Future Earth

UK Green Economy grows but boy, it’s a wide definition!

1 Comment 28 May 2012

The Government published its annual report last week lauding the growth of the UK’s green economy – apparently the green goods and services market is now worth £122bn and the low carbon economy now employs almost one million people. Impressive figures by any measurement, particularly since the sector is reported to have grown by 4.7 per cent against the 2009/10 figure of £116.8bn. Not bad in the current climate.

The numbers were so impressive I went to take a quick look at them and as always with reports of this nature, the devil is in the detail.

Consider the title itself, ‘Low Carbon and Environmental Goods and Services’, which immediately made my alarm bells ring, especially the ‘Low Carbon’ bit. Sure enough a quick review indicated the presence of nuclear energy in the sales data. Fair play because it is a very green energy but not one that immediately springs to mind when considering green energy. I think of recyclable energy such as wave, geo-thermal, wind and solar. Certainly not nuclear fuel although lets be grateful that they didn’t include the decommissioning of nuclear sites in the data!

Of the recyclables, only wind and geothermal make it into the top 5 biggest sellers accounting for 20% of sales. The other 3 weigh in with 40% of the number and cover Alternative Fuels (15%), Building Technologies (12%), and Alternative Fuel and Vehicles (11%). Again not immediately green activities and I was intrigued enough to look up what those headings meant. Here’s a very quick synopsis:

The Alternative Fuel and Vehicles sub sector includes Low Carbon Fuel and technology activities that relate to (predominantly) automotive transport. It is divided into Alternative Fuels (main stream) and Other Fuels and Vehicles. At least this doesn’t include bio diesel but it does include the production, supply and distribution of Natural Gas (Compressed or Liquefied), Synthetic Fuel and Auto Gas (LPG, LP Gas or Propane). Again not energy I would necessarily relate to the green movement.

Other Fuels and Vehicles includes vehicle technologies and fuel sources that are still at an early stage such as Hydrogen fuel cells and hydrogen internal combustion, Electric, Hybrid Electric, Steam powered, Organic waste fuel, Wood gas, Solar powered and Air, Spring and Wind powered vehicles. OK that’s a little better although electric cars can not really be counted as a ‘green’ technology given that only 10% of our electricity comes from low carbon sources (and that’s if you include nuclear! Without, it’s a lowly 3.3%).

It gets stranger still. Building technologies include main stream building materials and systems that contribute to reduced energy use and to lowering the carbon footprint of buildings. That covers windows, doors, insulation and heat retention and monitoring and control systems. That’s right doors and windows although I will grant them that double glazing can significantly decrease heat loss in houses.

So why does this matter? It’s all about perception. No? Very few people will read the report. They will take the headline like the Guardian’s which trumpeted that the ‘UK green economy grew £5.4bn in 2011’ and not go any further. However when you read the fine print I think the government have been generous, in the extreme, with their interpretation of what the green economy covers. And that’s a worry.

Politically for them. Practically for us.

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  1. Your article does two things for me. First, it reminds me of Mark Twain’s quote, “There are lies, damn lies and then there are statistics”.

    Second, it further strengthens my belief that our governments are less concerned with giving accurate information and much, much more concerned with giving the perception that things are getting better… probably so that they will be reelected.

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