Nuclear phase out?

Britain’s electricity supply has been left dangerously vulnerable by the government’s plans to phase out nuclear power and rely more on gas and renewable energy, according to a new report by the Adam Smith Institute.

The report says that wind and solar power are costly and intermittent sources of energy that cannot fill the gap left by nuclear, while planned gas imports rely on a complex cross-national network that is easily disrupted by political upheavals in any one of a number of countries.

The result will be increasing insecurity and the risk of power failures crippling the UK economy, now utterly dependent on reliable electricity supplies.

The report, Power to the People, will cause some serious worry in Whitehall, being written by Professor Michael Laughton, a highly distinguished and objective energy policy expert.

Professor Laughton says that the government’s much-heralded but muddled energy policy puts far too little weight on the importance of the security of power supplies and the fuels used to generate them.

Apart from the inconvenience of power cuts to householders, the costs to business could run into billions, as recent UK and international examples have highlighted. This severe economic risk alone means that the security of supply should have a much higher priority than the government gives it, says Professor Laughton.

He argues for new incentives for future investment in all forms of generation, saying we should not close off certain options just because politicians find them uncomfortable. Likewise, investment in alternative energy should not be a political mantra but should be done on a rational basis, with the aim of spreading the risk by having a wide range of energy sources.

‘Evidence-based actions to address gaps in current policy would help future-proof the UK against the prospect of serious national power failures,’ says Professor Laughton. ‘And to secure power supplies to the customers we need to make sure that our primary energy supplies are secure too, and that means we need energy sources that are reliable, sustainable, and controllable. But none of these requirements are met by some of the energy sources that the government will be relying on.’

The Adam Smith study calls for an objective assessment of future gas security issues to quantify the risk of severe power shortages occurring if supplies are interrupted.

The Institute says that real incentives should be provided for all controllable low-carbon energy conversion technologies, such as the development of the hydrogen cell. And it demands a much sharper focus on what the true costs of renewable technologies are in fact likely to be.

‘The security of power supplies and energy sources must be the top priorities of future energy policy. We can still meet our environmental objectives, but the mix of generating sources must be urgently considered,’ says Professor Laughton.

‘Over-dependence on gas will significantly raise the risk of supply interruption, price instability and economic damage. And by raising carbon dioxide levels, gas will reduce environmental quality too.’

‘Renewables are an important part of the mix, but they are technologically challenging and nobody knows what the full cost will be. They are also irregular, meaning that we will need fossil fuel back-up anyway.’

‘Meanwhile, the government is closing nuclear plants and has no plans to build new ones. To prevent shortages, we would need to replace this lost capacity with fossil-fired plant. But to meet our Kyoto commitments, and to preserve our security by having a good mix of fuels, the issue of new nuclear build needs to be put firmly back on the political agenda.’

To download the full report in PDF format, please click <a href=’http://www.adamsmith.org/policy/publications/pdf-files/powerpeople.pdf’>here</a>.