Struggling to understand how to make sense of UK energy policy? Wondering why it appears so complex? Don’t worry – I’ve created this handy cut-out-and-keep guide for you.
By Lee Petts
It’s really very easy.
If you don’t believe in climate change (and by that I mean that it’s happening and that human activities are at least contributing to and accelerating it, even if they’re not the only cause) then there’s no need to do anything.
Similarly, if you do believe in climate change but don’t think cutting power sector emissions is the way to tackle it, there’s really no need to change anything either – the status quo can be maintained.
If you do believe in climate change, and that cutting power sector emissions is right and necessary, the next question you need to answer is whether or not you think we’ll continue to use lots of electricity. The answer to this question should be “yes” because we currently use about 330 TWh (terrawatt hours) a year and that’s forecast to grow as more of us start to drive electric cars.
With the recognition that we are going to carry on using lots of electricity, the choice then boils down to this: reliability.
In a nutshell, if you believe that we need large amounts of reliable electricity that is also low-carbon and helps to cut power sector emissions as part of our efforts to fight climate change, then nuclear power is your answer. If, on the other hand, you’re not so bothered about reliability, then you can achieve broadly the same goals with renewables provided that they come with gas back-up (for when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing etc) – this obviously wouldn’t be as climate-friendly a solution, but would still be better than continuing to regularly burn gas along with coal to generate electricity.
There you go, job done. Here’s your cut-out-and-keep guide to help you remember.
Actually, making UK energy policy isn’t that simple at all…
On some levels, the guiding choices presented above are as simple as it needs to be if the desired outcome is a low-carbon electricity grid. Which means that when renewables advocates say that we should meet our needs with wind, wave and solar (which, because of their inherent variability, will need rapidly despatchable back-up), they’re up against a very credible alternative in the form of nuclear.
The trouble is, there are a number of other variables in the mix including a raft of economic, social and environmental considerations.
My central point here, I guess, is that we need to be focused much more on outcomes which, for me, are: lower carbon, reliable, secure, affordable and accessible, with the smallest overall environmental footprint, the lowest possible cost and supporting the maximum number of jobs.
That means being ‘technology neutral’ when it comes to formulating UK energy policy, and not attempting to pick winners.
Do you agree? What’s your take on how UK energy policy should be made? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.