"Good at rugby, lousy at renewable energy"
OK, that's not an adage that many supporters will mutter in the upcoming Six Nations as the opposing team scores a try. But, at the moment, it's sort of true.
The tournament coincides with the build-up to WWF's Earth Hour (kick off: 8:30PM on Saturday 23 March), which this year is promoting the benefits of renewable energy. So as someone passionate about rugby and tackling climate change, I thought I'd compare how each nation is performing in these two disciplines.
Firstly, one lesson is clear: all nations can learn a thing or two from the Scots in the field of renewable energy.
Yes, that's right, Scotland, bottom of the pile in the 2012 Six Nations, with a dismaying nil points.
The Scots can take heart from the fact that they are currently a clear first in the race to generate electricity from renewable sources. Scotland produces 36% of its electricity needs from wind, hydro, wave and solar. And that's just a third of what the Scots intend to produce by 2020 - their target is to meet a whopping 100% of Scotland's electricity needs from renewables by then.
The Scottish Government's bold ambition and clear plans have given confidence to hard-nosed industry to invest in research and manufacturing facilities for wind and marine energy in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Fife and Dundee. So Scotland deserves to be top of the class and we'll try not to envy the thousands of jobs that are being created
Fifth in the Six Nations last year was Italy, but it is placed a strong second in the renewable electricity stakes, with 25% of its supply not reliant on polluting fossil fuels.
Thanks to some bold initiatives on solar energy - helped, of course, by its southern location - it now generates more electricity from the sun than from wind. But hydro-power, from turbines spinning with melted snow running down from the Alps, is still the biggest source of its renewable watts.
Fourth in the rugby was France, which is in third place on renewables with 16%. Again hydroelectricity is a big player, but there's a growing interest in PV, with their energy minister recently launching a plan to expand the use of solar power. Interestingly, she wants to pay people 10% more for the electricity they produce if the panels are made in Europe to help "spur use of European equipment" (Why don't we do that?) They're also working with Ireland on innovative technology for harnessing tidal stream energy off Brittany.
Ireland was 3rd in the rugby in 2012 and is just fractionally below France in 4th place for renewables, which contribute almost 16% to the all-island grid. It's neck and neck really between the two countries- as it was in the Six Nations, both ending up with 5 points and their match in Paris resulting in a 17-all draw. (Uncanny, eh?) Ireland may not have got the solar opportunities of France, but just think of the energy potential from the waves and wind rushing uninterrupted across the Atlantic!
England came 2nd in the Six Nations, and that's where the pattern breaks down. Because England comes bottom, rather than 5th, in the renewables league. Just 6% of its electricity needs come from renewables that it generates. Now there are English regions, notably in the East, North East and South West, where exciting developments are happening on marine and wind energy. But England needs to do more if it is to play its full part in helping the UK meet its obligation to generate 15% of energy from renewable sources by 2020.
The same must be said of Wales. With its superb resources of wind, running water, wave, tidal, and - believe it or not - solar energy, Wales gets only 9% of electricity from renewable sources.
Of course, the Welsh Government doesn't yet have powers over large scale energy generation so it needs to work with the UK government to harness the full potential. But it has already shown it can help drive progress, with initiatives like supporting research into tidal energy, ground source heat, and "solar steel" (which raises the exciting possibly of generating cheap renewable power from factory roofs all over the world). There are also some major off-shore wind developments underway and exciting opportunities to harness marine energy. These will, no doubt, help propel Wales up the renewable energy league. Let's just hope, as we go through the trauma and excitement of future Six Nations tournaments, that this success won't be linked with a tumble down the table in the rugby!
A final thought - when it comes to green energy, we all need to tackle the common enemy of climate change. And unlike in the Six Nations, if we work together, this is an endeavour in which we can all succeed.
Sign up to WWF's Earth Hour at wwf.org.uk/earthhour
This article was originally published on the WWF-UK blog.
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