Readers of these pages will know that for years I have been arguing that the United Kingdom’s energy policy is little more than a collection of words and ideas, rather than a real policy. It has tended to revolve around the generation of electricity, rather than understanding that heat is at least as important as electricity. We tend to worry that the lights will go out, rather than the fire going out. Today there are rumours that energy policy is going to be put on a more rational basis, but I am not too excited about the rumours.
There are some signs that at least some aspects of energy policy will be better addressed than before. There are plans to build new gas fired generating stations, probably in the expectation that shale gas deposits will be exploited. If these are built and coal burning power stations decommissioned it will make a massive saving in greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. That is good news.
Coal may have a place in the energy policy of the future but should only be used when smoke washing and carbon capture technologies are fully developed. Smoke washing, which reduces pollution from coal burning considerably, is a developed but expensive technology. At the moment governments across the world think that the pollution and emissions from coal, which considerably add to the pace of climate change and which damage the health of millions, are a small price to pay for relatively cheap electricity.
Carbon capture and storage is a consummation devoutly to be wished, and no more than that. Taken together they may end up not even reducing pollution and emissions at all, because present the effect of using these devices will almost certainly mean that more coal is need to generate power than simply burning in a relatively uncontrolled way; what we gain on the swings we will lose on the roundabouts.
DEF, which operates Hunterson B nuclear power station in Ayrshire, has announced that it will extend the life of the power station, which was due to be closed in 2011, until 2023. The power station is an important source of energy for Scotland, and although this does not herald a new nuclear dawn, it is probably the way that many nuclear power stations will go, by extending the life of technology that was new in the mid 1970s but today is rather old fashioned.
Nevertheless needs must when the devil drives, and the devil driving this particular vehicle is the almost indiscriminate consumption of energy that we have now. In the 1970s energy bills were high but consumption was much lower, with fewer homes having central heating and much less demand on electricity usage.
Our progress has taken us to a place where we have become addicted to energy, and like all addictions it is a dangerous state of mind.
Filed under: carbon emissions, climate change, energy, global warming Tagged: | climate, coal fired power stations, energy policy, environment, gas, generation of electricity, greenhouse gas emissions, Hunterston B, nuclear energy, nuclear power station, shale gas