DTI ENERGY REVIEW
Our Energy Challenge –
Securing clean, affordable energy for the long-term
LYNNE JONES MP, April 2006
In this submission I explain my view that we must not make ourselves dependent on nuclear power and should plan to replace current nuclear generation of electricity by investing in renewables, decentralised generation and energy conservation. This is a view echoed by the SERA MPs pamphlet in response to the consultation, to which I add my support: What’s In the Mix: The Future of Energy Policy. I also support the call for legislation to set a legally binding target of reducing carbon dioxide emissions monitored by an annual carbon budget.
I support the submission of the Association for the Conservation of Energy, a summary of which I enclose.
Production of nuclear electricity is not carbon free as the production of nuclear fuel for reactors is significantly energy intensive. Whilst most nuclear reactors don’t emit CO2 at the point of generation, reactors are a small part of the nuclear fuel cycle, which emits large amounts of CO2. These arise from the “front end” of the fuel cycle: uranium mining, ore milling, uranium hexafluoride conversion, fuel enrichment and fabrication of fuel rods. “Back end" Nuclear waste management is energy hungry in treatment, conditioning, transportation and final disposal.
A transmission-based nuclear system and decentralised sustainable system are effectively mutually exclusive, hence a switch to nuclear would destroy the vision expounded in the Government’s 2003 Energy White Paper.
The report, Powering London in the 21st Century also lays out a similar vision that builds on approaches adopted in Denmark and the Netherlands, where decentralised energy provides over 50% and 40% respectively of energy supplies. Closer to home, Woking Council has cut its CO2 dramatically as a result of decentralising its energy supplies.
Professor Gordon MacKerron, Chair of the Committee for Radioactive Waste Management, has pointed out that nuclear is an extreme case of ‘lumpy’ investment: the nuclear industry states that it is only worth pursuing the nuclear option if there is a commitment to 8 or 10 installations. The enormity of such a commitment will divert effort from renewables.
A study commissioned by the DTI from the Energy Savings Trust suggested that, by 2050, micro generation could provide 30-40% of the UK’s electricity needs. Although I welcome the Chancellor’s budget announcement of £50m for micro generation, this should be only the start of a major long-term programme that can stimulate investment in mini and micro-generation technologies and decentralisation of the grid. For example, in California there is a $2.6 billion programme to support photovoltaic installations on roofs.
Wave and Tidal Energy
I am concerned that the Renewables Obligation has the effect of encouraging the cheapest form of generation, so benefiting relatively mature technologies such as onshore wind (Woodman, 2005). As the Science and Technology Select Committee’s Report from 2001 on Wave and Tidal Energy pointed out, Britain has huge potential for wave and tidal power. The Report stated that, although there were technological barriers to its exploitation, the Government could do more to stimulate investment in the generation of electricity from wave and tidal energy. In its Response, the Government affirmed its support for wave and tidal energy. However, the amounts of money invested have been derisory. Between 1997 and 2004, £15 million was committed towards development of wave and tidal power. In order to bridge the funding gap between the demonstration and pre-commercial development stage and a commercially viable form of generation that could compete on price with wind power under the Renewables Obligation mechanism (see above), in 2004 the DTI announced a welcome £42 million Wave and Tidal Stream Energy Demonstration Scheme and a further £8 million for research to underpin this scheme.
These sums are minute in comparison with the amounts - funded by government - to be spent by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) on the clean-up and decommissioning of nuclear installations. Based on the 2005 LCBL, the cost of cleaning up Britain’s legacy of domestic nuclear power will be £62.7 billion. This figure, which represents a £5.1 billion increase over the 2004 LCBL estimate, does not include a further £7.5bn additional costs that the NDA has identified as being needed for the clean-up, and further “billions” for treatment and storing of uranium and plutonium waste. The Authority is funded by the Government to the tune of £2 billion per annum. The Performance and Innovation Unit’s energy review commented that “A sustained programme of investment in currently proposed nuclear power plants could adversely affect the development of smaller scale technologies”.
In his high profile speech of 6 March 2001, Tony Blair quoted Shell as estimating “that 50% of the world's energy needs could be met by renewables by 2050”. He went on to state “I believe the role of Government is to accelerate the development and take up of these new technologies until self-sustaining markets take over”. I quite agree but if such rhetoric is to become reality, current total funding for renewables should be of a similar order to that which was available to the nuclear industry during its period of peak research and construction. The commitments implied in the 2001 speech have simply not come to fruition.
The Biomass Task Force, chaired by Sir Ben Gill, emphasised that about one third of our energy use was for the production of heat. Electricity or heat from biomass provides between 3 and 6 times the CO2 reduction per pound than can be obtained by use in the production of biofuels. There are support mechanisms coming along on the liquid fuel side and nothing on the heat side, ignoring a whole third of the energy equation. The Government should accept Ben Gill’s modest recommendations and consider further measures to maximise the potential of sustainable biomass, including initially for co-generation with coal.
Carbon capture and storage
To reduce the CO2 emissions from our own coal consumption and to assist with the global containment of CO2 emissions from rapidly developing economies like India and China, we must invest in ‘advanced coal’ technologies that includes carbon capture and storage (CCS). The potential of CCS is explored by the Science and Technology Committee in their First Report of Session 2005-06 in which they find most of the CCS technology is already proven and available but there is a lack of experience in integrating the component technologies at the scale required. I support the Committee’s call for the Government to ensure the Energy Review puts in place a long-term incentive framework and a policy signal to give industry the confidence to proceed. In parallel we should be supporting a local and global move away from fossil fuels.
In relation to the assessment of all technologies, close regard must be given to the impact of the whole fuel cycle on CO2 emissions. Nuclear power is being promoted as the answer to climate change and energy security but, given determined and long-term investment, a combination of energy conservation and renewable energy sources could meet all our needs without the security risks associated with nuclear generation.
Our energy future – creating a low carbon economy CM 5761 February 2003
Woodman (2005) “Too little too late?” In The Utilities Journal Feb 2005, pp 36-7.
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