The question of energy won’t go away

‘Current events in the middle east provide a melancholy reminder of the inconveniences and dangers to which the UK is exposed as a result of depending strongly on conventional fuels.’

Wise words indeed, but if the phraseology sounds a little old-fashioned, that is because the above was the opening paragraph of a leading article in The Engineer of 21 December 1956.

The ‘event’ referred to was the Suez Crisis and the article goes on to explore the potential of the exciting new technology of nuclear power generation to free us entirely from dependency on oil and gas.

Fifty years later you could substitute Iraq for Suez, throw in the added imperative of climate change and conclude that we haven’t moved that far at all. Hopefully, you will forgive us this last trip down memory lane in the final weeks of The Engineer‘s 150th anniversary year but we would argue that this snippet from our archive tells us something important.

In the half century since those words were written, engineering and technology has made advances that our distinguished predecessor could never have imagined. The moon landing, supersonic flight, the personal computer and the internet — the list is endless.

Yet the essence of the dilemma explored by The Engineer in 1956 is the same as the one facing us today and can be summed up in one word — energy. How do we generate the energy to power our economy and society? How do we use it to best effect? To what extent should we rely on other parts of the world to provide it? How much will it cost us and can we afford it?

Now we face the question our friend from 1956 did not have to confront: are we destroying the planet in our pursuit of energy?

Engineering and technology is at the heart of the energy debate, which is why 2007 will be The Engineer‘s Year of Energy. During the year we will look at the technological, economic and policy issues surrounding energy production, transmission and generation. From nuclear to domestic renewables, we hope to shed light on the options for the UK and the course we should take.

That’s for next year. In the meantime, to round off our anniversary — and after 12 months of celebrating the achievements of previous generations of engineers — we thought it would be fitting to explore the legacy that our era will leave for our descendants 50, 100 and 150 years hence.

We may not be venerated as we venerate the Victorians (perhaps they will know us as the second Elizabethans) but, like every generation, we will leave our mark.

Andrew Lee, editor

PS: The next issue of The Engineer will be published on 15 January 2007. Season’s greetings and a happy and prosperous new year to all our readers.