LATELY — 7 March 2011

How the UK will produce and consume energy in 2050

Land use under the Friends of the Earth’s rec­om­mended scenario
Land use under the Friends of the Earth’s rec­om­mended scenario

The UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change has a very nice in­ter­ac­tive web ap­pli­ca­tion that can be used to in­ves­ti­gate the impact of various choices re­gard­ing energy pro­duc­tion and use (for example, an em­pha­sis on solar power, or the elec­tri­fi­ca­tion of all transport, or better in­su­la­tion for all homes) upon green­house gas emis­sions and the amount of land re­quired to be devoted to dif­fer­ent modes of energy pro­duc­tion in the UK of 2050.

The app is nec­es­sar­ily sophisticated, and there­fore some­what dif­fi­cult to use, but I rec­om­mend persevering–the results are fascinating. It’s both sur­pris­ing and dis­turb­ing to dis­cover how much land needs to be devoted to energy pro­duc­tion and/or carbon capture to meet green­house gas emis­sion targets. (The number of tur­bines re­quired for the most am­bi­tious level of onshore wind gen­er­a­tion works out to be the equiv­a­lent of a turbine every 600 metres along­side every motorway, dual carriageway, and trunk road in Britain.)

To get a feel for how the app works, I suggest start­ing with the “Example pathways” drop­down menu in the top right. From here you can choose from a list of presets–more nuclear, more off­shore wind, etc.–as well as the strate­gies of a few promi­nent in­di­vid­u­als and groups. (The image at the top of this post shows the land re­quired to be devoted to dif­fer­ent energy-production modes under the Friends of the Earth’s scheme.)

It would’ve been nice if the costs of dif­fer­ent schemes were considered, but I suppose this is fairly hard to estimate. Still, cost does make a difference. (Also not considered: whether nuclear energy and geose­ques­tra­tion are safe.)