This is possibly going to be Renewable Energy’s biggest week ever in UK history.
And we’re going to need all the Wind Power we can get to meet Ed Miliband’s lofty ambition.
A “government source”, whoever he or she is, is to be highly commended for admitting the bold facts :-
“The government will soften the blow to hard-up families worried about rising bills to pay for greener power generation with promises of a compulsory “social tariff” as part of an energy white paper to be published on Wednesday…Some experts predicted domestic bills would rise by £200-£230 a year while the CBI says in a paper tomorrow that wholesale energy prices must rise by 30% by 2020. The CBI report is more controversial because it says government plans to produce 32% of Britain’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020 are unrealistic. The CBI wants to scale down these estimates to 25% while beefing up the nuclear contribution. Industry sources say civil servants have considered scaling back wind power targets, a claim denied by government sources: “Why would we do this when we’re already committed to 15% of all our power coming from renewables by 2020 under European Union targets which can only be met by continuing with current wind targets?””
This is basically an admission of something we should all bear in mind : any plans for new Nuclear Power or Clean Coal are so far in the future that they cannot possibly contribute to our 2020 targets.
In fact, putting money into New Nuclear or New Coal could well create a drag on New Wind. This would be for two reasons : financial competition and capacity competition.
First : capacity. Although we will start to need more green electricity for transport and heating purposes, we won’t need to double up on Wind Power with Nuclear or Coal :-
“Despite low winds during the cold winter of 2008/9 — and a shortage of nuclear plant – the system demand was still met. There does not appear to be any firm statistical evidence that contradicts the large body of analysis on the capacity contribution to be expected from wind energy. Penetration levels above 20% are quite feasible; although there is a danger […] that wind will compete with nuclear and coal plant (with carbon capture and storage) for ‘must run’ status if these thermal plant types are sanctioned for construction. (Both types of thermal plants are capital intensive and so need to run as often as possible to recoup their fixed costs).”
Secondly, finance. There has been a great deal of speculation as to how new Energy infrastructure is going to be built in the United Kingdom. After 50 years of cultural conditioning, we believe that Big Centralised Energy projects are good, essential; we even panic if we think we might have to do without.
The lights might go out ! Heaven forbid !
The tendency has been to plump for the bigger, fatter technologies, but these will lock up finance for years, maybe even a decade or so, without producing any results, as the construction phase rolls.
Construction engineering is likely to become increasingly expensive, as resource limits are reached and Carbon is priced. How much of a moneypit will each new Energy project turn out to be ?
With economic constraints still with us, we need to think very carefully about how to spend the budgetary allowances we have.
The UK Government has to project how much more expensive such elements as the Social Security budget will become, as a result of the Recession/Depression/Permanent Dip.
You can’t expect the Energy Companies to dip into their Capital to finance new Energy infrastructure, can you ? They’re facing “tough times”, just like the rest of us.
Public money will be essential for the transition to a Low Carbon Energy Supply. But it will be money from a limited pot. It will always be a straight competition between Big Centralised Energy projects and Wind Power.
Wind Power is fast to grid and has an excellently low payback period. Wind Power is highly non-impacting on the Environment, despite the urban legends. It’s safe, clean, green, cheap to run. What more could you want ?
I’m going to take a bit of a risk here and make an idea jump.
I’d hazard that within 5 years, the United Kingdom will no longer be able to justify spending so much public money on the military machine.
The only remaining enemy of note will be Climate Change, as every other economy will be suffering as badly as ours.
If we have committed ourselves to financing New Nuclear Power and New “Clean” Coal, then we will find our public budget being sucked dry, because construction costs will rise exorbitantly, owing to economic drain on value.
In that case, the funds previously allocated to defence will go to supporting Big Energy companies as they build their “white elephant” projects in New Nuclear and Coal.
Social provision will lapse and lag, and there will be a lot of discontented people, unemployed and unresourced, not able to afford the remaining expensive Energy.
This would be a huge risk to national security, as there will be no budget available for the policing of volatile groups.
The alternative vision of the future is this : if we take the choice to finance Wind Power and other True Renewables now, we will not face such risk and dilemma, as the construction phase of Renewables is so much shorter, and the projects will become productive so much sooner.
Renewable Energies could prevent civil strife and guarantee a relatively high standard of living through cheap Energy prices, even if the economy cannot support full employment.
I think that sooner or later all developed countries will realise that their economies have imploded and see that the only way to avoid social unrest is good public provision of cheap Renewable Energy.
Of course, we won’t be able to buy all the Renewables we need straight away, so it will need to be backed up by Energy Demand Reduction : through Insulation, Efficiency and Conservation.
We will need to re-train the soldiers and sailors to become home Energy engineers, but that’s not such a bad thing. Better to build than be killed.
Meanwhile, back in Confederation of British Industry land, the pundits are calling it “last chance saloon” and begging for more finance for New Nuclear and New Coal (and reductions in funding for New Wind and New Natural Gas).
“The [CBI] study [by McKinsey] calls for the Government to change the energy mix within the next 12-15 months. Its suggestions include raising nuclear spend by £15bn and carbon capture by £7bn, while cutting investment in expensive gas projects by £11bn and wind by £12bn. The Government’s “overly ambitious” targets on renewable energy generation ought to be offset by nuclear, the report says, “which is likely to produce equivalent low carbon electricity for lower investment cost”. The business lobby group argues that this alternative path will lead to an 83pc reduction in carbon emissions compared with a projected drop under the Government’s plans of just 64pc by 2030. “This is last chance saloon stuff,” said John Cridland, deputy director-general of the CBI. “It’s all about things that need to be done within the next 12 to 15 months. Delay or risk of delay on energy is probably the biggest single concern business has got.” “