The Energy White Paper released to day by Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling advocates a big increase in energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy but also sows the seeds for a new generation of nuclear power stations.
The White Paper trys to address two important issues : climate change and national energy security. Maintaining a secure supply of energy is becoming increasingly important as we rely more heavily on imported oil and gas at a time when global demand for energy is increasing. Add to this potential instabilities due to global issues and potentially terrorism and the extent of the problem becomes all too apparant.
With approximately one third of our current electricity generation capacity due to close down in the next 20 years, the need for new investment in low carbon energy sources is clear. To address the situation the Government intends to :
- triple the amount of electricity from renewables by 2015
- strengthen the EU Emissions Trading Scheme to ensure a market price for carbon
- consult on the "significant role that new nuclear power stations could play in cutting emissions and diversifying our supply".
In doing this they hope to reduce carbon emissions by betweeen 23-33 million tonnes of carbon by 2020 (the equivalent of removing all the emissions that we get from every vehicle on Britain’s roads today).
In the conclusion of a statement to the House of Commons, Trade and Industry Secretary Alistair Darling said: “Every action set in train by this White Paper is important, and none will be easy. Nor can we become a low carbon economy in a single step. But if each of us acts we can start to deliver the low-carbon economy vital to our prosperity.”
Increase electricity from renewables - great. Strengthen EU Emissions Trading Scheme - okay. Pave way for nuclear power - erm....
To be fair it is not an easy nut to crack this one. We need to greenify (that's a new word by the way - President Bush you're welcome to use it!) our energy supply, but we cannot risk our energy security. Can you imagine the chaos and economic implications of energy rationing? The nuclear route ticks some of the boxes - it has low carbon emissions, it is reliable, it can produce lots of power and it can even be argued that it is cost effective. But, and it's a pretty big but (sort of like J-Lo's but sort of not), the long term environmental disadvantages of nuclear power cannot be denied. Nuclear waste is a problem. There is also the possibility of exposure of nuclear power stations to terrorist attack (heaven forbid) with the obvious and far reaching consequences.
Before we are pushed down the nuclear route I would like to see far more thought and money put into the potential of greater energy efficiency and small scale renewable energy. I am not so naive that I don't realise that these measures are unlikely to solve the whole problem but who knows how much energy is wasted every day at the moment? Government initiatives like the Energy Saving Trust are great but simply aren't big enough or innovative enough to create the level of change required.
A consultation on nuclear energy? Erm, still not sure. A consultation on exactly how much energy could be saved through less wastage in conjunction with increased use of renewables? Well, frankly - yes!
A change of mindset is required and this should be led by Government. I am not suggesting we all live like cavemen, just that we take resposibility for our own energy use. Government needs to lead this, not through taxes but through incentives for manufacturers, businesses and householders that lead to innovation and a stronger waste not want not mentality when it comes to energy.