Thursday, May 18, 2006

Questioning Blair's assumptions on the need for nuclear power

This week Downing Street published three graphs on its web site to support Blair's case for going nuclear "with a vengeance". But what are the assumptions behind these figures?

Are they correct? Are there other possible predictions? If so, we can question Blair's conclusions on the basis that his assumptions can be changed.

Challenge 1: The 'carbon gap'

The first challenge is not up for question.
Challenge 1: The 'carbon gap'

If we do not reduce our carbon emissions, by whatever means, we can only expect that the devastation predicted to come from climate change will be at the mosre severe end of the spectrum.

At the moment the trends are all going the wrong way, despite the Kyoto agreement. Something radical must be done.

Challenges 2 and 3

Challenge 2: One third of current generating capacity will retire by 2025

Challenge 3: Increasing reliance on gas as domestic production declines

These two challenges are up for question.

The main way to do so, according to many commentators, is to observe that they fail to take account of policies and strategies to implement the Rational Use of Energy (RUE), which reduces demand, and makes the most of what we have.

So much energy is currently wasted.

As Peter Harper, from the Centre for Alternative Technology, comments today: "This should go in and 'orthodoxy' should concur. After that it's just a question of filling in the gaps according to our political and other prejudices.'

Peter is one of the authors of CAT's 1977 document Alternative Energy Strategy for the UK.

This was the first report of its kind and addressed concerns such as Climate Change, Peak Oil and resource depletion many years before they entered the mainstream consciousness. So he has been thinking about this stuff for a good deal longer than Tony Blair.

He continues: "The pattern I prefer is below very similar, Dave, to the one you published a couple of years ago [in Defra's own highly subversive Energy and Environmental Management magazine... Something else Blair doesn't read, no doubt.]

Energy needs forecast to 2050 using rational use of energy

"This is just as plausible as the nuclear route, and in fact could incorporate a nuclear component," continues Peter. "But neither will happen if left to a deregulated market."

It's easy to see from the graph that RUE reduces the need for power, and therefore for new plant, and therefore, in principle, new nuclear build.

If we can make products, transport and homes more efficient, we need less power. If we use the power we do generate more efficiently, we need less power. If we need less power, energy bills come down, and we need to spend less on generating power.

Energy efficiency is always cheaper than buying new plant.

Whether our energy in Blair's future comes from nuclear or renewables, or clean coal, the price we pay for it is going to rocket. This is the end of cheap energy, and the beginning of higher bills for business and consumers.

What does the CBI, which applauded Blair on Monday night, think of this?

It should be thinking, that it is becoming far more cost-effective make rational use of the energy it buys and stop wasting £1.5 billion a year (Carbon Trust figure).

Rational Use of Energy (RUE)

Google currently references several pages on Rational Use of Energy (RUE) from DTI's own web site, but these links are broken, and a search on the DTI site turns up very little.

Is it a coincidence that they have suddenly disappeared?

In fact the DTI has been a partner in a pan-Europan programme to develop the Rational Use of Energy under the Fifth Framework Programme.

Nowadays RUE is generally called energy efficiency and resource efficiency. The EU has published its research on the types of policies governments can effect to promote the Rational Use of Energy. The UK Government is perfectly aware of them (somewhere).

The political will to implement the policies is the only thing lacking.

Blair is letting his government off the hook.

Instead, by choosing to put the onus on the nuclear industry and a deregulated market to find the means to address the three challenges, Blair is letting his government off the hook.

A policy solution requires an effort of strong leadership and implementation (such as Taking the choice out of sustainability).

But we know from New Labour's attempts to reform the NHS or implement big IT projects - or even meet its own climate targets - how difficult Blair finds such a government-led solution.

Is it not much easier, he surely thinks, just to pass the buck?

Surely then no one could blame him for failing to "take the tough decisons" or, even, failing - and leaving us with either a legacy of nuclear waste and a security nightmare, a horribly expensive legacy, or the devastation of climate change.

It would be someone else's fault. Dream on, Mr Blair.

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Neil Craig said...

Rather than calling it Rue how about IUCTJBSSPUCBMR (Irrational & Unsupported Claim that Just By Saying So Power Use Can Be Massively Reduced).

According to Help the Aged 24,000 pensioners die every year because of fuel poverty. I guess you would ennoble pensioner killing by calling it "rational".

Postman said...

"If we can make products, transport and homes more efficient, we need less power. If we use the power we do generate more efficiently, we need less power. If we need less power, energy bills come down, and we need to spend less on generating power."


Whether you like it or not people want electrical energy and all it's benefits and no hair shirted tree hugger will convince them that they should not use so much.

WE have to work round it. One thing is for certain sure the ETS is a complete bollocks - another casino for the spivs in the city.

Mark said...

Keep up the good work in putting pressure on Downing Street (incidentally I notice Milliband's blog has gone AWOL - too many comments? :o) ).

BTW I've never understood why we in the UK continue to only plan biogas for electricity generation - much better use of the resource to upgrade it for the grid? ( more here)

David T said...

Miliband's blog has moved and the new link is on the right!
There is some use of landfill gas in the UK.

Mark said...

I found DM's link earlier thanks, it was just too good to miss the suggestion that he'd been pressured off the blogoshere :o) ...

Not directly relevant to your post, but I should perhaps clarify my point: the problem I see is that landfill gas is only used for local heating, and conversion to electricity - the idea of upgrading gas (from biodegradable waste and landfill sites) for the GAS grid isn't even on the DTI's radar, even though it is a much more efficient process than conversion to electricity for the electricity grid. (It's just something I've been blogging about - not many NGO's or those at CAT mention it - for a number of reasons I won't go into here.)

David T said...

Mark, is there enough of it to make it worthwhile, and could it be mixed with natural gas easily? This is something I've not considered before. Can you suggest a source of info?