Common features of all five plans

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In my future cartoon country, the energy consumption is reduced by using more efficient technology for transport and heating.

In the five plans for the future, transport is largely electrified. Electric engines are more efficient than petrol engines, so the energy required for transport is reduced. Public transport (also largely electrified) is better integrated, better personalized, and better patronized. I've assumed that electrification makes transport about four times more efficient, and that economic growth cancels out some of these savings, so that the net effect is a halving of energy consumption for transport. There are a few essential vehicles that can't be easily electrified, and for those we make our own liquid fuels (for example biodiesel or biomethanol or cellulosic bioethanol). The energy for transport is 18kWh/d/p of electricity and 2kWh/d/p of liquid fuels. The electric vehicles' batteries serve as an energy storage facility, helping to cope with fluctuations of electricity supply and demand. The area required for the biofuel production is about 12% of the UK (500 m2 per person), assuming that biofuel production comes from 1%-efficient plants and that conversion of plant to fuel is 33% efficient. Alternatively, the biofuels could be imported if we could persuade other countries to devote the required (Wales-sized) area of agricultural land to biofuels for us.

In all five plans, the energy consumption of heating is reduced by improving the insulation of all buildings, and improving the control of temperature (through thermostats, education, and the promotion of sweater-wearing by sexy personalities). New buildings (all those built from 2010 onwards) are really well insulated and require almost no space heating. Old buildings (which will still dominate in 2050) are mainly heated by air-source heat pumps and ground-source heat pumps. Some water heating is delivered by solar panels (2.5 square metres on every house), some by heat pumps, and some by electricity. Some buildings located near to managed forests and energy-crop plantations are heated by biomass. The power required for heating is thus reduced from 40kWh/d/p to 12kWh/d/p of electricity, 2 kWh/d/p of solar hot water, and 5 kWh/d/p of wood.

The wood for making heat (or possibly combined heat and power) comes from nearby forests and energy crops (perhaps miscanthus grass, willow, or poplar) covering a land area or 500 m2 per person;

this corresponds to 18% of the UK's agricultural land, which has an area of 2800 m2 per person. The energy crops are grown mainly on the lower-grade land, leaving the higher-grade land for food-farming. Each 500 m2 of energy crops yields 0.5 oven dry tons per year, which has an energy content of about 7kWh/d; of this power, about 30% is lost in the process of heat production and delivery. The final heat delivered is 5kWh/d per person.

In these plans, I assume the current demand for electricity for gadgets, light, and so forth is maintained. So we still require 18kWh(e)/d/p of electricity. Yes, lighting efficiency is improved by a switch to light-emitting diodes for most lighting, and many other gadgets will get more efficient; but thanks to the blessings of economic growth, we'll have increased the number of gadgets in our lives - for example video-conferencing systems to help us travel less.

The total consumption of electricity under this plan goes up (because of the 18kWh/d/p for electric transport and the 12kWh/d/p for heat pumps) to 48 kWh/d/p (or 120 GW nationally). This is nearly a tripling of UK electricity consumption. Where's that energy to come from?

Let's describe some alternatives. Not all of these alternatives are "sustainable" as defined in this book; but they are all low-carbon plans.

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Guide to Alternative Fuels

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