Waiting for future proof energy

The Royal Society has issued a statement saying that the United Kingdom’s way of providing and delivering energy to the population is “no longer fit for purpose”. I wonder what took them so long.

Fitness for purpose was a common law concept that was used to describe goods being sold. In the context of faulty or defective goods it is easy to understand. It was enshrined in statute law by the Sale of Goods Act in 1893, which required that goods must be fit for the purpose intended and coupled that obligation with another obligation that goods must be of merchantable quality.

The concept has been captured by politicians and journalists who now use it to describe failing or failed systems, processes or institutions. For the moment the method of energy supply and delivery works and it is fit for today’s purpose so on that point I will disagree with the learned Royal Society, but it is, in the big picture, a disagreement about the width of a cigarette paper, and one founded upon my pendantry.

However, I have been arguing that the UK’s energy systems may work today but in a few years time are likely to come crumbling to failure. I have held this position since 2002 when I undertook research for “A Concise Guide to Energy in the United Kingdom” and expanded on this in “the Energy Age”.

The Royal Society have pointed out obvious flaws in the United Kingdomn’s energy systems. I doubt if the government will take much notice as the flaws are the result of successive governments’ failure to think clearly about energy and their failures to take genuinely hard decisions.

There are three failures in energy policy and procurement which the Royal Society regards as systemic.

  1. There must be huge investment in a low carbon economy; we need to have many more solar panels wind turbines and the like so that our dependence on fossil fuel is as low as possible. I agree.
  2. We must stop the big six energy companies dominating the direction of energy policy.  It is clear to me that despite all their propaganda, they are hugely polluting businesses whose focus is not to save the planet for humanity or even to do good works, but to make profits for their shareholders. Allowing them any say in energy policy is like allowing the manufacturers of weapons to dictate or influence foreign policy.
  3. There must be more research. Again, I agree. I have mocked the Government’s competition for a carbon capture system (and the winner is… not the environment) and we clearly need more research on the safe disposal of nuclear waste and attempts to develop new technology. 

It now seems, as carbon emissions rise and as the threat of Russia turning off the gas pipeline this winter approaches that institutions like the Royal Society are beginning to come to my ways of thinking.

The truth is that there is an enormous amount that we could do right now to secure more renewable energy, but a combination of Government apathy, civil service ignorance and ministers obsessed with short term targets has prevented us.

For example, I have been running Genersys for nearly ten years now and it is the largest supplier of flat plate solar thermal panels in the United Kingdom; that is saying very little indeed. Our sales are not large enough to make it worthwhile to build a UK solar thermal panel factory, as much as I would love to. In the next few years I can see us building or assisting with know how in plants in at least seven countries, but not in the United Kingdom.

The UK has a subsidy scheme for solar thermal that is virtually worthless. There seems no plans change it until after the next election, and who knows what political changes will happen then. The solar thermal industry in the UK is one of the smallest in the whole of Europe on both a per capita basis and on an aggregate installations basis.

The Government have promised another White Paper, as though the planet had time to debate and wait and debate again. It is time to grasp the nettle, and stop procrastinating.

4 Responses

  1. Robert, I think that nuclear fusion of Deutrium sounds like an interesting idea of how to provide electricity, this does not mean to say that I don’t believe solar thermal has a part to play, but it doesn’t provide electricity. I don’t like wind turbines they spoil landscapes and apparently the (humming) noise of them when in opperation upsets wildlife, and they are often sited in the remaining places where there is no buildings or roads wildlife havens.
    Isn’t is amazing that the place in the solar system where temperatures are the highest isn’t the sun but in Culham Oxfordshire. See this webpage below :

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-1194169/Set-controls-heart-Sun.html

    “…Three years later, all but one of our nuclear plants will have been decommissioned. By 2050, most forecasts say the world’s oil reserves will have been exhausted, with gas and coal running out shortly after…”

    “…While wind and solar power are mooted as solutions to the energy crisis, it’s by no means clear they can supply energy reliably at national-grid level – ever. On the plus side, we are planning to build new nuclear power stations, but they can only give us 20 gigawatts…”

  2. expected sulfate pnas troposphere growth open feedback

  3. Here we are more than two years on and — surprise, surprise — the government’s energy policy is still not fit for purpose. We’re still waiting for investment in a low carbon economy to reduce our dependence on fossil fuel and the energy companies in the UK still dictate energy policy and work purely for profit (something that raises an important side-issue relating to the inequitable power of The Corporation).

    It was indeed time to grasp the nettle and stop procrastinating in 2009, and that is even more true as we move into 2012.

    [Offered as constructive criticism: “United Kingdomn“; “no plans to change it” — oh, and “pendantry” :)]

  4. […] Royal Society issued a statement saying that the United Kingdom’s way of providing and delivering energy to the population is “no longer fit for purpose” — way back in […]

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