A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media. By Professor Emeritus Philip Stott. The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Where energy policy is concerned, we should be playing Sibelius, not Elgar.....

The energy mix of every country is going to be slightly different, depending on its geography, its state of development, and its indigenous resources. For the next 50 or so years, however, the core suppliers of electricity in nearly all developed countries will have to comprise some mix of the following five sources of generation: clean coal; natural gas; nuclear power; and, where available in significant amounts, hydroelectric power and/or geothermal power. The so-called 'renewables', wind, wave, tide, and solar power, will be available in various mixes, but will be physically unavailable to many economies, and, even where they are available, they are unlikely to contribute more than 10%-15% of total supply because of a whole suite of technical limitations.

Despite these facts, in the UK, there has been a serious political failure to face up to such energy realities, with a facile belief that the future can be managed through the expansion of 'renewables' and through increasing energy efficiency. In reality, energy efficiencies will be eaten up by much-needed economic growth, while 'renewables' can only help at the margins.

The geographical location of FinlandBy contrast, Finland has been bold in its energy policies, and it has produced an exemplary mix suiting its own geography and economic requirements [see: 'Viewpoint: Finland's new reactor') (BBC Online Science/Environment News: 'Analysis')]. [Right: the location of Finland: image in the public domain, from the Wikipedia article on 'Finland'.]

As Mikko Elo, an MP for Finland's Social Democrat Party, wisely points out:
"We need a lot of energy in Finland. We have a cold climate, long distances and an energy-intensive industry.

We make good use of almost every form of energy production. Hydropower, coal, natural gas, wood, wind and turf all play a part.

But if we are to help our economy as well as the environment, the answer has to be more nuclear power.

At the moment, nuclear provides 28% of our electricity. Once the fifth reactor is up and running, that figure will rise to 34%..."

Currently (good word!), Finland's electricity is produced as follows (you will note the specific regional geographical availability of hydroelectric power and biomass timber fuels):

Nuclear: 25.1%, soon rising to 34%;
Hydro: 16.9%;
Coal and Peat: 18.2% and 7.5% = 25.7%;
Natural Gas: 11.7%;
Biofuels: 11.7%;
Others, including imported energy: 8.9%.

Any sensible, open-minded soul is well aware that the correct mix for Britain will have to read something like this:

Nuclear: 25%;
Clean Coal: 30%
Natural Gas: 30%
Other, including wind, wave/tide, solar, and biofuels: 15%.

Over the next fifty years or so, there is simply no other practical choice, although the percentages between clean coal, natural gas, and nuclear can vary.

It is urgently time for UK politicians to face up to these energy realities. If Finland can do so, so can we. It is deeply refreshing to listen to a Social Democrat MP, like Mikko Elo, saying openly:
"We have decided to dispose of all our own waste, although we will not accept waste from other countries. Our experts tell us Finnish rock is very good for nuclear waste disposal - and I trust our engineers. As far as I understand it, there is very little risk involved."

Please, please can we become, once again, in the UK a 'Can Do' society, like Finland, not one fearful of its own shadow.

Sibelius: self portrait.Where energy is concerned, we must start playing Finlandia, or it will be a steady march to decline in the UK's Pomp and Circumstance. [Right: a self-portrait of Jean Sibelius, the famous composer of Finlandia: the image appears to be in the public domain, from the Wikipedia article on 'Jean Sibelius'.]

Philip, absolutely bored to tears by the UK attitudes that we mustn't do this, that we can't do this, and that we are terrified of everything. 'Precaution' has become a watchword for inertia. So, "Come on England! We need to beat the two 'As' - er? - Australia and Argentina, of course!" Drop goals and penalties all round! Lunch break.

[New counter, June 19, 2006, with loss of some data]

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