What would daily life in a ‘zero carbon’ Great Britain look like? Since 2007 the Zero Carbon Britain (ZCB) project of the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) has worked to “offer the hard data and confidence required for visualising a future where we have risen to the demands of climate science; to remove fear and misunderstandings and open new positive, solution-focused conversations.”

They have presented a Sankey diagram for the energy landscape in the UK, the way it could look like if Britain’s energy production was actually carbon free and 100% renewable energy.

via Open Energy Monitor blog, original image here (under CC BY-NC 2.0 license)

Flows are in TWh/year. The largest energy sources are wind and biomass. Some of the electricity is used to produce synthetic gas, synthetic liquid fuels and hydrogen (used mainly in the transportation sector). In that scenario there is even an electricity surplus that can be exported.

While I can not judge how realistic such a vision of the UK energy landscape is, I can at least say it is very different from the current situation (see here or here), and even from this UK 2050 energy scenario.

This week the global plastics flows topic made the news and social media with the publication of the EU Plastics Strategy and Chancellor Philip Hammond presenting the United Kingdom’s plan for tackling plastic waste.

Ellen MacArthur Foundation has long been active in research and awareness building in this field. It aims at supporting a transition to a circular economy. The foundation tweeting under @circulareconomy contributed this Sankey diagram. It is from a 2016 report they produced together with the World Economic Forum and McKinsey.

The Sankey diagram shows indeed, that “today, plastic packaging material flows are largely linear”. This beautifully crafted diagram had already caught my attention back in 2016 when I first saw it.

However, I had this subtle feeling that something was wrong here. Not regarding the content or the data … but rather that something wasn’t OK in the Sankey diagram, Just my gut feeling. Now, seeing the Sankey diagram again in the above tweet this week, I finally sat to quickly do a remake of this Sankey diagram. Here it is:

I stuck to the original layout and design as closely as possible, using the same color codes and even the white all caps font. While transfering the numbers (all percentage values, so no issue there), it immediately became clear to me what caused my irritation. Can you identify it yourself by comparing the two pics?

Won’t give it away now and wait for your comments. Will post the answers to this small ‘spot-the-difference contest’ here next week.

[Edit 24 Jan] Blog reader ‘First!’ was the first to comment and point out that the 2% recycling flow does not seem to be to scale (i.e too wide / overemphasized) in the Sankey diagram published by Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and possibly the same issue with the two arrows representing 14% each.

Good use for a distribution diagram shown in the January 2017 Guardian op-ed ‘Why hasn’t Scotland changed its mind on independence?’. It shows Scottish voter behaviour in the first pre-Brexit vote independence referendum (‘IndyRef1’) and intended vote in the second independence referendum (‘IndyRef2’), based on a poll among some 3,200 Scots in Nov/Dec 2016.

(via Coffee Spoons blog, originally from The Guardian, using YouGov data)

The left columns has two categories (Brexit Leave/Remain and first independence vote ‘Aye’/’Nae’), the second only one category. Both columns have the undecided voters fraction in light grey.

The changeovers from one camp to the other are shown emphasized in strong colors. One can see that the ones who voted “No” in the first referendum and that would now vote “Yes” for Scottish independence are compensated by voters who said “Yes” in the first vote, and who would now probably go for a “No”.

There seem to be less undecided voters (down from 21% to 14%), but the overall outcome would at present be the same: 46% No, 39% Yes (Indyref1: 44% No, 35% Yes). Of course a lot has happened since the poll in Nov/Dec 2016 and there is still a long way to go up to IndyRef2.

UK-based consulting firm Green Peninsula has the following Sankey diagram on their website showing electricity generation in the United Kingdom in 2012.

“In 2012 around 920 TWh of primary energy … went into electricity generation in the UK. Due to conversion [in]efficiencies during electricity generation and losses during its transmission, 65% of this energy was lost – primarily as heat. With around 320 TWh reaching the end user, this equates to an overall supply efficiency of around 35%.”

Back in May 2013 I had reported about the ‘4see model’ developed by ARUP. The model is used to visualize certain data characterizing an economy, such as value streams, jobs or energy.

Browsing for new Sankey diagrams I came across 4see again, this time in an INSEAD Faculty & Research Working Paper titled ‘The 4see Framework: Characterizing an Economy by its Socio-economic and Energy Activities’ by Roberts et.al. (2013).

The model is explained in detail and the report features a number of beautiful diagrams. Here is one of them:

I chose to present this one on financial flows over the others (on transport, energy, employment), since it has some very distinct features.

In the core of the diagram is the balance of payments. The lower part of the diagram (within the frame) has trade flows (i.e. imports to the UK on the left side, exports from the UK on the right side). Interestingly, since this is meant to depict monetary flows, the direction of the arrows is inverted: goods-receiving countries have liabilities, so the flow is from right to-left (upstream). Same holds true for the UK that has to pay for its imports.

The elements in the dotted line rectangles and the linking flows are non-trade items (i.e. the financial system), some of the within the UK, others foreign. Make sure to read the description below figure 8 on page 16 of the report if you want to learn more.

Data is for the year 2010. The key below the diagram shows the default width of a stream representing ‘£100b[2010]/y’, which I read as ‘100 billion British Pounds normalized to base year 2010 per year’. No actual numbers given for each flow, but the different types of monetary flows in relation to each other and their rough dimensions permit to interpret the diagram.

My favourite Sankey diagram in 2015, so far.

The company with the catchy name ‘Useful Simple Projects‘ is “a design led consultancy [that works] with organisations and on major urban development projects to develop sustainability strategies, and identify opportunities for innovation”.

Here is a Sankey diagram they did for an energy strategy study for University College London’s Bloomsbury Campus.

Values are probably for a year. The Sankey diagram shows energy consumption in GW (red and blue arrows). The UCL campus has a cogeneration plant, so heat (green arrow) can be produced and distributed by district heating grid.

The numbers in grey show the carbon emissions in tons of CO2 linked to the energy consumption (most likely using characterization factors for electric energy production in the UK and for provision of natural gas). UCL has a low carbon strategy for the next years and this study helps them to review their goals.

This Sankey diagram is … simple and useful.

This one is from the report ‘Low Carbon Scotland: Meeting our Emissions Reduction Targets 2013-2027 – The Draft Second Report on Proposals and Policies’ available on the Scottish Government website.

The Sankey diagram visualizes “By Source and End User GHG emissions transfers for Scotland in 2010 (Mt CO2e)”. Data for the diagram from “Greenhouse Gas Inventories for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland 1990-2010 (Aether and AEA, AEAT/ENV/R/3314)”.
For those wondering (like I did!), ‘LULUCF’ is for ‘Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry’.

According to the report

“Scotland accounts for only around 9% of the UK’s total energy consumption, but is rich in energy resources and produces a diversity of energy supply. The energy supply sector covers the production of energy, and in particular the generation of electricity, either in power stations or in large industrial process (like refining). Energy supply in Scotland produced 20.7 MtCO2e of greenhouse gas emissions in 2010, which equated to 37% of Scotland’s total in 2010.”

Found this Sankey diagram for UK energy flows in 2011 on reddit. Unit is TWh. Original source: ‘Digest of United Kingdom Energy Statistics 2012’.

While monochrome can be soothing for the eyes at times, this one definitely hurts my aesthetic sense: Too many shades of grey, arrows overlapping, pasted together from rectange it seems.