Bookmark and ShareDr Victoria Johnson is lead researcher on the climate and energy team at nef.

Today, new zero-carbon energy company Lemonadability launches the first electricity tariff, fuelled entirely by lemons.

CEO and Lemonadability founder, Arthur Citrus says, ‘ it came to me one evening after a Gin and Tonic. I’d become increasingly worried by climate change and peak oil. And then it suddenly it dawned on me – in my school days we carried out an experiment with a zinc and copper electrode and a lemon. We made enough electricity to light up a small LED. And it just went from there.’

After years of experimenting with different types of lemons, Citrus and his team found the Brazilan Dorshapo variety to be the most effective – producing about 0.0009W per lemon. ‘I know everyone says there isn’t a magic bullet’ gushes Citrus, ‘but I really think this is it.’

'The lemon economy is just around the corner' says Lemonability Director, Sam Drop

Director of Operations at Lemonadability, Dr Sam Drop says it takes over 80,000 lemons to light a 100W light bulb. ‘It sounds like a lot’ says Drop, ‘ but when you realise that globally we produce over 9.25 million tonnes of lemons each year – that’s over 235 billion lemons – it doesn’t take a genius to realise that the transition to a lemon economy is just around the corner.’

Global lemon production could power 300,000 100W light bulbs. But, according to Lemonadability’s latest research, with new more energy efficiency light bulbs, global annual production of lemons could produce enough electricity to light almost 150,000 homes, or 1.5 million 20W light bulbs.

Secretary of State for Climate Change and Energy, Ed Miliband, speaking at the launch said: ‘While there wouldn’t be any lemons for Gin and Tonics in a lemon economy, I think this is a small price to pay for a truly sustainable energy future.’

But some are doubtful.

Professor Violet Bitter, a leading energy analyst said:’ Lemonadability’s claims are preposterous. When we have proven technologies like wind and solar that could potentially meet global energy demand, you have to ask yourselves, why bother. Global zinc and copper production would have to increase 5-fold to support the increased demand for electrodes, and I fail to see how this will ever produce more energy than is necessary to grow and transport lemons.’ She added, ‘I have to admit, I’m not a Gin and Tonic fan myself, but I rather like squeeze on my pancakes once a year. Lemons are food not fuel. We must learn from our past experiences with other types of biofuels.

Of course if you look at your calendar, you’ll realise this is an April fool’s day joke – and a bad one at that.  But my fictitious character Professor Bitter has a point.

When we have proven technologies like wind and solar that work, and could meet global energy demand on their own – you have to ask, why bother with technologies or alternative fuels like carbon capture and storage (CCS) , biofuels or nuclear? All three either have a number of negative side effects (CCS – environmental impacts of coal mining, life-cycle emissions; biofuels – land-use issues, nuclear – waste and life-cycle emissions). Furthermore, in the case of CCS, it is still unproven at scale, and if it ever is, diffusion of the technology will take too long for it to prevent potentially catastrophic climate change.

A recent study by scientists Mark Jacobson and Mark Delucchi from Stanford University, published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science found that based only on existing technology that can already be applied on a large scale, complete decarbonisation of the energy system could occur by 2030. Jacobson and Delucchi are not the only analysts out there that reach the same conclusion.

Rather than investing capital into unproven technologies such as carbon capture and storage, we should be focussing on displacing carbon-intensive energy infrastructure with low-carbon, proven alternatives, and making what we know works, work better.

According to Jacobson and Delucchi we'll need an addition 3.8 million of these by 2030 for a 100% renewable energy system

Jacobson and Delucchi call for the building of 3.8 million large wind turbines, 90,000 solar plants and a combination of geothermal, tidal and rooftop solar-PV installations globally. The authors point out that this is a undeniably bold scheme, the world already produces 73 million cars and light trucks every year. And, for comparison, starting in 1956 the US Interstate Highway System managed to build 47,000 miles of highway in just over three decades.

If we can completely decarbonise the energy system by 2030 as Jacobson and Delucchi argue, there may also be no need for the more risky technologies like geoengineering. Of course at the same time, there will have to be a massive reduction in livestock farming, industrial agriculture practice and deforestation, but this too is possible.

So, the real question is, does the political will exist? The unbelievable disappointment in Copenhagen raises significant doubt.

But, while climate sceptics may have created weather in the more general climate change of public opinion, as outlined in the CarnegieUK Trust’s recent report ‘Making good society’, there is a growing civil society movement that has the potential to apply the political pressure necessary make this transition happen before it is too late. Alternatively, as Chapter 2 of the report shows (mostly written by nef‘s climate change and energy team), many civil society associations are just doing it for themselves (e.g. Transition Towns, community energy schemes) in both developed and developing nations.

In other words, the solutions needed to create a low-carbon and high well-being future for all exist, what has been missing to date, is the political will to implement them.

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