Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Building more nuclear power stations is not the solution

The Government's Energy Review is to be released today, and as we already knew, nuclear power is the solution Labour has gone for. I'm not sure what to make of this, my gut tells me they've only gone for this because they think they can triangulate the Tory Party by encroaching on their "traditional" pro-nuclear ground. The problem is, that doesn't look like it is necessarily Tory ground anymore, and quite right too in my view. Energy concerns are not something that simplistic solutions like "build more power stations" will solve. We need to be far more sophisticated in what we do, and that should begin by highlighting the reality of our energy problems.

For a start we need to address the so-called "Energy Gap". There is not really an energy gap in the UK. Yes, we have an energy problem, but we're producing more than enough energy already, the problem we have is that we only actually use 33% of it whilst the rest is wasted in heat. The waste is so large that it's equivalent to the heating and hot water needs of all the buildings in the UK. Why does this wastage occur? The problem stems from our outdated centralisation of power stations. Consumers of powers are always remote from the production of their energy. Like bandwidth signals on copper we effectively attentuate energy. This is particularly the case in nuclear energy where water-cooled reactor have to be on the coast.

The solution to this problem lies in localised power station where the heat output can be harnessed for local homes and business needs. These local energy generators are called Combined Heat and Power stations and achieve energy efficiency figures of 95%. This more than doubles the energy efficiency of the centralised systems.

If the Government was being genuinely bold it would introduce a decentralised system which would do more to close the so-called energy gap than building nuclear power stations and would also reduce our reliance on imported gas. Many cities across Europe already run these systems successfully, such as Rotterdam, Malmo, Copenhagen and Helsinki. In Denmark 50% of the country is run on decentralised energy production.

The claim by the Government is that building nuclear power stations will reduce our carbon emmissions. However according to the Government own research, "Sustainable Development Commission position paper - the role of nuclear power in a low carbon economy" (March 2006), the proposal will only actually cut emmissions by 4%, a figure that will be wiped out by the proposed expansion of airports over the coming years. An example of joined-up Government at its best to be sure!

Like the Climate Change Levy, this Energy Review is a simplistic solution that misses the actual problem. We should solve our energy wastage whilst taxing carbon usage. Not generate more wasteful energy whilst taxing energy usage.

For more detailed information on decentralising power click here.

1 comment:

Ellee Seymour said...

I think this is something we should largely leave to the experts, the two different views will never agree. Our government has ignored the experts and I think it is quite brave of Blair to support nuclear power when he knows there is so much public opposition.

Nuclear power provides 80% of electricity in France. Cameron believes we will always need a percentage, about 30%, with more emphasis on renewables, though he has yet to publish his policy on this.