Tobi Kellner, Zero Carbon Britain's energy modeller, said:
Tobi Kellner, Zero Carbon Britain's energy modeller, said: "A lot of people say it can't be done but, actually, we looked into it, we did the research very thoroughly, and we say it is possible".

Leading environmental charity, the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), has released an update of its Zero Carbon Britain scenario called Rethinking the Future, in which it attempts to show that it's possible for the UK to decarbonise rapidly using the current level of technological development.

The Zero Carbon Britain modelling suggests that the variability of solar and wind energy sources can be accommodated by using carbon-neutral synthetic gas as a back-up, but achieving zero greenhouse gas emissions requires a shift in the nation's diet and transport habits.

The researchers claim that this will also be healthier and enhance biodiversity while cutting emissions from land use and agriculture, and that these proposed changes will generate over a million new jobs.

Speaking at the launch during the final sitting of the All Party Parliamentary Climate Change Group this morning, its chair, Joan Walley, said: “by setting out what a low carbon world would look like this report shows that the solutions to our problems do exist and all that is needed is the political will to implement them”.

Paul Allen, Project Co-ordinator, added that: “The fact that we can demonstrate that rapid decarbonisation is possible with current technology, and without significant lifestyle changes, should be a major call to action”.

Zero Carbon Britain: Rethinking the Future synthesises cutting-edge research across multiple disciplines to map a comprehensive and technically realistic scenario for the UK.

The model suggests a 60% cut in energy demand is feasible, with over half of the remaining annual energy supplied from the wind; the rest is produced from a suite of renewable resources suitable for the UK, including liquid fuels derived from biomass grown in the UK.

UK hourly weather data from the last ten years (87,648 hours) was used to model electricity demand and renewable energy supplies. Even though both demand and supply are highly variable, over the ten years modelled, electricity demand is satisfied directly over 80% of the time.

The rest of the time, back-up generation can be provided using surplus electricity and biomass from UK grown second-generation energy crops to produce carbon neutral synthetic gas, which can then be burned as and when necessary in gas power stations. The flexibility of this back-up generation is considered to be important, since making baseload power available only leads to a costly overproduction of energy at times when demand is already met.

In the modelling, this back-up provides only 3% of the total annual electricity required by the UK, but is crucial to ‘keep the lights on’ at all times.

On agriculture and diet, the report finds that "By reducing the amount and altering the balance of foods we eat to be in line with UK government health recommendations (fewer foods high in saturated fats, sugar, and salt (HFSS foods), and decreasing meat and dairy consumption, and by reducing food waste, greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture can be cut by almost 75%", reducing the amount of agricultural land required.

Alice Hooker-Stroud, Research Co-ordinator, said: "The fact that a healthy diet is also lower in greenhouse gas emissions, and uses less land is a win-win-win situation that should be supported throughout society".

Paul Allen, also director of the Centre for Alternative Technology, told me that current energy policy doesn't account for the external costs of burning fossil fuels.

"We must also bear in mind that 'business as usual' has not calculated the cost of taking [World average temperatures] above 2 degrees [the value agreed by 200 nations at climate change talks to be dangerous]. The adaptation costs would be very high indeed, also we would have to deal with higher global temperatures under conditions of post peak oil prices," he said.

When asked whether the proposed developments had been costed out, he said this would be the subject of the next round of research, using data generated by the New Economics Foundation. "But as an approximation, we are confident that if fossil fuel energy embraces all the costs currently externalised by the market systems, and if we include the economies of scale, ZCB will prove an effective investment, especially as, once the systems are in place, the energy supply costs are not volatile like oil and gas."

He continued: "A lot of Britain's energy infrastructure is coming to the end of its design life. We need to replace it and we do not want to lock ourselves into the wrong energy path. Now is the time to have that critical debate about what are our energy sources and the means of using energy that we will need for the 21st Century."

Regarding the modelling used, he added that "The purpose of this iteration has really been to answer the question "what happens if the UK is becalmed at minus 17 degrees under peak load" So we have vastly increased the detail in the energy model to be able to answer this question fully. We have used 10 years of hourly real meteorological data to model shits in demand and we have scaled up real output from offshore wind farms, again driven by the same data."

Picture from Zero Carbon Britain