Monday, January 13, 2014

Our Electricity generation needs to be diversified, low cost and green.It isn't easy!

The whole subject of energy supply and demand seems to generate rather more heat than light in the public discourse. Although the decisions that are made do have far-reaching consequences the level of the debate is often trivial and ill-informed. One of the problems is that our energy choices do not just impact upon our own citizens but have regional and even global consequences. We have a duty to, for example, or neighbours in Europe and cannot export our pollution to them – or vice versa of course. The interdependency of modern economies is well illustrated by Energy the price of which is set not within our borders but by international factors. Increasingly this is the case with environmental matters as well. The extent of the carbon emissions we as a nation generate is not just for us to determine but is governed by international treaty. Some uses of energy have choices to make – others are much more limited. For the foreseeable future only oil will drive our road vehicles and aircraft and only electricity or oil our trains. But for electricity generation there are choices to be made – and very long term choices as well.

The Coalition, give or take a decision of two, is broadly doing the right thing on electricity supply at present. There are three aims. First assure the future - that has to be a diversified range of fuels. For Britain that means a mix of Gas, Nuclear and Renewables. I would add Coal - there is room for at least one new large coal-fired power station. We have the coal and there is no reason why we should not use it in modern, low-emissions plant. But sadly the Government won't commit to this. They should.

Secondly cost. Indigenous gas - in the future substantially from Shale - will  not be much cheaper than imports but it could have exchange rate benefits and it is OUR gas so Government could ring fence it's price to some extent. Subsidised Wind Power is expensive - more expensive than Gas and much more than coal. But it does provide diversification, the same applies to Nuclear.

Finally the Environmental aim. Here the main goal is low carbon emissions. Wind gives this as does Nuclear and the inclusion of Wind in the mix is only really justified on environmental grounds. But too much Wind would be too costly, it is far from a panacea. Environmental targets are not and must not be local and the UK must meet international standards. So must the Germans by the way and they still have Coal in the mix!

There are no easy answers and every major decision is a judgment call - especially between cost and environmental concerns. But we cannot, and must not, rely on any one primary energy source for the generation of our electricity and we must have a national policy which puts the consumer not the private sector first.


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