Thursday, August 5, 2021

GWPF Newsletter: As hope is waning for a UN climate deal Boris Johnson needs a Plan B


Boris Johnson's heat pump plans are now dead and buried

In this newsletter:

1) As hope is waning for a UN climate deal Boris Johnson needs a Plan B
Global Warming Policy Forum, 3 August 2021
2) With time ticking down, hope is waning for a climate deal
Bloomberg, 2 August 2021

3) Boris Johnson's heat pump plans are now dead and buried
Global Warming Policy Forum, 3 August 2021
4) Hydrogen boilers will cost no more than gas ones, saving Brits hundreds, industry vow
The Sun, 2 August 2021

5) Tory backbench group to ‘question consensus’ on Net Zero goals
Ends Report, 2 August 2021
6) Charles Moore: The Tories risk creating a new cost of living crisis
The Daily Telegraph, 3 August 2021
7) Steven Hayward: A new crisis for climate science?
Power Line, 2 August 2021
8) With Gas Prices High, Biden Tells OPEC: Oil for Thee, but Not for Me
Jacob Puckett, National Review, 3 August 2021
9) The fiery problem threatening electric cars
The Daily Telegraph, 2 August 2021

Full details:

1) As hope is waning for a UN climate deal Boris Johnson needs a Plan B
Global Warming Policy Forum, 3 August 2021
As hopes of a successful COP26 recede, Boris Johnson and the UK government are hoping for some kind of lame compromise agreement that would allow ministers to claim that at least ‘something’ has come out of the UN climate summit.

But with the prospect of an ignominious Copenhagen-type COP-flop growing daily, Boris Johnson should sack his incompetent COP26 team which is clearly failing to deliver the aimed Net Zero agreement and come up with a Plan B that can avoid potential humiliation at home and abroad in November.
2) With time ticking down, hope is waning for a climate deal
Bloomberg, 2 August 2021


When India failed to show up at climate talks in London last week, the meeting’s British hosts took it as a snub. It was also a stark reminder of how hard it’s going to be for diplomats to pull the global climate back from the brink of disaster, with less than three months to go before the next round of high-stakes negotiations.

The climate meeting in London wasn’t the only recent example of underlying problems. Just two days earlier, an all-night meeting of Group of 20 ministers in Naples, Italy, had failed to produce an agreement on phasing out coal power, the most polluting source of energy. India—the world’s third-largest emitter, which depends heavily on coal—had been a key holdout.

When asked why they didn’t attend, Indian officials said they were needed at home and had technical problems which meant they couldn’t login online. But they also said they had already made their views clear in Naples.

Getting India’s support will be key to the success of the United Nations-backed COP26 climate talks scheduled to occur in Glasgow, Scotland in November. Alok Sharma, president of COP26 and a minister in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government, has set an ambitious goal to “consign coal to history” at the summit. That will keep alive the hope of limiting global warming to 1.5º Celsius from pre-industrial levels. But temperatures have already shot up by 1.2ºC, with impacts being felt in extreme weather events sweeping the globe from Canada to China.

Current pledges put the world on track for 2.4ºC warming by 2100, according to the nonprofit Climate Action Tracker. The UN’s 2018 special report on global warming says that even 1.5ºC of temperature rise would have enormous consequences for the planet, including a “multi-meter rise in sea levels” over hundreds to thousands of years and a mass extinction of plants and animals.

Halting planetary warming there would require coal’s share of power generation to be cut to less than 2% by 2050 — but the G-20 can’t agree on how to do it. An earlier Group of Seven leaders meeting failed to agree the need to phase out domestic coal use, promising only to stop financing it overseas. These are relatively small gatherings of nations. The diplomats at COP26 will represent virtually every nation in the world, making the push for consensus all the more daunting.

“Unless we get all countries to sign up to a coal phase out, keeping 1.5ºC within reach will be really difficult,” Sharma said after the London meeting.

Much of the work to make a successful COP26 must be done before the summit even begins. That’s because of two key deadlines: countries need to submit more ambitious climate plans, known as “nationally determined contributions,” and rich countries are supposed to deliver on a pledge to spend a combined $100 billion each year to help poor countries adapt. Even after a year’s extension to the deadline to take account of the pandemic, the goal for climate spending hasn’t yet been reached and some key countries haven’t set climate plans.

The fractures in the discussions go well beyond Modi’s government. While 197 countries signed on to the 2015 Paris international climate agreement, deep divisions remain on how to reach its goals — and on who bears the brunt of responsibility. “The outlook for COP26 isn’t very promising,” said Li Shuo, a climate analyst at Greenpeace Asia. “Many key issues need to be addressed before the meeting starts, such as climate finance and coal use.”

The climate finance question has been another source of tension in the events leading up to COP, including the international climate summit hosted by the U.S. in April. The world’s poorest countries have contributed the least to global climate change but are the most vulnerable to its effects and can’t afford the high cost of adaptation. Based on the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility,” the world’s richest countries agreed in conjunction with the Paris Agreement to pay a combined $100 billion a year to help, but they’ve consistently fallen short of that goal.

As the summit has gotten closer, debate has focused on a handful of countries in the middle of that scale with emerging economies, which argue that they have the same right to industrialize as their peers have enjoyed over the last two centuries. That means burning fossil fuels. Like India, China, the world’s largest emitter, is also under pressure to announce plans for how it will make deep emissions cuts over the next decade. Neither country has yet submitted an updated NDC.

G-20 countries that haven’t submitted a more ambitious NDC represent 47% of global emissions, according to the World Resources Institute. That list also includes Saudi Arabia and Australia. But in Naples, they promised they would do so by COP26.

Even if China, India, South Africa and Saudi Arabia all announce tough new 2030 plans this year, it won’t to close the gap between where emissions are and where they should be, said Alden Meyer, senior associate at climate advocacy group E3G . For that reason, he said, the Glasgow deal will need to contain a new mandate that countries revise and enhance their NDCs on a continual basis, as opposed to the five year cycle set out in the Paris Agreement.

“Some of these discussions are frozen—like they were in the 1990s—in this zero-sum finger-pointing dynamic,” said Meyer. “The reality is we’re all in a lifeboat together, and the lifeboat is in danger of sinking. The politics have not yet shifted to reflect that reality.”

China’s coal consumption, meanwhile, is poised to hit a record this year, according to the International Energy Agency. Shuo said China needs to announce plans to limit coal use either domestically or overseas. The next opportunity for China’s President Xi Jinping to announce a new goal on the world stage could be the United Nations General Assembly in September. If they don’t announce it by COP26, the 1.5ºC goal may move out of reach.

Once in Glasgow, all eyes will be on the U.S. to put up its share of the financing for developing nations. Partly as a result of former President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris accord, the country has fallen well behind its commitments. The $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill making its painstaking way through Congress contains only $600 billion in new spending.
Meyer worried that the legislation may not be on President Joe Biden’s desk for sign off in time for COP26. In that case, the U.S. again won’t be able to deliver on its promise.

That’s a problem because many developing countries, such as Bangladesh and Vietnam, say they can’t come up with more ambitious targets until rich countries deliver on their promised funding. With the $100 billion goal missed for 2020, rich countries are now coming up with a plan to show how they will catch up, delivering on agreed financing over the years 2002 to 2024 on average. Sharma has appointed ministers from Canada and Germany to pull together a delivery plan for that in response to a demand this month from those vulnerable countries.

Many of the issues under discussion at November’s summit haven’t been touched since the last COP in 2019. That includes completing the Paris Rulebook on carbon trading, which comes under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. The 2019 talks failed to reach an agreement on that key issue because the European Union and Brazil couldn’t agree on accounting rules around the trading of emissions permits.

Full story
see also China, India ignore UN deadline to update emissions targets in COP26 warning shot
3) Boris Johnson's heat pump plans are now dead and buried
Global Warming Policy Forum, 3 August 2021
It would appear that Boris Johnson’s promise to install 600,000 heat pumps per year by 2028 won’t happen after all now that Britain’s big boiler firms have promised households that they will be able to buy cheap hydrogen and hydrogen-ready boilers instead.


The only question is how much the hydrogen that is supposed to heat our homes will cost consumers.

We’ll have to wait for the government’s hydrogen strategy which is reported to be launched at the end of August.
4) Hydrogen boilers will cost no more than gas ones, saving Brits hundreds, industry vow
The Sun, 2 August 2021

The Big Four boiler firms have joined forces to vow a new price promise, meaning consumers will save a total of £2.3billion if they upgrade to an eco-friendly hydrogen model in future.The new tech from Worcester Bosch, Valliant, Baxi and Ideal will save thousands of tonnes of emissions being pumped out from gas which is used now.

Experts previously estimated they would be at least £100 more.

Mike Foster, Chief Executive of the boiler industry’s trade association, the Energy and Utilities Alliance (EUA) who brokered the deal, says the price-promise is a major boost to consumers and the fight against climate change.

He said: “Consumers want to do their bit to reduce the impact of their homes and help deliver a greener future, but are concerned about the cost.

“If the Government commits to its own rumoured legislation, this could mean that low-carbon homes could be a reality for everyone in the UK without homeowners facing gargantuan price tags.”

The association’s research has found most of the public are unwilling to pay more than the price of a new boiler for new green alternatives.

It comes after The Sun revealed last week that ministers are considering pushing back the ban on new boilers back from 2035.

The move would give Brits more time to swap over and for the price of new tech to come down, but risks missing crucial net zero goals by 2050.

Full story
5) Tory backbench group to ‘question consensus’ on Net Zero goals
Ends Report, 2 August 2021

Tory MPs are planning to set up a new backbench group aimed at questioning the Westminster “consensus” on the need to urgently curb greenhouse gas emissions, it has emerged.

The group is to be led by Craig Mackinlay, MP for Thanet in Kent, who was previously deputy leader of UKIP. 

Reports from ITV suggest that the group does not intend to deny climate science, but rather will seek to push back on what Mackinlay has described as an "overwhelming Westminster consensus" around the urgency of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. 
The group will seek to highlight the anticipated costs associated with meeting the government’s targets, according to the broadcaster. 
ITV reports that Mackinlay is asking for more transparency over the data being used to drive the decisions.
In a recent opinion piece for Conservative Home, Mackinlay wrote that the Climate Change Committee is “a significant player in the political debate around net zero, often explicitly directing government policy, while being totally unelected and unaccountable”.
He also writes in his article that “mainstream media regurgitates its words sagely with little space offered to those who question its assumptions”.
While Mackinlay has described the path to net zero as “muddled, costly and impractical”, he would appear to support the government’s ambitions over the natural environment as being “achievable, and rooted in common sense”. He says in his Conservative Home piece that “there is much to be done in protecting habitats and our oceans and weaning the planet off of the scourge of plastic waste”. 
Steve Baker, MP for Wycombe, is also set to be a key player in the new group - he also recently became a trustee of Lord Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation and is a major figure in the influential Conservative backbench European Reform Group (ERG).
On the subject of government plans to decarbonise heating systems in homes, Baker recently tweeted:
“Government must come clean on the range, scale and costs of the transformation planned for all our lives and secure public consent, or we face a political fiasco to eclipse the Brexit drama.”  
News of the backbench group comes as it was revealed last week that Boris Johnson is considering pushing back the ban on sales of all new gas boilers to 2040 due to the backlash over costs. Last year, the Climate Change Committee recommended doing so by 2033
Reports have also emerged that Chancellor Rishi Sunak has thwarted plans to compensate households for a rise in the cost of gas.
The plans, known as ‘carbon cheques’ were hoped to alleviate growing concerns within Tory ranks about the political consequences of policies to reach net zero. 
While under initial plans, payments were to go to most households, now “only the poorest Brits are expected to get grants to cover the entire cost of swapping” from natural gas to heat pumps, “leaving middle-class families to pay some of the bill”, the Sun reported last week.
However, according to a Whitehall official quoted in the Sunday Times this weekend, the carbon cheques plan is considered a “non-starter” by the Treasury and the business department.
6) Charles Moore: The Tories risk creating a new cost of living crisis
The Daily Telegraph, 3 August 2021

This can easily turn ugly. A cost of living crisis creates feelings of profound insecurity and therefore damages the quality of life.

Not long after becoming prime minister in 2010, David Cameron announced that we should measure our progress as a country “not just by our standard of living, but by our quality of life”.

He was right, of course. Life is about more than money. But his remarks assumed that the standard of living question had been solved. It never has been. Even in rich societies like ours, there is always a strong possibility that many people will get poorer. When that happens, the link between standard of living and quality of life appears starkly. If the first falls, so does the second.

Because of Covid, and the consequently vast rise in government spending and borrowing, this question has resurfaced. Boris Johnson’s Government has magicked up much more money and rushed it through the system. At the same time, because of Covid, wider trade wars and post-Brexit disputes, some goods have become harder to obtain and therefore more expensive.
Constrictions on the movement of labour, and perhaps the desire to go on living on furlough or universal credit, have created severe labour shortages. There will be bills for all this.

The conditions have been created for a “cost of living” crisis of the kind all too familiar in the 1970s. In the old phrase, too much money chases too few goods. Prices rise. Inflation returns. We’ve all seen this happening in our recent grocery bills.

A cycle of trouble starts. Public-sector trade unions, whose members are shielded from the chilliest economic winds, become ready to inflict strikes for compensating wage rises on the general public. This can easily degenerate into a war of all against all. It creates feelings of profound insecurity and therefore damages the quality of life.

It also calls previous commitments into doubt. Thus the pension “triple lock” – which raises the basic state pension by 2.5 per cent, the rate of inflation or average earnings growth, whichever is the highest – is now threatened.

Even in the better times when it was introduced ten years ago, it looked dangerously inflexible. Soon, at a time when in-work taxes and National Insurance will probably be rising fast, it will look unfair – particularly if those taxes will have been hoicked up to pay for “free” social care for the old.

And then there are the costs entailed by the belief that we face a climate “emergency”. The promise of a better quality of life is speculative: it depends on the whole world managing to reduce carbon emissions. But the immediately lower standard of living is real, as people have to pay five-figure sums for new heat pumps and face rising energy bills. Indeed, quality of life itself also suffers if your house is no longer warm or it takes half a day to charge your car.

All of the above states the obvious. Yet so far this Government has not admitted it.
7) Steven Hayward: A new crisis for climate science?
Power Line, 2 August 2021

We are just weeks away from the two major climatista jamborees of 2021. The first is the UN COP 26 meeting in Glasgow next month, which the usual people (John Kerry, etc) are calling “the last chance to save the planet,” because all of the previous 25 “last chance” meetings were a false alarm. (You think I exaggerate? Check out the New York Times from June 30: “Democrats Have a Year to Save the Planet.”)

The second is the release of the next comprehensive report of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which typically issues a new 5,000-page report every five to seven years that collects and summarizes the latest state of “the science” of climate change. Suffice it to say that not much has changed since the first IPCC report almost 30 years ago. There might be some small, subtle changes in the next report, however.

The latest report was supposed to be done a year ago, but was delayed by you-know-what. But it is also possible that there are enough climate scientists involved in the process who are expressing concern that the climate models the political class is using to generate panic aren’t really working right, and want to dial it back a bit. If this turns out to be the case, these subtle changes in emphasis will likely be buried deep in the full IPCC report, and the 25-page “summary for policy makers” that the IPCC produces for media consumption will still say the end of the world is nigh if we don’t hand over our car keys.

One clue to this inside-baseball drama comes from an unlikely place—Science magazine, which is about as dead center in the scientific establishment as you can get. Last week Science published a remarkable article—remarkable for implicitly ratifying what climate “skeptics” have been saying about climate models for at least a decade, namely, that they are running “too hot.”

The article is entitled, “U.N. climate panel confronts implausibly hot forecasts of future warming,” and it is a real jaw-dropper:

"[A]s climate scientists face this alarming reality [of a warming world], the climate models that help them project the future have grown a little too alarmist. Many of the world’s leading models are now projecting warming rates that most scientists, including the modelmakers themselves, believe are implausibly fast.
In advance of the U.N. report, scientists have scrambled to understand what went wrong and how to turn the models, which in other respects are more powerful and trustworthy than their predecessors, into useful guidance for policymakers. “It’s become clear over the last year or so that we can’t avoid this,” says Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies."

The story goes on to explain that many of the worst-case warming model predictions—of more than 5 degrees C—are surely wrong, and it appears the next IPCC report may narrow the range of possible warming in the year 2100 to 2.6 to 3.9 degrees C, with this upper bound down from about 4.5 degrees C that has appeared in previous IPCC assessments. You can be assured that the new IPCC report will emphasize that nothing has essentially changed—that even 3.9 degrees will be the end of the everything.
But parts of the Science story, even though cautiously written so as not to undermine The Narrative, is really devastating for the “certainty” of climate prediction that we’re endlessly told to trust.

Like this:

"In the past, most models projected a “climate sensitivity”—the warming expected when atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) is doubled over preindustrial times—of between 2°C and 4.5°C. Last year, a landmark paper that largely eschewed models and instead used documented factorsincluding ongoing warming trends calculated a likely climate sensitivity of between 2.6°C and 3.9°C. But many of the new models from leading centers showed warming of more than 5°C—uncomfortably outside these bounds.

The models were also out of step with records of past climate. For example, scientists used the new model from NCAR to simulate the coldest point of the most recent ice age, 20,000 years ago. Extensive paleoclimate records suggest Earth cooled nearly 6°C compared with preindustrial times, but the model, fed with low ice age CO2 levels, had temperatures plummeting by nearly twice that much, suggesting it was far too sensitive to the ups and downs of CO2. “That is clearly outside the range of what the geological data indicate,” says Jessica Tierney, a paleoclimatologist at the University of Arizona and a co-author of the work, which appeared in Geophysical Research Letters. “It’s totally out there.”
In addition to the difficulty climate models have in understanding the complex dynamics of the atmosphere (especially clouds), there is the additional problem of what emissions scenarios you feed into the computer models. Suffice it to say that most of the biggest temperature predictions you hear about are based on future emissions estimates that almost no one believes are remotely realistic (often referred to as the RCP8.5 problem).

Roger Pielke Jr. and Justin Ritchie give a comprehensive takedown of this problem in a recent article in Issues in Science and Technology. A few brief samples:

"In our research on the plausibility of IPCC scenarios, we have discovered it is not just RCP8.5 that is implausible, but the entire set of baseline scenarios used by the IPCC...

The consequences of pervasive, implausible climate scenarios extend far beyond the IPCC process and the academic literature these scenarios have enabled. A continued focus on implausible emissions scenarios in climate research is a failure of science’s supposed internal quality assurance mechanisms and thus a failure of scientific integrity. The persistent use of implausible scenarios introduces error and bias widely across climate research. They are now woven through the climate science literature in ways that will be very difficult to untangle...

Many of these thousands of published papers project future impacts of climate change on people, the economy, and the environment that are considerably more extreme than an actual understanding of emissions and forcing pathways would suggest is likely. . .  And so, with any attempts at scientific nuance lost in technical language, these implausible projections of apocalyptic impacts decades hence are converted by press releases, media coverage, and advocates—as in an extended game of telephone—into assertions that climate change is now catalyzing dramatic increases in extreme events such as hurricanes, droughts, and floods, events that foreshadow imminent global catastrophe.
8) With Gas Prices High, Biden Tells OPEC: Oil for Thee, but Not for Me
Jacob Puckett, National Review, 3 August 2021

Rather than let American oil producers step up to the plate, the president is calling on our nation’s adversaries.


The US went from energy self-sufficiency and being an energy exporter in 2019 and 2020 for the first time since the 1950s back to being an energy importer this year through April.

President Biden’s goal of ending oil production in America doesn’t seem so slick right now. Gasoline prices are close to a dollar per gallon higher than this time last year, with oil prices just shy of the highest in seven years as demand has begun to pick back up after COVID.
And with energy being a critical input into nearly every aspect of modern life, higher oil and gasoline prices only add fuel to this year’s inflationary fire.
But rather than let American oil producers step up to the plate, President Biden is calling on . . . the OPEC oil cartel to pump more oil. Evidently, he wants other countries to do the dirty work of drilling the oil for him. And he’s getting his way.

Consider the facts: The oil will be pumped, and the money will flow — but to whom?

Setting up a market in which OPEC can profitably sell more oil effectively creates a market opportunity for OPEC Plus (of which Russia is a part) and Iran. Both countries pose a strategic challenge to America — a challenge that is, in no small part, funded by those countries’ hydrocarbon riches. Oil and gas sales fund approximately half of Russia’s government as of 2019.
(Its revenue dipped in 2020 due to COVID-19 but is positioned for a strong comeback in 2021.) The money helps underwrite aggression in Ukraine, in addition to cyberattacks on critical infrastructure in America and its allies, and emboldens reckless behavior by autocrats aligned with Moscow in sensitive parts of the world.

Iran has huge reserves of oil and gas, and as of 2018, exports of those commodities made up a quarter of the government’s budget. Iran uses this money to sponsor terrorist organizations that  threaten American allies, to send warships toward the Caribbean to partner with Maduro’s Venezuela, and — whatever any agreements may say — to further its nuclear ambitions.
Offering OPEC Plus an opportunity to make more money is a head-scratcher. Russia and Iran would benefit from increased oil revenue; it would assist, too, in the funding of activities that have created foreign-policy headaches for years. But perhaps this shouldn’t be too surprising given that President Biden has already canceled the Keystone XL pipeline while giving Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline a thumbs-up — a move that will simultaneously increase Europe’s dangerous reliance on Russian oil and hit Ukraine financially.
Biden would do better by letting American oil producers drill more oil and gas in response to price signals. But so far, his default has been to cater to the climate lobby. The president’s administration has suspended some past permits and is seeking to block future drilling permits on federal land (despite the latter running into legal difficulties), as well as using tighter endangered-species regulations to hinder drilling on private land.
Reduced American oil production means higher oil and gasoline prices for everyone, Americans included.
Considering the implications, if ever there were a time for the administration to reconsider its restrictive stance on fossil-fuel production, this would be it.
America has the long-term potential to produce more energy than it needs — and did so as recently as last year. This is an advantage that, in an increasingly treacherous international environment, makes no sense for the U.S. to throw away. (That’s not to mention, of course, that abandoning such an advantage would redound to regimes that do not wish us well.)

Full post
9) The fiery problem threatening electric cars
The Daily Telegraph, 2 August 2021
Shocking explosions and electric battery fires threaten driver safety and the industry’s reputation

The sun was going down in Peoria when the fire crew arrived at the energy storage site in the Phoenix suburb. The 27 racks of batteries, set up by Arizona utility APS, had been charged up by solar panels on a day of scorching desert sun, and were ready to feed power back into the grid.

The fire department’s Hazmat unit had been dispatched to the site to investigate reports of smoke and a “nasty and acrid” smell coming from the facility. Shortly after the captain stepped inside the container housing the battery, a jet of flame shot out of it. He was thrust 20 metres into a chain-link fence, suffering brain and spinal injuries. Others suffered broken bones, a collapsed lung and nerve damage.

A year later, APS investigators claimed that a material build-up inside a battery cell had led to a chain event known as “thermal runaway” that had failed to be halted by a suppressant. Combustible gases had concentrated in the storage unit, creating a powder keg that was ignited when oxygen from the open door flooded in.

The explosion was shocking, in part because of its rarity. Incidents such as the 2019 Arizona failure, and a fire at a Tesla battery installation in Australia last week, are relatively uncommon, and technical improvements have only made the technology safer. But as large batteries are expected to feature more prominently, from home energy storage to electric cars, concerns over their safety are likely to become more prominent.

Safety fears

Every incident, if rare, is seen as a setback for battery power. After the Arizona explosion, APS suspended battery installations, only resuming them last December, 19 months later.

Last month, General Motors was forced to recall its all-electric Chevy Bolts sold between 2017 and 2019, affecting around 69,000 vehicles, after two incidents in which the cars erupted into flames. It was the second recall of the vehicles over a potential battery fault in less than a year, and in both fire cases the vehicles had been treated in the previous recall.

GM told owners not to leave their vehicles unattended while charging overnight, and that as a precaution they should park them outside once they have been charged. It also urged owners not to charge their vehicles to full capacity. One of the owners whose cars had caught fire, a local politician called Timothy Briglin, had campaigned for greater electric vehicle adoption. “I have dozens of [constituents] who drive Bolts,” he told the website Electrek. “I’m worried for their safety.”

Building public confidence

Last week, a report from the House of Lords’ science and technology committee urged ministers to “take steps to build public confidence in the safety of batteries and hydrogen technologies”, saying that more stringent standards may be necessary.

Today’s lithium-ion battery cells are a finely tuned and coordinated piece of chemistry. Ions travel between two electrodes, giving off electrons as power. The electrodes are made of compounds designed to maximise capacity or power. Failure can occur when pushed to extremes, such as overcharging or overheating, or when metallic microstructures known as dendrites build up on an electrode.

Jerry Barker, the chief scientist of British battery company Faradion, says that while the problem is limited in the most common lithium iron phosphate batteries, the nickel compounds that are prized in the electric car industry are more reactive.

“We all understand in the industry, although we don’t talk about it commercially too much, that if you go for the high energy density, you are compromising safety,” Barker says. His company is among several attempting to move on from lithium-ion batteries, which are dominant today, with new chemistries designed to be safer.
Lithium-ion batteries ‘incredibly safe’

Prof Paul Shearing, a battery expert at University College London’s Department of Chemical Engineering, says that although there is a public perception problem, lithium-ion batteries are “incredibly safe”.

“[These] are things that we use every single day. It’s extremely rare that any individual will be involved in any issue.”

Prof Shearing says that around one in 40m batteries goes wrong, a failure rate that compares well to conventional cars. “Every time there’s an electric vehicle fire it seems to be front page news. The fact is that there are petrol vehicle fires every single day up and down the country.”

However, he adds that safety could always be improved. “Clearly, we make billions of batteries a year and every year battery failure we would like to be able to avoid, particularly as we get into more mission critical applications.” Prof Shearing is involved in a £1.5m Government-funded project to better understand failures.

Battery fires present other problems. They can be harder and more time-consuming to extinguish than traditional fires, and emit toxic fumes in the process. In April, a crashed Tesla Model S in Texas took eight firefighters seven hours to put out, in the process using 28,000 gallons of water – a volume the local fire department typically uses in a month.

Campaigners against battery facilities have pointed to the prospect of overwhelming fire departments.
One solar farm proposed by the energy firm Sunnica on the Cambridgeshire-Suffolk border, which would be among the largest in Britain, is attracting fierce opposition both for its proposed size, equivalent to 900 football pitches, and for the potential consequences of a battery failure.
Edmund Fordham, of the group Say No To Sunnica, claims an explosion at the site could be several times bigger than the blast at the Port of Beirut last year. “If you really did have a major accident here, it would be utterly beyond the capacity of any local fire and rescue service to control it,” he says.

A spokesperson for the Sunnica project said it had consulted with local fire departments, adding: "Safety has been an important consideration in the design and preparation of Sunnica’s proposals and management plans."

Next-generation batteries

Almost by definition, any method of storing large amounts of energy carries risks. But the solution to concerns over batteries may be new chemistry. Barker’s Faradion is developing sodium-ion batteries which he says are less volatile, as well as using elements that are more widely available. “It’s a lot more robust from a safety angle,” he says.

Last week, Chinese battery manufacturing heavyweight CATL gave the technology a huge boost when it said it would start producing sodium-ion batteries for electric cars within two years.

Last week’s Lords’ report found that Britain has an opportunity to be a world leader in next-generation battery manufacturing in the next decade, and called for greater government support for the area. Fulfilling that promise might not only support Boris Johnson’s levelling up agenda, but safer batteries may also provide the reassurance that could be crucial to a net zero future.

The London-based Global Warming Policy Forum is a world leading think tank on global warming policy issues. The GWPF newsletter is prepared by Director Dr Benny Peiser - for more information, please visit the website at

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