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BB200602, News in Brief

UK launches consultation document ahead of Energy Review


On 23 January, the DTI launched a 77 page consultation document called ‘Our Energy Challenge – Securing Clean, Affordable Energy for the Long Term,’ in preparation of the government’s official Energy Review. Interested parties have 12 weeks to reply.

The target theme, strengthened by increased evidence of adverse impacts of climate change, is obtaining a 60% cut in carbon dioxide emissions by about 2050.

‘The Review will look at various scenarios for the future UK generating mix that might emerge from the investment decisions made by energy companies, and the potential impact of those decisions on the level of carbon emissions in the UK.’

The prospects for wind energy are given a good start as it is accepted that an overhaul of the electricity system will be necessary following the retirement of significant amounts of nuclear and coal fired generation plant in the next 30 years. The ‘large investments to be made over the next twenty years in generating capacity’ will require modification to the transmission and distribution networks, which could be made to draw on and off-shore wind turbine sites into the system.

In building the infrastructure for wind power to constitute a major part of the electricity mix, the key concerns of the government’s energy policy would be satisfied as wind power is both a non-emitter of fossil-fuels and an indigenous source of power.

The Introduction announced that there had been a leap forward in renewable generation, with over 500MW of wind capacity installed in the UK last year, double the amount in 2004.

The impending reality of the UK becoming a net importer of gas is sounding alarm bells, particularly as the import load is predicted by some to reach 80% in the not too distant future.

Switching to free fuel, low carbon, and local sources of energy is clearly a desirable option, prompting the point that, ‘A major objective of this consultation is to ask what further steps, if any, the government should take to develop the market framework for delivering reliable energy supplies.’ This is one of the critical questions.

The report notes that ‘The replacement of coal by gas or renewables would be benign in terms of emissions, as would replacement by renewables alone if this proved economically and technically feasible.’ It also states a preference for renewables to replace nuclear.

However the report reflects the view on renewables that they cannot sustain an efficient electricity system, and that they ‘remain too expensive’ to implement on a large scale.

‘The integrity of the grid depends on predictable base-load generation of the type offered by large coal, gas, hydro, biomass and nuclear plants. The grid also requires substantial amounts of electricity from sources such as coal and hydro (but unlike nuclear and some gas turbines) that can be economically powered on and off to match fluctuations in demand .’ The government perceives intermittency as setting a natural cap on the contribution that can be made by wind, wave and tidal power. It also sees a similar constraint for nuclear in its inability to be flexible.

Nuclear is not portrayed as the great panacea. It accepts its criteria for providing an important source of carbon-free electricity, which it says may be necessary to build on “if we are to meet our carbon targets,” but equally as the 2003 Energy White Paper recognized the economics at that point made it unattractive and there were also important issues of nuclear waste to resolve.

The report concludes by putting the challenge in an international context, conceding that only by international action can the problem of global warming be adequately addressed. The UK would like to be able to show leadership to galvanise action.