EU Green Policies: unintended consequences

With Stuart Agnew MEP (and a compressor) at Welvent Ltd in Lincoln

With Stuart Agnew MEP (and a compressor) at Welvent Ltd in Lincoln

Last Friday I visited a company in Lincoln, Welvent Limited, who are agricultural storage specialists.  Large volumes of agricultural products like wheat or potatoes frequently require storage under controlled conditions of low temperature and humidity.  Welvent equips farm buildings essentially with industrial-scale refrigeration equipment, plus a range of ancillaries (for example, floors designed to allow tractor access but also ducted to allow cool air to blow up through the floor).

The EU is, of course, concerned about climate issues.  We hear a great deal about carbon dioxide, but other gases are more significant in greenhouse terms than CO2.  Both water vapour and methane are “stronger” greenhouse gases than CO2 — though until we can find ways to stop cows emitting methane, and ways to stop the wind blowing over the ocean, there is not a lot we can do about them.

It happens that the sorts of gases used for refrigeration are worse again (though used in relatively small quantities).  The EU already has comprehensive regulations about the use, recycling and disposal of these gases.  It also has requirements for the replacement of currently used refrigerant gases with others which are deemed less harmful.  Given that there are arrangements in hand for the end-of-life disposal of refrigerant gases, we are dealing here with the rather limited problem of leakage.  The gases do no harm so long as they are hermetically contained in a sealed system.

Currently there are yet further proposed regulations going through the European parliament, which will require even more benign gases to be used (the names of these gases are an alphabet soup — R404A; R407A; R407F; R134A).  The problem for the industry is that the equipment has a typical life of 25 years or so.  Changes in the specified gas will certainly cost farmers a four-figure sum for replacement, and may involve a five-figure sum for major modifications to the equipment.  The difficulty for both Welvent and their customers is regulatory uncertainty — what is the most cost-effective approach, given that we’re not sure which refrigerants will be mandated in five years’ time, much less twenty years?

But there is a bigger problem.  The most “advanced” refrigerant gas is some 30% less efficient than those in use today.  In plain terms, the same cooling effect will require 30% more power to drive it.  These are big pieces of kit, typically using say 40 Kw in use.  And a typical machine may run 1600 hours in a year.  That’s 64 Mw hours.  A 30% reduction in efficiency means that we’re wasting nearly an additional 20 Mw hours a year, per unit.  There are estimated to be something like 3000 units out there at any one time.  Do the math.  It’s a whole lot of extra power.

So with delicious irony, a new EU regulation designed to save the planet and mitigate climate change will mean 20Mwh x 3000 = 60 Gwh of extra energy, merely to mitigate minor leaks of refrigerant.  I’m afraid I’m not technically competent to work out which will do more damage, a few leaks or a massive rise in energy consumption, but at the very least the energy increase will offset a large part of the benefits envisaged — and may actually make matters worse.  At the same time the measure will drive up farmers’ costs, and therefore food prices.

But not to worry.  I’m sure the rapporteur on the project, Dutch Green MEP Mr. Bas Eickhout, will tell us that in a few years’ time all our electricity will come from wind farms.  So that’s alright then.

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10 Responses to EU Green Policies: unintended consequences

  1. grumpydenier says:

    Shame, this came out a day or so too late for my last blog. I’ll bookmark this and add it into the follow up.

    What is the Law of Unintended Consequences (LoUC) and why should we study its ramifications? Because, in a nutshell, its habit of sneaking up behind those who seek to control varied aspects of our lives, and biting them on the arse, impacts us, the people, more than it does them.

  2. B Hough says:

    If the EU are so concerned about climate change why do they not tell the `money men` to stop cutting down the rain forests? Instead of finding ways to extract money from ordinary folk !
    we suffer financially and in other ways, the far east industries thrive at our expense, but then again, the ones who blame the ordinary person probably have their millions invested in overseas industries ! The UK has the opportunity for some salvation using fracking, but No! it will cause eartquakes etc. Just as was said about taking North sea oil !
    The US was a massive importer of Oil , but now due to fracking it is self sufficient again.
    We could have our own supply of gas but of course Europe want us to buy it from them as with coal.
    This plus our £50+ million per day and all the other costly imports such as cars / nuclear / wind farms + that we pay for,must make us one massive `cash cow` for Europe.
    Oh to be in control of our own destiny again and not a part of the European / German Empire.
    What short memories some people have !

  3. DougS says:

    “….This plus our £50+ million per day and all the other costly imports such as cars / nuclear / wind farms + that we pay for,must make us one massive `cash cow` for Europe….”

    We are indeed, but it’s amazing that so many people cannot see it. On Thursday night’s ‘Question Time’ the panel was loaded with the usual Europhiles who spouted the same old nonsense about the supposed horrors of leaving the EU. Unfortunately most of the (hand-picked I’m sure) audience cheered and clapped every pro EU comment. I never hear any Europhiles telling us about advantages of EU membership’, it’s always the disadvantages of leaving such as: ‘3 million lost jobs’, ‘isolated’, loss of influence’ – whatever that means!

    Unfortunately, it’s not just the hand picked QT audience – many of the general public are either afraid of change, too easily persuaded by the rhetoric or are scared of being called names like ‘little Englander’, ‘isolationist’ or ‘xenophobe’. I never cease to be amazed how many people are so willing to leave our fate in the hands of the political elite.

  4. Hamish says:

    Another great blog post, Roger.

    May I suggest that you ask someone to create three graphs showing:

    1) EU countries millions in ‘renewables investments’ vs deaths caused by fuel poverty. I predict a very strong correlation (especially when remembering the that ‘wind fuels gas’).

    2) EU countries millions in ‘renewables investments’ vs CO2 emissions (not that they really matter, of course). This would show that countries like France have got things right and that those banging on about CO2 emissions are hypocrites for not supporting nuclear.

    3) EU countries millions in ‘renewables investments vs electricity prices. This would show that Denmark/ Germany etc. are on an economically suicidal path whilst France, once again, have got things right.

    Many newspapers would devour these and they could – could – start pushing European energy policy more in your favour.

    Best wishes,


  5. David says:

    I just love this stuff Roger, another Big Winner Policy from the eussr, laughable if it wasnt so bad.

  6. ex Expat Colin says:

    Roger…in your penultimate paragraph you mention ‘a new EU regulation designed to save the planet and mitigate climate change will mean 20Mwh x 3000 = 60 Gwh of extra energy, merely to mitigate minor leaks of refrigerant.’
    Did you mean that the additional 60 Gwh extra energy was to make up for the change of refrigerant rather than the leakage of same? Changes in refrigerant gas as far as I am aware impact on its boiling point value as regards efficiency. Meaning that the boiling point has decreased over that of Freon R12 and that system pumping continues longer than prior to a gas type change. R12 was identified as causal in the ozone layer issue quite some time back.

    I just googled for refrigerant R134A and hit a Refrigerant forum discussing the subject of service/maintenance engineers being told/forced to dump refrigerant. There is a bit more to it than that !
    I saw some of that in the Middle East in the 70s, only nobody forced it. There is some seriously big AirCon stuff out there and further East which makes me wonder.

  7. Richard111 says:

    Be nice to see a valid re-evaluation of this ozone business. My own reading tells me ozone has a half life of thirty minutes and it is entirely produced by UV from the sun. The sun doesn’t shine on the poles for up to six months each year so you are bound to get an ‘ozone hole’ during polar winters. This has nothing to do with CFCs. Currently solar UV levels are low but very little mention about ozone levels. Well, they have got the laws through and we have to bear the consequences, like vastly escalated power costs for reduced power availability. Glad I’m old.

  8. Kimian of letterpin says:

    It is not a crime to be ignorant. It is only a crime when you show it. My God are these people ignorant or what? They are peeing at the sharp end if they think that this whole climate chaos programme is going to survive on decisions like this. You just can’t make it up. With all the major politicians who support it beginning to edge their bets we are heading for a train smash big time.
    Ho Hum unless we get out of Europe now, it will be the good old British Taxpayer footing the biggest share of the costs as Europe drags us all down to become a 3rd world nation

  9. ex Expat Colin says:

    I had observed a short time back that the ozone hole had recovered to some extent?. From what I cannot remember, but suspect its the CFC cause (newsworthy stuff?). However, reports of this nature with pics are akin to the flush of climate change reporting. Largely an overhaul of the alarmist stuff plus a slight modification and likely due to a re-run of a climate model. Computer says Yes or No depending on data input and algorithm process…thats if adequate logic was applied before coding. I mean logic/coding that has an independent assessment performed upon it in all respects and is open.

    Questions as I understand it have been leveled by the Lords regarding statistical analysis (modeling) at least twice. Answers are either absent or inadequate from the DECC/Met Office. (I note Mr Davey seems to have been a little emotional today)

    I have seen so much of it over the years (Professor so and so) that attempts to influence us by merit (title?) that we should believe it all. Its not that we don’t understand their simple analysis of weather instrumentation and a little history related plus a PC or Super Machine. Its simply the fact that the information that resides in their domain is not freely available to those who would wish to verify their conclusions. Commercial or Gov interests?

    This is a long way from Freon Gas (refrigerants). Forget that, we are now on a minor gas named CO2. If it were CO I would panic… to keep some pockets full whats after CO2 ? My initial thought some time back was wind turbine scrap.

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