Response to DTI Energy Consultation
13 April 2006
The DTI Energy Consultation
On 23 January 2006 the UK government launched an energy consultation entitled “Our Energy Challenge: securing clean, affordable energy for the long term” (www.dti.gov.uk/energy/review/). The government sought the views of the public and of industry on this vital topic.
This article reproduces my response to the questions posed in the consultation document, submitted online via www.dti.gov.uk/energy/en_consult.shtml.
Q1. What more could the government do on the demand or supply side for energy to ensure that the UK’s long-term goal of reducing carbon emissions is met? (MAXIMUM 750 WORDS)
The government should actively manage both demand, in order to reduce our need for energy, and supply, in order to provide clean, renewable energy.
On the demand side, we should:
- Embrace the principles of Contraction and Convergence (www.gci.org.uk), by introducing carbon rationing for all individuals and organisations, following the Tradable Energy Quota (TEQ) system (www.teqs.net), in which permits to pollute are issued, and progressively scaled back over the years to meet our obligation to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. TEQs would apply to all sectors of the economy, including home, industry and transport. This key measure would help the UK implement energy descent – the scaling back of demand to match available supply.
- Make people energy-aware, so they reduce their energy consumption (rising energy prices are already contributing to this awareness)
- Address the causes of excessive energy consumption. For example, few people can afford to live near their workplaces, since many jobs are based in towns and cities where house prices are extortionate. Consequently they are forced to commute large distances, typically by private motor car. To tackle this, we should fundamentally alter the UK housing market, so that people can afford to live near to where they work. This would reduce the time and energy wasted on travelling. Measures to achieve this could include house price control (limiting house price rises to inflation) and the abolition of stamp duty (a financial barrier to moving house). Unfortunately, current schemes such as key worker housing exacerbate the problem, as they continue to fuel excessive house price growth by supporting an unsustainable market.
On the supply side, we should:
- Eliminate all market-distorting subsidies given to nuclear, coal, oil and gas, and undertake a comprehensive switch to renewable energy, including wind, solar thermal, photovoltaic, tidal, biomass, ground source heat pumps and Combined Heat and Power (CHP). (Note, however, we should not regard incinerators as renewable sources, as they stimulate demand for waste to fuel them)
- Restructure the electricity market to favour local power generation over centralised power stations
- Charge for electricity at a rate proportional to the cost of production, not at a uniform wholesale price. This would encourage cheap renewable energy consumption at the times of day when available (e.g. run washing machine at night when the local wind farm is producing a surplus of electricity)
- Automatically grant planning permission for small scale domestic wind turbines and other renewable technologies
In conclusion, the government should place less reliance on “technology fixes”, and more emphasis on leading the UK population through the process of energy descent, putting in place the necessary behavioural and structural changes.
Q2. With the UK becoming a net energy importer and with big investments to be made over the next twenty years in generating capacity and networks, what further steps, if any, should the government take to develop our market framework for delivering reliable energy supplies? In particular, we invite views on the implications of increased dependence on gas imports. (MAXIMUM 750 WORDS)
Peak oil is a serious problem; we face a similar crisis with gas supplies. Rising oil and gas prices indicate that we face a growing worldwide shortage in fossil fuel supplies. There is a parallel danger, that of a mass switch back to coal, a heavily polluting source whose combustion will accelerate anthropogenic climate change. To address peak oil and climate change, we need a rapid widescale return to local renewable energy systems.
To achieve this, the government should:
- Remove VAT on all renewable energy products, technologies and services (regardless of whether installed privately or by professionals)
- Introduce a more flexible energy market, in which consumers pay the true cost of their electricity production – this will further stimulate the renewables market, as nuclear, oil and gas become prohibitively expensive. Technically, this could be achieved by transmitting price information along with electricity: for example, if a consumer chooses to run their energy-intensive tumble dryer on an overcast calm day when local wind and solar power stations aren’t producing much power, they will rightly have to pay more for their electricity at that point in time.
- Develop local energy supply networks, fed by small scale distributed power generation systems. This would be cheaper than the national grid, and less prone to failure.
Q3. The Energy White Paper left open the option of nuclear new build. Are there particular considerations that should apply to nuclear as the government re-examines the issues bearing on new build, including long-term liabilities and waste management? If so, what are these, and how should the government address them? (MAXIMUM 750 WORDS)
Nuclear fission power might be attractive, were it not for five key problems which have yet to be solved:
- Nuclear power is not carbon neutral
- There is no method for safely disposing of nuclear waste (Interestingly, waste disposal and clean up is currently funded by the taxpayer, rather than by users of the electricity generated through nuclear power. A true free market would give consumers a choice over where they bought their electricity from. Those who wished to purchase nuclear power could fund its waste liabilities by paying commensurately higher prices.)
- Mining, processing and delivering uranium fuel to the power station requires fossil fuel powered machinery. As the peak oil crisis deepens, these activities will become economically prohibitive
- Worldwide uranium supplies are already limited (industry is having to mine lower quality seams). A widescale switch to nuclear would deplete these seams very quickly
- The lead time for nuclear power stations is ten to twenty years, and therefore is not enough to plug a short-term energy gap
However, there is an alternative to fission power: nuclear fusion. Although not yet viable, nuclear fusion reactors, which harness similar reactions to those in the sun, could provide huge amounts of electrical power, without generating as much radioactive waste produced by fission reactors. I believe the government should increase its financial contributions to nuclear fusion research (but only after implementing renewable solutions). Although unlikely to pay off in the short term, the long term benefits could be enormous.
Q4. Are there particular considerations that should apply to carbon abatement and other low-carbon technologies? (MAXIMUM 750 WORDS)
Carbon sequestration (abatement) represents a poor alternative to a reduction in carbon emissions. Nature has already designed the world’s best carbon sequestration technology – trees. We should therefore maximise our woodland and forest cover worldwide by introducing policies mandating sustainable timber systems (such as woodland coppicing).
Furthermore, planning policy should be changed to require significant green spaces to be re-established in towns and cities, and to prevent the sprawl of housing estates over virgin countryside.
Q5. What further steps should be taken towards meeting the government’s goals for ensuring that every home is adequately and affordably heated? (MAXIMUM 750 WORDS)
There are many simple and effective steps we could take, including:
- Immediate removal of VAT on all energy-efficient insulation and heating products (alongside renewable technologies, goods and services in general)
- Consolidate the diverse range of home energy efficiency schemes that currently exist into a single national scheme, easily understood by everyone, and supported consistently over many decades with no funding gaps
- Continue ratcheting up the minimum insulation standards required of new-build in the Building Regulations; simultaneously expand the Building Regulations to mandate the incorporation of passive solar heating, along with off-grid energy and water supply systems; prohibit new housing developments from including car parking in order to minimise the carbon dioxide emissions generated by private transport
- Reward owners of low and zero carbon homes with financial incentives, such as reduced council tax
Comments are invited on the following issues as described in the text:
i. The long term potential of energy efficiency measures in the transport, residential, business and public sectors, and how best to achieve that potential (MAXIMUM 750 WORDS)
Energy efficiency measures could hugely reduce our requirements for energy in all sectors of the economy. However, the most difficult area to tackle will be our high demand for personal motor transport. The so-called ‘hydrogen economy’ does not offer a solution, as vast quantities of electricity will be needed to produce the hydrogen fuel.
The government must therefore reduce the need for private motor transport. One fundamental cause of excessive travel is the UK’s overpriced housing market, which forces many people to commute large distances between affordable accommodation and their workplaces.
ii. Implications in the medium and long term for the transmission and distribution networks of significant new build in gas and electricity generation infrastructure (MAXIMUM 750 WORDS)
As discussed above, we should not be building large scale centralised energy distribution networks. Our infrastructure development efforts should be focused at the local and regional level, supporting microgeneration projects.
iii. Opportunities for more joint working with other countries on our energy policy goals (MAXIMUM 750 WORDS)
Energy policy goals should remain within the state, simply because on the grounds of sustainability countries should source their energy supplies from within their own borders. By all means work with other countries where it advances our own goals. However, we do not need more joint research: we need implementation!
iv. Potential measures to help bring forward technologies to replace fossil fuels in transport and heat generation in the medium and long term (MAXIMUM 750 WORDS)
Again, a range of measures will enable the replacement of fossil fuels:
- A reduction in energy demand (see response to question 1) by implementing Tradable Energy Quotas (www.teqs.net)
- The provision of economic incentives to households to insulate and install their own generating capacity (e.g. removal of VAT on green products)
- Wide ranging cross-party support for renewable technologies, spanning successive governments
End of consultation questionnaire