Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Energy White Paper

Today the government publishes its energy white paper. Already there is speculation and comment in the press, but there seems to be a danger that the whole debate is going to be taken over by an argument over nuclear power. Nuclear power accounts for about 20% of electricity generated, and therefore less than 8% of the energy used in the UK. People claim that renewables will take care of the other 92% in time, but the fact is that they are deluding themselves. Wind farms, tidal schemes, biomass and solar can all make a contribution, but they can never replace more than about 20% of our energy needs.

At least people are beginning to realise that we use more gas than anything else and in the very near future most of it will be coming from Russia, not the North Sea. Even if we can maintain gas supplies and develop our renewables sector, neither of these will replace oil as a transport fuel. Biofuel and hydrogen are not an option (see elsewhere in this blog). Even if electric cars were viable there is no incentive to build 30 million of them to replace our existing fleet.

A columnist in the Independent complains that nuclear power is only viable because it receives government subsidies. On the letters page someone complains that there are not enough subsidies for domestic micro-generation. At least nuclear power produces electricity, but in the majority of UK locations micro-generation will never pay for itself even after subsidies, and actually causes more CO2 pollution than it saves.

The truth is that we are approaching the point where we will be unable to obtain enough energy even to satisfy current levels of demand. We are approaching the point where available energy will decline each year to levels which will demand radically changed lifestyles – no big cars, no commuting, no foreign holidays, colder houses and so on. Of course, this is far too horrible to contemplate.

Let’s just argue about side issues like nuclear power and rooftop windmills instead!

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