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Low-carbon policy won't drive out manufacturers, says Huhne

The government won’t set policies that risk driving manufacturers out of the UK in order to reach carbon-cutting targets, Chris Huhne has said.

Speaking exclusively to The Engineer, the UK energy secretary moved to reassure energy-intensive industries that Britain would remain a competitive place to do business, despite last week setting one of the world’s strictest emissions targets.

‘It would be ridiculous for us to set a policy framework that simply drove energy-intensive industries out of the UK to set up somewhere else and emit exactly the same amount of carbon,’ he said.

60 per cent of manufacturers are highly concerned about rising energy costs

IMechE survey results

Businesses should also beware, he added, that many other major industrialised countries, including India and China, were taking similar actions to curb carbon emissions.

‘Yes we need to make sure that we are not disadvantaging industries in terms of competitiveness, but… the idea that people are going to be able to up sticks and go somewhere where they can ignore the climate-change problem is very short sighted.’

Huhne announced last week that the government had agreed a legally binding target of reducing carbon-dioxide emissions by 50 per cent on 1990 levels by 2025.

Plans to move to more renewable sources of energy and phase out coal power plants are likely to push electricity prices up, and energy-intensive industries such as manufacturing fear the impact this will have on their business.

A survey by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) found that 60 per cent of manufacturers were highly concerned about rising energy costs — more than those worried about labour costs, falling consumer spend and the burden of regulation.

‘The UK is showing clear international leadership by moving forward with its transition to a low-carbon economy and this is going to mean higher energy costs for everybody,’ said IMechE president John Wood.

‘But manufacturers are worried and government needs to make sure it doesn’t force energy-intensive industries out of the UK and into countries with more lax climate-change targets. This is of benefit to neither the UK economy nor the environment.

‘The government needs to move forward quickly with its promises to mitigate the effect of ambitious climate-change targets on energy-intensive industries in the UK.’

Huhne said the government was looking at a range of solutions, such as free allocations of credits within the EU emissions trading scheme and encouraging the installation of biomass, and would announce measures by the end of the year.

He dismissed suggestions that the renewable technologies the government was relying on to help meet its ambitious low-carbon generation targets were not yet proven.

‘If you look across the whole area of technologies that can replace existing technologies with low-carbon forms, the only real area where there continues to be a problem is aviation and the rest of it is, frankly, getting costs down rather than proving it will work.’

He admitted that there were still some uncertainties about the technologies and that was why the government was pursuing a portfolio approach of exploring different ideas for renewable power generation.

‘It’s our job to set a framework whereby early-stage technologies — for example, wave or tidal stream — can be brought to a point where they can be commercial.

‘They may never get there and if they don’t then the subsidies end and they don’t become a reliable solution, but we don’t know what the most successful low-carbon technologies will be.’

Readers' comments (6)

  • Wave and Tidal Stream will never be commercial because of the low and intermittent outputs. Both have a low CF around 20% which requires fossil and nuclear backup for 80% of the time

    We are running out of fossil fuels rapidly and intermittent renewables will never be the answer in the short to medium term

    The solution is to generate thermal electricity with renewable energy supplying the heat source.

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  • Andrew Mackay's figures for Wave and Tidal stream power outputs are completely wrong - he has mixed up onshore wind power for Tidal Power.

    Onshore wind turbines can turn a generator under load generating electricty for about 20% of the time.

    Offsore wind turbines can turn a generator under load generating electricty for about 25% of the time.

    Water turbines operating under tidal flow can turn under load generating electricty for 85% of the time.

    At turn of tide there is by definition no flow to turn the water turbine and either side of the turn of the tide there is insufficient flow to turn the water turbine under load to generate electricty.

    Not only are tidal power water turbines capable of turning a generator under load 85% of the time, the fact that tides are predictable years ahead the National Grid can predict the availability of electricty generated by tidal flow water turbines.

    WIND POWER IS COMPLETELY UNPREDICTABLE and last winter the weather conditions that kept GB plc in deep freeze for weeks before Xmas also meant there was no wind to generate wind power! Likewise the recent brush and bracken fires in some areas resulted in wind turbines being switched off to stop them fanning the fires - A BBC news report that I heard and couldnt understand why because the wind turning the rotors would fan the flames efficiently enough!!!!

    Where Mr Andrew Mackay is correct is that conventional steam turbine plant is kept on standby with the boilers steamed up to ensure no power cuts - Boilers requiring lartge amounts of fossil fuel to be burnt as back up to wind power.

    The problem with this type of back up is that it causes low cycle thermal fatigue in the steam turbine plant every time it is switched on and off destroying the steam turbines causing expensive repairs and shortening working life.

    Finally one cpomment that should be made and which the wind power lobby ignores is that the prime cause of CO2 formation is the concrete industry and the CO2 generated to make concrete mix and then setting concrete meaning wind farms are prime causes of global warming taking many years to 'repay' the CO2 generated and green house warming caused by their manufacture and erection!

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  • I think Julian has it right!
    It begs the question why the Condems appear to be pushing HS2 when the Severn Barrage cries out as the sensible long term option for our hard-earned.
    I am unclear why we should continue to subsidise rail travel, let alone cripple ourselves providing another hugely subsidised high speed version which will be even less environmentally friendly than current traffic.

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  • Nuclear: Cheap as chips.

    See: Royal Academy of Engineering Study -

    Nuclear - 2.2 p/kWh
    Onshore Wind - 5.3 p/kWh
    Offshore Wind - 7.1 p/kWh

    I've got a good idea, Mr Huhne: Instead of all your fancy footwork, doing your subsidy dance, why don't you let manufacturers who support Nuclear pay nuclear prices and those who support Wind pay their preferred Onshore or Offshore prices?

    Come to think of it, why don't you let the rest of us do it?

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  • Huhne is wrong on every count. CO2 does not harm people nor cause Global Warming. UK's share man made CO2 is under 2%, Man made CO2 is but 5% of Global CO2.

    Onshore wind can produce as little as 7% of rated Capacity in a year -look at 2010 figures. Offhore wind is pressed to exceed 20% of capacity. Half the time wind and tide electricity is made just when domestic users and industry does not want it.

    Nuclear plant, like coal fired plant cannot respond to demand increases ultra rapidly. Thus any "renewable" must have an energy storage system behind it. This could be 10 more Dinorwicks or another man made Loch Ness, just 150m above the real one.

    Solar falls into same trap except that sun shines when people want power. By contrast domestic solar hot water is a no brainer, mine is even making some hot water while it is raining.

    Advances in domestic storage batteries or flywheel might make it posible for home generators to cover their own peaks and troughs at a huge cost.

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  • A couple of points.

    Though we didn't quote the minister as saying so, CO2 is in fact a toxic gas.

    Also, whilst intermittency is an issue with solar and wind power, the tides are completely predictable

  • Not being a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist I have been reading the comments about tidal power being 85% efficient due to the turn of the tides. Well we live on an island there is about 5 hours difference between high tide at Holyhead on the west coast and Immingham on the east coast so when the tide is turning on the west coast coast could you not select generators on the east coast and vice versa to take up the slack in tidal generated power?

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