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Decarbonising Britain - making the sums add up

September 12, 2013 2:13 PM
By Julian Huppert in Liberal Democrat Voice
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

Sustainable energyThere's an excellent book by Prof David MacKay called 'Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air'. This is a must read for anyone interested in energy policy. To help with that, it's available entirely for free, at http://www.withouthotair.com - although you can buy a copy if, like me, you think you'll want to keep it to hand.

Essentially, David MacKay highlights that whatever we do, we have to ensure that the amount of energy used does not exceed the amount of energy available.

How do we strike this balance? The first thing we can do is reduce our energy usage - that's why I and so many others care about energy efficiency. Not using a kWh of energy is far more environmentally friendly than generating by any means!

National schemes like the Green Investment Bank and Green Deal, and local schemes such as the Cambridge Retrofit project, which aims to insulate every building in Cambridge by 2040 can help us do this.

But whatever we do, we will still be left with a demand for energy, which we have to meet.

We can harvest some energy from solar, some from wind, some from nuclear, some from gas, some from HEP and so on, but together it has to add up. Magic energy that just appears would be great, and the ultimate solution is fusion - but we're 25 years away from that, as we have been for 50 years.

Every way of generating energy has its downsides; there is no perfect solution. To power an entire country, we're talking about LOTS of wind turbines, LOTS of solar panels and so forth. We shouldn't pretend these have no negatives, great though they are.

We also have to ensure that there is energy available when we need it - not just when it is sunny and windy. Better battery technology, enabling us to easily store surplus energy for when we need it, would help enormously, but we're not there yet. So we have to have some base load available for those dead times.

What should that be? Well, coal, oil, gas and nuclear are the main options. HEP can work - but is a long way from being on the right scale. Tidal? Wave? Well, perhaps - but we're not there yet either.

And then there's the pressing risk of climate change. I take this incredibly seriously - it is the biggest threat we face as a species. We have to decarbonise our fuel, and we have to do it quickly.

Which is why as an environmentalist and a huge supporter of renewables, I believe that nuclear has a place in our energy mix. To me, it's that or a dash for gas, with all the consequences that it brings. That is why I will be proposing Option B, allowing the possible use of nuclear energy to help decarbonisation, at the zero carbon Britain debate at Conference - page 27

Nuclear is not perfect - but then nothing is. But if we are serious about dealing with climate change, if we really want to reduce our carbon emissions, I cannot see an alternative.

* Julian Huppert is Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge and our speaker at East Midlands Liberal Democrats European Dinner

John Wheaver - Kettering and Wellingborough Comments

I am glad that Julian Huppert comes out in favour of some nuclear power generation. The case against was mainly in respect of the residues; in the last 25 years it has become clear that that approaches the negligible when compared with the residues from fossil fuels now most alarmingly oil and gas. Energy-use efficiency offers a one-off gain however. As in any enterprise "efficiency savings" do not offer a continuing rate of improving efficiency, but sound good at first glance (to add metaphors to what is mixed). And there is room to hope that nuclear fusion will be contributing by the time the next generation of fission stations' life is ending, so we are not looking to the eternal creation of nuclear waste.