26 May 2007

EU Energy Target Costs

"Unrealistic targets for renewable energy will cost the equivalent of £1,330 per household and are unachievable."

Ratcliffe Power Station [Credit: Michael Kenna]Reports on this week's Energy White Paper almost exclusively focused on nuclear power. Unless I missed it, the media appear to have overlooked warnings from one of Britain’s leading electrical engineers that, in its pursuit of overambitious environmental targets, the Government is in danger of overlooking the fundamental purpose of any energy policy — namely, to ensure the provision of reliable and affordable energy supplies.

In Energy Policy: The Feedback From Reality, Professor Michael Laughton suggests that any policy which pursues other objectives — however worthwhile they may be — risks ignoring the degree to which modern society is dependent on reliable and affordable electricity. As far as the UK is concerned, a recent legally binding EU target that 20% of inland energy consumption must be met by renewable sources by 2020 is unachievable. For, hard economic, scientific and engineering constraints mean that such a huge development of renewables and such a great displacement of existing patterns of supply are not realistic.

Besides which, it would also be very expensive and could, in the coming decade, delay or even shut out viable alternatives such as clean coal and nuclear build. The Renewables Obligation scheme which subsidises the development of renewable energy sources has cost £1.7 billion to date (the equivalent of £70 on the average household bill); it is forecast to cost £32 billion over its lifetime (the equivalent of £1,330 per household).

Thankfully, Professor Laughton says that there is an alternative: "The twin drivers of climate change and energy security complement each other in directing the UK towards an aggressive programme of replacing fossil fuels with a combination of renewable energy and nuclear." He concludes, "Long before the end of this century, major changes in energy supply availability and patterns of energy use appear to be inevitable. These changes will take many decades to accomplish; hence the need for foresight that is based on the “feedback from reality” – and not on the eternal human faith in unknown possibilities."