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Crisis what crisis?

Tom Feilden | 12:22 UK time, Wednesday, 17 September 2008

PowerlinesAccording to one of the country's leading experts the UK's energy policy is like a slow motion train crash unfolding before your eyes. In a report published today professor Ian fells accuses successive Governments of sitting on their hands over the last 25 years, and of engaging in wishful thinking about the ability of renewables - like wind and solar power - to bridge the looming energy gap.

On the other hand environmentalists accuse professor Fells of a long term love affair with technological fixes like nuclear power, and of downplaying renewables. The Secretary of State John Hutton says the report both over states the problem and underestimates the efforts Government has already made to plug the gap.

What isn't contested is that we stand to loose 30% of our electricity generating capacity over the next decade as existing nuclear and coal fired power stations are decommissioned. The row is about what's going to replace that generating capacity and how quickly we need it.

So who's right?

Professor Fells' crystal ball offers a vision - nightmare might be a better description - of energy shortages, electricity rationing, and increasing reliance on gas imported from Russia. The Government's view is of a smooth transition to a new generation of nuclear power, clean coal and renewables. Environmentalists are championing energy efficiency and greater investment in wind, wave and solar power.

The issue seems to be how much time we have to develop new technologies like carbon capture and storage (which could clean up our coal and gas fired stations), commission new nuclear power plants, and develop renewables before the lights begin to go out in the middle of the next decade.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    In his abrupt wake-up-call interview in this morning's Today Programme ( conducted by an expereinced interviewer who seemed surprisingly under-briefed to ask suitable follow-up questions of teh Today Programme's favourite energy 'expert'), Professor Fells said of the future power supply:
    "I can't do the sums any way without having a slice of nuclear power in the mix."
    That must say as much about the competence of the good Professor in doing sums, as it does about his well-known atomic love affair.
    People do not need electrical power, they need or value the services such energy can provide. So the appropriate policy question to ask is not how to replace the current power sources with new sources of provided by whatever fuel, but how can the energy service ( light , heat, cooling, mobility) be delivered in future.
    By asking the question this way, it is possible to come to the kind of conclusion California's private - but regulated- power utilities have reached, to invest in both technical -fix conservation methods, and to incentivise consumers to choose energy efficient options. Along with smart household metering, this is the more disaggregated, but much better resource- efficient way forward.

  • Comment number 2.

    What has been missed is how we got into this state. Okay its easy to say, all the nuclear was built X years ago and then there was the dash for gas, but surely over a long period in a mature economy, power stations are retired as new ones are built, not seemingly, all at once?

    But with the de-industrialisation of the UK, the shifting of our factories, power needs and emissions to China etc, we have been given a significant breathing space with an excess capacity that we can run down. Its just that we've used up this breathing space, just like somebody living off a bequest, ultimately it runs out.

 

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