Chemical engineers have issued a stark warning that power cuts on a scale being experienced in the USA and Canada could hit the UK unless the government rethinks its energy policy.
David White, a member of the Parliamentary Group for Energy Studies and Energy Affairs spokesman for the IChemE has warned MP’s that UK power generation is precariously balanced and the nation may be relying on a safety net that doesn’t exist. White also believes that the strategy set out in the recent Energy White Paper will worsen the situation.
‘National Grid has recently reported that overcapacity has fallen to 17%. While this may be the ‘official’ figure, much of the notional ‘surplus’ has already been mothballed or cannibalised to reduce maintenance costs,’ said White.
‘Figures supplied by National Grid reveal that power demand reached an all-time high of 54.4GW on December 10th 2002. Weather records show that this was a cold day, but not excessively so for the UK in winter. This record figure was around 3GW (5.6%) higher that the previous peak only eleven months earlier, suggesting substantial growth in electricity demand.
‘Demand came close to outstripping supply on that day. We are relying on a theoretical safety net that may not be there in practice even before the policies set out in the White Paper are implemented.’
IChemE Head of External Relations, Andrew Furlong, believes that the government runs the risk of US style blackouts and an urgent rethink of energy policy is required.
‘Professional Chemical Engineers are saying that the White Paper is fundamentally flawed. Market mechanisms continue to hold energy prices down at unsustainably low levels. Several UK power generators are on the brink of insolvency. This has the dual effect of shutting down capacity whilst stifling any incentive to invest in the development of cleaner, more reliable power generation,’ said Furlong.
‘It may be decades before renewable energy plays any meaningful part in the generation of electricity. And the question of how we replace the major contribution made by the UK’s ageing nuclear power plants remains unanswered. Meanwhile, the government is crossing its fingers and placing its faith in imported gas supplies and unreliable wind power.’
Industrial nations with fully liberalised energy markets are highly vulnerable as the television images from New York have shown. Furlong said that chemical engineers are calling for an urgent review of the energy situation.
‘We simply aren’t sure that the government has got its figures right,’ said Furlong. ‘Independent technical experts must urgently review the calculations underpinning the Energy White Paper and chemical engineers are ready to assist.’