It’s all in the mix

The Engineer’s Year of Energy may be drawing to a close, but it is clear that the issues raised over the past 12 months will loom large on the technological, political and economic landscape for decades to come.

Hopefully The Engineer‘s coverage during 2007 has added to the debate and highlighted the complexity and scale of the challenge ahead.

To mark the finale, this edition’s main feature (Power point) invites a range of leading experts in energy technology and policy to air their views on what the UK could and should do to meet that challenge.

Their responses provide plenty of food for thought. For good measure, here are a few of our own conclusions after a year spent immersed in the subject.

Nuclear energy is firmly back on the agenda, and should stay there. This year the government set the wheels in motion that should result in a new fleet of UK nuclear power stations. How quickly this can be done and how much of the energy mix future nuclear can provide is far from clear, but the principle of its role should be beyond question.

We say ‘should’ advisedly. One of our commentators makes the interesting point that nuclear could become a political football in any future coalition government involving the Liberal Democrats, with cancellation of the programme used as the prize to secure their support. That would be a grave mistake.

So what about renewable energy sources? It is clear that renewables will play a part in meeting our future energy needs, but clearer than ever that it will only be a part. Again, what the exact level of that contribution can or should be is open to debate, as is the combination of renewables themselves that will make up the ‘green’ element of the energy mix.

The wind of change is, literally, blowing across the UK’s landscape with arrays of turbines now a familiar, often controversial sight.

As we highlighted this year, however, the UK has another great natural resource in the form of the tidal currents around its coastline. Wave and tidal generation should not be allowed to become the poor relations of the renewables sector before they have had a chance to prove their worth.

And finally, what of our old friends — oil and gas? It’s true that they sometimes don’t feel like friends at all these days, what with the rising prices, the environmental fall-out and the need to plunge headlong into ever riskier parts of the world to get hold of them. All too often, they feel more like the enemy.

But the reality is that hydrocarbons are going to be with us for many years to come, and the focus will shift to making their use less environmentally obnoxious. Step forward carbon capture and storage, which we predict will be one of the hottest properties in energy technology next year and for many to come.

On that note, The Engineer wishes all our readers a good festive season and a happy new year. The next issue of The Engineer will appear on 14 January, 2008.

Andrew Lee, editor