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Energy challenges and security solutions

It’s good news for the UK’s renewable energy sector this week as the government prepares to prove its green credentials with an ambitious new set of emissions targets.

Energy secretary Chris Huhne is this week expected to announce targets to reduce CO2 output by around 50 per cent on 1990 levels by 2025.

This will mean drastic changes to energy production, transport and potentially domestic life as the government seeks to move to low-carbon electricity sources and invest in new technology to reduce energy usage.

It is hoped that legal commitment will encourage investors and major companies to put more money into these sectors in the UK by reassuring them the government isn’t going to withdraw its support.

Last week, a £38m wind turbine tower factory was opened in South Wales by bridge-building firm Mabey Bridge, an example of a long-established UK engineering company benefiting from the burgeoning renewables sector.

But the business department had reportedly been opposed to the deal, fearing that legally binding reduction targets could harm UK companies by forcing them to limit their pollution.

The manufacturers’ organisation EEF yesterday warned that committing to drastic cuts without similar agreements in Europe would damage Britain’s competitiveness and prospects for investment.

‘If however, the government simply pushes ahead, then at the very least it must ensure it safeguards the competitiveness of manufacturers and energy intensive users in particular,’ said EEF chief executive, Terry Scuoler.

‘Failure to do so risks moving the problem of emissions elsewhere at a cost of lost inward investment and economic growth.’

The government is also planning reforms to the electricity market, and the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee today warned the proposals were being distorted by hidden subsidies for new nuclear power stations.

The Liberal Democrats are opposed to nuclear energy and the Coalition agreement said nuclear plants could only be built without public subsidy.

But the Committee believes new long-term contracts and a minimum carbon price would hand nuclear companies windfall profits.

‘Ministers believe that new nuclear could play a key role in keep the lights on and meeting our climate change targets—but they don’t want to own up to supporting it,’ said the Committee’s chair, Tim Yeo MP.

‘The government must be up front about the support it is giving to nuclear and not hide subsidies in a one-size-fits-all design for long-term energy contracts.’

Away from the energy sector, the focus is on the security industry this week, with one of its largest events ­­– IFSEC 2011– taking place at the NEC in Birmingham.

Terrorism and security present some unique and demanding challenges for engineers, especially as so much of our national infrastructure is privately owned and is therefore the responsibility of businesses to protect.

IFSEC will showcase the latest technology being used to keep people and property safe, from intelligent video analytics to biometric data capturing.

The event will include a Dragons’ Den-style Future of Security competition, an effort to find the next big technological innovation that can defend against terrorist incidents or other criminal acts.

The show will also feature an Engineers of Tomorrow skills challenge, where teams of security engineer apprentices will take part in a number of exercises to test their physical and mental capabilities – with a £1,000 prize up for grabs.

Readers' comments (13)

  • Oh dear, once again we hear ministers believe that nuclear could play a key role in keeping the lights on, and meeting our climate change targets.

    "Without Hot Air" shows that nuclear power at present provides 2.6kWh per day per person in the UK, whereas we consume 125kWh per day per person in the UK from all sources of energy.

    So how can Nuclear's 2.1% of the total energy we use POSSIBLY be called a key role?

    When are politicians going to get real about these numbers?

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  • In my industry we are already being challenged to design for lowest embodied carbon.

    Making an early switch to low carbon industries may be difficult in the short term and perhaps may need government help but in the medium to longer term this could provide a significant competitive advantage.

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  • If the government puts increasing pressure on companies to reduce carbon emissions are they going to push more of them into the decision to take their business elsewhere. What safeguards are in place to prevent this?

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  • All renewables are highly expensive. Watt-for-watt, Wind Power is 3 times and Solar PV 15 times more expensive than nuclear. Also, Wind Power is only available 34% of the time and Solar PV 25% of the time; for the other 66% and 75% of the time, greenhouse gas emitting Combined Cycle Gas Turbines (CCGTs) are switched on - what's the point?

    These crazy Governmental decisions will leech funds away from - the NHS, Education, Law and Order, Defence, etc.. Which services would you choose to degrade, to pay for renewables?

    If you're worried about nuclear safety or green forms of energy, you should research sustainable Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors (LFTRs), which are hundreds of times safer, 300 times more efficient than and half the price of equivalent Light Water Reactors (LWRs), which are the ones selected for the UK's new-build.

    Alvin Weinberg invented and patented concepts of the LWR and railed against their use for civil purposes, because of their safety frailties, in terms of loss of coolant and meltdown accidents. He did however, believe that LFTRs would be able to supply all of the energy requirements of every person on the planet (at developed-world standards) forever - from inexhaustible and ubiquitous sources of thorium.

    For those who deplore ecosystem destruction and species extinction, relationships are simple: Cost = Labour + Resource Use = Ecosystem Destruction + Species Extinction.

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  • Should it be good news to deliberately engineer the wipe-out of the UK economy by artificially increasing the cost of energy and introducing unreliable windy supplied?

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  • The issue of energy supply needs to be looked at globally. Nearly 50% of the worlds population, 3 billion people, dont have access to the decent energy they need. I see it as an issue of poverty, technology and injustice. Others could see it as a huge business opportunity - an untapped market. If we are to ramp up renewable energy options and markets we need new thinking. There will be a growing and massive base of the pyramid; opportunities for those organisations that are prepared to widen their horizons.

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  • The renewable debate centres on wind, wave, tidal and solar which are portrayed as the only viable non-polluting alternatives to nuclear. Iceland has shown that shallow geothermal is a cost effective and viable technology. Deep hole geothermal is an immature technology with massive potential that is being largely ignored. If the government is serious about changing our energy supply mix, why is geothermal not on the agenda?

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  • Colin Megson,

    And the nuclear reactors at Fukushima at the moment are available none of the time.

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  • CG,

    The six Fukushima nuclear reactors have operated reliably enough for 40 years.

    They were seriously damaged by a tsunami that damaged or destroyed over 125,000 buildings and would have similarly destroyed any other power plant in that location: coal, oil, gas, solar, wind, wave, tidal, whatever.

    If the tsunami had hit a 4.7GWe marine energy installation, the immediate death toll of offshore and dockside workers would have been much higher.

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  • Anonymous,

    But in cases of destruction of the other forms of the generators that you cite, there would not be thousands of displaced persons, homeless due to the fear of radiation poisoning. Nuclear delivers big, but when things go wrong it gets hit big. As the reporter said on this morning's Today; things are still going badly at Fukushima, it's just that we have grown tired of the story, so they are not being reported. I'll take my chance at being hit on the head from a falling solar panel against the problems coming from nuclear power.

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