The energy policy of the United Kingdom has been in a mess for at least two decades. Ofgem has indicated that it expects power cuts to be frequent from 2015 onwards as the plant load factor – the amount of spare capacity at the electricity generating stations – reduces to very dangerously low levels. For successive governments energy has been an afterthought, and addressed in words rather than deeds and coherent policies, and the government is in denial about the risk of blackouts.
There is no instant solution to addressing the problems of supplying the nation with the energy it needs, but there are some policies that can be effected quickly which will not cost the earth.
- The pricing structure of gas and electricity can be inverted, so that the more energy that is used in a household or plant, the higher the unit cost becomes. That would encourage people and businesses to use less energy, and using less energy is the simplest way to reduce the risk of future power outages.
- The nation can make more use of microgeneration, particularly solar water heating, which will reduce demand on power in off gas grid areas for half of the year, when the solar water heating system will provide most, if not all, of the hot water required for a household.
- Instead of wasting time and money planning and negotiating massive subsidies for nuclear power plants which will not come into operation for at least ten years, the money and effort could be spent in bring power plants that have been mothballed into operation, updating their technology to burn gas, with proper exhaust air filtration systems.
- The wasted heat from existing power stations could be harnessed to provide heat for homes in district heating systems.
These proposals would significantly reduce the risk of power blackouts. They do not represent a coherent energy policy – that would take much longer to develop – but they would represent a start in the right direction to providing the nation with secure energy that it needs. they would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions and particulate emissions.