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.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Energy policy? What energy policy? Britain's worst political failure (along with pension policy).....

Power station control roomWe predicted it on 'EnviroSpin'; I predicted it in The Times, last April. And on Thursday, December 29, it nearly happened - most worryingly, some two years early. Britain was on the brink of running out of energy. Between 4.30 pm and 6.30 pm, on what was a cold day, the National Grid was forced to issue an emergency order to the electricity companies to reduce demand. They were requested to cut power or to dim the lights by lowering the voltage. Our ever-diminishing energy safety margin had been depleted and it was now lower than that required. The shortfall fluctuated between 1,300 megawatts (MW) and 1,700 MW, a third-to-a-half of the safety net - the grid requires a cushion of between 2,000 MW and 4,000 MW available above peak demand. In reality, some 220,000 homes were on the brink of being cut off.

All political parties are culpable for placing Britain's energy supply at serious risk, although Labour must carry the lion's share of the blame because of its appallingly-utopian and soggy energy white paper of the last administration. Nevertheless, this particular train has been hurtling towards the buffers for some twenty or so years, and no political leader, without exception, has been brave enough to face up to the consequences. The crash is now imminent.

Energy policy in Britain has been lamentable. Just consider the following facts:

(a) Britain has planned to to retire some 40% of all power stations by 2020, especially coal-powered plants. There will be only one nuclear power station functioning by 2023;

(b) This ludicrous decision has been taken at a time when North Sea Gas is running out. North Sea production peaked in 1999-2000, after which it began to decline at 2% per annum. It is now declining at an exponential rate. Last year, Britain became a net importer of gas. By 2020, 70% of natural gas will have to be imported;

(c) As we have learned only too painfully this week, there are deep political dangers in relying so much on imported natural gas from countries like Russia. At present, only 2% of Britain's gas comes from Russia, but, as already demonstrated, we are on the edge of energy failures. Moreover, we have only one liquefied natural gas plant, on the Isle of Grain in Kent. This started contributing last year and uses Algerian frozen gas;

(d) As Britain buys more gas at 'spot' prices than most other EU countries, the price is likely to rise sharply under current market and weather conditions. Already, wholesale gas prices are 50% higher than they were last winter. Unsurprisingly, such prices have forced the shut-down of some gas-fired stations;

(e) Our new pipeline linking Britain and Norway will not be operational until at least 2007.

What can one say? The incompetence and weakness in Government demonstrated by this is staggering. Kowtowing to nonsensical EU and Green demands, while taking no radical steps to replace lost supplies, makes even ostriches-with-their-heads-in-the-sand look like perspicacious beasts.

We have no choice. To run Britain successfully for the next 50 or so years, we will require an energy mix that includes some 30% clean coal; 30% gas; and 30% nuclear. The last 10% can then (realistically, for once) come from a mix of 'renewables', including biomass willow coppice. Energy savings must, of course, be encouraged, but these will largely be eaten up by growth (assuming we still have an energy supply to fuel it), and they will be restricted primarily to additional new build.

Politicians - please drop the pusillanimous cant, get off your backsides, and, for all our sakes, energise Britain for the future - NOW! We can no longer tolerate your disastrous dithering.

And Mr. Blair: it has to be: "Energy, Energy, Energy!"

Philip, angry indeed with the bending reeds that inhabit the parliamentary swamp. An espresso doppio is much needed this morning.
[The image of a power station control room is available at Wikipedia under the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2]

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