Are there are still innocents abroad ...

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

... who think that the UK government has a clear and coherent energy policy despite all the evidence around them?  Are there those who really believe that carbon targets will be met, or that the lights will stay on, or that we won't end up paying $zillions to rapacious gas wholesalers?  If so, they should read Geoffrey Lean, last week, ...

Ensuring the country has enough energy is one of the most important, if unspectacular, tasks of government.  And ministers face what [Energy Secretary] Davey calls “the biggest overhaul of our energy infrastructure for decades”, as a fifth of power stations come offline over the next 10 years.  A decision on how to replace them has been repeatedly put off, and has now been delayed again following this week’s events.  The dithering is largely down to [Chancellor] Osborne, who has been pressing to scale down plans for renewable energy and further boost gas, which already dominates our energy supply.  He seems to believe that increasing clean energy and “decarbonising” electricity generation will be bad for business, increase household bills and impede growth.

Yet, all autumn, groups of major companies have been writing to him and the Prime Minister to urge them to press on with decarbonisation to, as one letter put it, give “investors the certainty they need”. Rising gas prices have caused much the greatest increase in electricity bills; blaming renewables instead has succeeded in diverting attention. And the CBI has shown that green business is one of the few parts of the economy to be “growing steadily” through the recession.  Worse, the indecision and the assault on clean power is deterring the investment needed to keep the lights on – and increasing the cost of capital, and thus future energy bills.

... or this week's Economist ...

This is part of a wider retreat from the green policies that the Conservative Party once trumpeted. In hard times, reticence is driven by fears over their high costs.  George Osborne, the chancellor of the exchequer, is now fighting to shrink the green ambitions of a forthcoming energy bill.  But the objections of many Tories suggest a deeper animus, fuelled by Euroscepticism, climate-change denial and an attachment to a turbine-free English landscape. … Many are concerned about the growing clout of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which is keen to collect votes from the Tories in the 2015 general election. UKIP lambasts onshore wind farms as “uneconomical and inefficient” and accuses the government of backing them “to secure the ‘green’ vote and to keep the EU happy”.

Subsidies for onshore wind are valued at some £400m ($640m) a year, but the cost per megawatt hour is half that of offshore wind or solar panels.  Renewables now generate around 10% of the country’s electricity, which means more need building to reach the 2020 goal.  Though the target has involved overspending and government meddling, it has also served as an important green light for investors.  And as turbines get bigger and more efficient, the costs for operating and maintaining them are falling. Subsidies for the technology were cut 10% this year, and may soon be snipped further.  Michael Liebricht, head of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a research firm, predicts that onshore wind could soon compete with coal and gas, as prices rise for fossil fuels and carbon.

Polls show that most Britons back the technology, although views change when turbines are planned nearby.  The government is now looking into ways to get the NIMBYs on board. Most proposals involve some sort of compensation, either through reduced electricity bills or investments in local infrastructure.  This approach has helped to pacify critics in Denmark, where wind power is meant to generate half of all electricity by 2020. Developers there must also reimburse residents for any loss in property value. In Britain, though, the government—and green investors—seem to be twisting in the wind.

... and then sober up.

It must be hard to teach about energy these days without straying into politics and citizenship, given that the energy mix, its future reliability, and its pricing are all subject to political influence.  What is a physics teacher to do?

Just teach physics, of course; that is forces, energy, circuits, magnets, etc, all that timeless stuff – just like the Sabre-tooth curriculum, and Mr Gove, say.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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