiskainen, A Hook, and LH Baker. “Beyond cost and carbon: The multidimensional co-benefits of low carbon transitions in Europe,” Ecological Economics 169 (March, 2020), 106529, pp. 1-19.
And a big thank you to Dr Charlotte Louise Jensen, of Aahlborg University, for composing a christmas carol on this topic. Please feel free to use these lyrics for climate activist carolling this month.
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Have yourself a low carbon Christmas
Make your footprint light
If you do your troubles will be out of sight
Have yourself a sufficiency-based Christmas
Make Yuletide commerce-free
From then on your troubles will be miles away
Here we are as in tomorrow’s days
Happy green new deal of now
Gaian friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more
Through the years we all will be together
If the rising seas allow
Hang a shining hope upon the highest place
So have yourself a sustainable little Christmas
Have yourself a sufficient little Christmas
So have yourself a loving little Christmas time.