UK’s energy crisis — the storm is about to break

No matter how confident you are in your opinions, it’s always good when others come out of the woodwork to support your point of view.
 
I’ve been batting on for some time about the threat to Britain’s energy security which is posed by our government’s over-reliance on wind (driven by EU renewables targets).  I believe that wind farms cannot be justified in either economic or environmental terms.  And I believe that even if they could, the grid cannot cope with a high proportion of unpredictably variable wind power, and that the extra cost of the necessary conventional back-up (for times when the wind does not blow) would vitiate most of the proposed savings.  Already today we are paying too much for our electricity because of the government’s policy of requiring suppliers to use a proportion of vastly expensive wind energy — while the French enjoy much lower prices from their safe and reliable fleet of nuclear power stations.
 
Now two major reports have come out backing exactly this view.  The first is from the Renewable Energy Foundation (“UK Renewable Subsidies”). It supports my case that the environmental benefits of wind are marginal, while the economics are downright bad; and especially the case that over-reliance on wind, and a failure to invest in mainstream base-load generating capacity, is a real threat to the survival of our economy and our way of life.
 
Now another report, this time from an academic, Professor Ian Fells of Newcastle University, warns that UK could lose one third of its electricity generating capacity and see “dramatic shortfalls” in power supply as early as 2012-2015, as ageing coal and nuclear power stations are set to close in the next decade (   at bottom of the “press release” page). This could lead to repeated power cuts.  Fells argues that the Government has failed to develop a coherent and realistic policy to address the problem, and that current policies to reach the EU’s green targets have strong elements of “wishful thinking”, relying on particular renewables such as wind. He notes that the EU’s targets for energy efficiency are “demonstrably unattainable”.  Meeting plans for up to 7,000 offshore wind turbines by 2020 would mean installing 10 turbines every possible working day until then, ten times the best current installation rates.
 
Fells also argues, “It is more worrying that we have signed up to the European energy plan, which is 20% renewable energy by 2020 — that implies about 40% renewable electricity”, adding that Government figures showed that subsidies for renewables last year amounted to £1bn. “If we continue the way we are providing subsidies at the moment, that would gross at between £20bn to £30bn by 2020. This is a staggering subsidy that is being provided to keep renewable energy on the road.”
 
We are staring into the teeth of a crisis which will be hugely more serious than Ted Heath’s three day week.  We need to change course now, and start building coal and nuclear power stations while there is still time.  Just about.
 
Thanks to Open Europe for their summary of the Ian Fells story, which I have quoted.

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4 Responses to UK’s energy crisis — the storm is about to break

  1. Malcolm Edward says:

    That we need an economic, reliable and secure means of generating our base load energy is plain common sense or should be to everyone. That NuLabour are not making realistic plans for the future strongly suggests to me that this is part of their continuing agenda to undermine our country – in this case by doing little except for diverting resources to wind energy.

    When the decision is made (probably after the next election) to rebuild our power stations, we need to ensure that the skill base of British engineers is maintained in their design and construction, and so we have full understanding and control over their operational life.

  2. I thoroughly agree with Malcolm Edward. The country desperately needs a coherent integrated energy policy that is effective, economic and engineered within a relatively short time frame. Security of primary supply is a worthy goal but at this point in time should not be an overriding issue. It is a problem that can be addressed in the longer term. However, security, or rather reliability of electrical generation/supply is crucial to the near future of the country.

    Numerous reports have illustrated that renewable sources are of limited value on the national scale within the UK, however, all major parties seem to side-step the reality and head in the wrong direction, that being Renewables. I would note at this point that these resources could become a little more attractive with suitable storage technology, but unfortunately that is not presently available and would have a marginal effect on the economics.

    As I have mentioned before, the energy policy “Power to the People” is badly flawed on numerous technical grounds, and from the consumers’ point of view. I am not criticising it from a political stance, but from a practical position. There is absolutely no way that it will achieve its promise, and I suspect that Roger is also aware of this fact.

    The problem returns to the question of not what the policies say, but rather what can realistically be done. In the context of the high gas and oil prices, our reserves of coal could well become economically attractive and be exploited once again. Obviously the environmentalists will object, but many of them will complain just as much as anyone else when they lose their electrical supply. The UK has large reserves of coal, and it is not always necessary to extract it by deep mining. Ignoring the possibility of open cast, new techniques, where applicable, could allow gasification and thus easier and cleaner extraction.

    One almost silly point, that seems to bypass the brains of most people, is that you cannot readily transport coal, biomass, etc by pipe. Transportation of solids to distributed users is simply wasteful. Therefore it makes much more sense to use solid fuels in power stations and retain fluid resources for consumers. Moreover, this approach allows for exhaust scrubbing and in the extreme carbon dioxide sequestration. Neither of these could be achieved at domestic levels and are probably not even economic at commercial scales.

    Tidal energy is much more viable and reliable than the likes of wind power and photovoltaics. The Severn Estuary has a huge capacity, but again this resource is denied to us on environmental grounds. Such schemes not only hold promise for straight forward electrical generation but also as a means of energy storage for wind and solar cells, assuming that the national grid is adequate to support such usage.

    With regard to the electrical transmission system in the UK, it appears, at least on face value, that the UK infrastructure is substandard. Most other comparable counties seem to have much lower transmission loses than the UK. Indeed, if this is as it seems, then merely (okay that is an understatement of the system complexity) updating the grid may be sufficient to remove some of the immediacy for additional/replacement power stations, and allow time to address the real issues regarding energy supply in a more considered and appropriate manner.

  3. Sonya Porter says:

    So we are shortly to suffer from a lack of energy due to those people unnecessarily worried about climate change and a lack of fish due to the European Dictatorship!

    There are uncanny parallels today with the situation in the late 1940s :

    “This island is almost made of coal and surrounded by fish. Only an organizing
    genius could produce a shortage of coal and fish in Great Britain at the same
    time.”

  4. Roger Helmer says:

    Great quote, Sonya. I use it often.

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