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Our Energy Challenge

Response to ‘Our Energy Challenge’ consultation

What more could the government do on the demand or supply side for energy to ensure that the UK’s long-term goal of reducing carbon emissions is met?

There are a wide variety of measures that the government could take to meet long-term goals of reducing carbon emissions on both the demand and supply side. Underpinning all of these measures, is a requirement to change the way in which energy is generated and distributed from the current centralised grid to decentralised generation and distribution.

The current system of generating power at large power stations connected to the national grid is inefficient and wasteful. Energy is lost at the power stations and through transporting it over long distances. Changing this model to generating electricity at a local level and by means of microgeneration projects, bringing production nearer its customers would make a huge contribution to energy efficiency.

Within this context, government should focus attention on the following;

Supply

In order to provide clean energy for today and future generations, the focus of government policy has to be on achieving a mix of renewable energy sources. These sources (detailed below) are either carbon neutral or have a minimum impact on the environment in the long-term.

During the current debate on energy and future energy supply, it has become apparent that support for renewable energy is often piecemeal and fragmented. Development of sources of renewable energy seems to depend on the enthusiasm of private individuals with some limited government support. The emphasis needs to change entirely. The detailed examples provided by the ‘New Economics Foundation’ report ‘Mirage and Oasis Energy choices in an age of global warming,’ indicate that the United Kingdom has huge resources of clean energy, what is required is a coordinated and bold approach.

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Wind resources. The United Kingdom has offshore wind resources in abundance, but there are concerns that developments of offshore wind farms will become stalled if the industry is not given an additional boost to close the gap between the installation of farms and their operation. - Water i.e. small scale water mills - Wave - Tidal - Biomass – biofuels - Solar

Government should and must take a leading role in supporting those developing these technologies, not just financially, but in removing obstacles which in some cases have prevented progress.

All of these offer low risk and relatively quick means of replacing our current energy supplies. This is in great contrast to the time and expense involved in building new nuclear power stations (see response to question 3 below).

There are plenty of examples of renewable technology working at a local level all over the United Kingdom. For instance, Woking in Surrey has focused in renewable sources of energy, many of which have become self-funding.

Therefore government needs to; - change the focus for energy supply to a decentralised model - focus on renewable energy sources - take a prominent role in developing renewable sources : provide financial and practical support for projects. Learn from existing projects.

Demand

Balanced against the problems of supply, there is a great deal more that could be done to reduce demand and focus on energy efficiency.

There is enthusiasm amongst the general public for measures to tackle demand on energy supplies and improve energy efficiency within the wider context of fears about climate change. This energy review should not overlook the value of energy efficiency, which was recognised by the 2003 Energy White Paper as the ‘cheapest, cleanest and safest’ way to tackle the problems we face.

Government can taking a leading role in fostering understanding of what is required e.g. changes in lifestyle and taking small personal steps to reduce demand. Those who decide to make changes to their homes e.g. improved insulation should be encouraged and supported. While private home owners may recognise the value of making alterations to their homes, is enough being done in the rental sector?

Greater encouragement and education could in turn create momentum and demand in workplaces for energy saving measures to be implemented. The messages to reduce demand need to be reinforced regularly, not just in national annual campaigns. Education, particularly through schools is fundamental as it encourages good habits which children will carry through their lives.

Focus also needs to be given to measures which reduce the demand of energy from household items. Manufacturers of electrical goods must be encouraged to develop products which don’t waste energy through ‘standby’ options for instance.

Current measures to require new buildings to meet energy efficiency standards need to be expanded to old buildings. The trend in developing existing buildings for housing must include energy efficiency measures.

Therefore, government needs to; - channel public enthusiasm to embrace energy efficiency measures - develop education programmes

Examples - encourage the development of energy efficient household goods - extend energy efficiency measures required for new buildings to old buildings which are refurbished

The Energy White Paper left open the option of nuclear new build. Are there particular considerations that should apply to nuclear as the government re-examines the issue bearing on the new build, including long-term liabilities and waste management? If so, what are these, and how should the government address them?

The government response to the suggestion that nuclear power offers a solution to future energy needs and reducing carbon production should be to consign it to the past and concentrate on renewable sources (mentioned in 1). There are numerous disadvantages to nuclear power which are detailed below and which render it completely unsuitable for our purposes. In addition to these comments, I would like to echo the concerns of the Sustainable Development Commission’s recent report ‘The role of nuclear power in a low carbon economy.’

Centralised

The central theme of this submission has been the need to decentralise energy production and supply. Building new nuclear power stations will maintain the inefficient centralised model and undermine efforts to decentralisation. It would be a backward step.

Cost

Lessons should be learnt from the current cost of decommissioning existing nuclear power stations and dealing with waste. Costs have spiralled and it is felt by many that the cost of building new stations has been underestimated. The money devoted to these expensive projects could be put to much better use.

Dealing with waste

After years of research, no real solution has been found to deal with nuclear waste. More nuclear power stations can only mean more dangerous waste to deal with. This will inevitably be passed to future generations. A better legacy would be clean, renewable sources, not nuclear power.

Untested designs

The current proposal to build up to 10 new nuclear power stations on a new design is folly. Not only is the question of expense, but as far as I am aware, these new designs have not been built anywhere else in the world. Many of the renewable technologies mentioned previously are working reliably now; we do not have the time to commission a new, untested design requiring substantial financial support, which could undermine efforts to expand renewable technologies.

Timescale

The New Economics Foundation, amongst others, believe that it could be as long as 20 years before a new nuclear power station could be ready for use. Each power station may have a useful life of 60 years. It is hardly a recipe for guaranteeing energy supplies in the long-term.

Impact on other technologies

If focus is given to new nuclear build, there is a great danger that time, money and resources will be drawn away from renewable resources. The Performance and Innovation Unit Report of 2002 stated ‘A sustained programme of investment in currently proposed nuclear power plants could adversely affect the development of smaller scale technology.’

Safety - Accidents, threats and proliferation

Apart from cost and the time required to build new nuclear power stations, the overriding consideration is safety. Nuclear stands out from the other energy sources discussed here because of the inherent dangers it presents us. Developing new nuclear power stations runs the risk of proliferation of civil programmes elsewhere (making the position of the government look particularly hypocritical in relation to Iran), diversion of nuclear waste to terrorist organisations or direct attack on nuclear power stations and greater risk of accidents. Any of these scenarios are unthinkable. The existing power stations in the UK have been dogged with safety problems and there is every chance that a new generation of stations will pose similar problems. A report produced by POST in 2004 suggested that nuclear power stations were vulnerable to terrorist attack.

Therefore, government should not consider nuclear power as an option.

Are there particular considerations that should apply to carbon abatement and other low-carbon technologies?

With reference to question 1, every encouragement needs to be given to low-carbon technologies and developing means of carbon capture.

What further steps should be taken towards meeting the government’s goals for ensuring that every home is adequately and affordably heated?

If the measures suggested in answer to question 1, there is no reason to suggest that all homes can be adequately and affordably heated. Notice should be taken of the Environmental Audit Committee’s comments on the plans for house building in the South East of England, in particular their concerns that the new homes will not be built to sufficiently high energy efficiency and environmental standards. Any new projects of this kind should lead the way in adopting such measures.

Those who suffer genuine fuel poverty should be targeted with assistance to ensure their homes are energy efficient.