Securing the UK’s Energy Future – maybe

Posted in: Comment, Talks and Presentations

The I-SEE seminar on Monday was given by Professor John Loughhead, Chief Scientific Advisor at DECC – the Department of Energy and Climate Change.  His title, ‘Securing the UK’s Energy Future’ could hardly be more important.

This is what the Abstract for the talk said:

The UK has set itself one the most aggressive greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets in the world: an 80% cut by 2050.  Much of the reduction will have to come from our energy systems, and that will mean great changes both in their design and in how we all use energy.  What might our future electricity, transport, and housing systems look like, and from where will the energy come?  How will we ensure the highly reliable energy supply that is critical to modern society?  What are the engineering and social challenges that lie ahead?

Devising practical solutions to the problems of “keeping the lights on”, at an affordable price, with security of supply, is challenging.  As CSA to DECC, at the heart of this debate, John will discuss some of the objective evidence behind the choices of a mixed supply of energy (imported gas, nuclear, tidal, PV, onshore and offshore wind, and Hydraulic Fracturing for gas).  This latter source is very topical here in South West England.

Loughhead was slick, and here are the points that caught my ear:

  • 45% of energy goes into heating – mostly space heating
  • electricity grids are 8 x the cost of gas grids
  • no one with any sense would use batteries for transport – something I thought about on the way home in my electric car
  • By 2050 significant greenhouse gas emissions will come from agriculture
  • We need innovation in business models around energy – and also in markets
  • We need a continuous source of zero emission power to enable us to realise our targets; that means nuclear and/or carbon capture & storage

Loughhead was particularly good with graphs.  One, from an outfit called Elexon, was particularly fine; it showed how electricity was generated from various fuels throughout a particular day.  What was striking was the steady contribution of nuclear and coal and the fluctuating dance of gas and wind as they (together but not always at the same time) provided most of the rest of the supply.  He said that if the UK has 20GW of zero-emissions power and 40GW of wind power, we'd be somewhere near the target.  As I write this, nuclear is providing 8GW (and coal 13).  Wind is 3 and a bit.  Umm.

It was, I thought, a strange meeting.  The room was full – some 200 souls – but there was next to no challenge to Loughhead.

What was particularly odd was that there were many people there who regard nuclear, oil, coal, gas and fracking (especially fracking) as the work of the devil, but they didn't say boo to the Loughhead goose; they just let him make the case for baseload nuclear and carbon capture without demur.

I expect they went away muttering into the night though, explaining to each other (again) how he'd got it all wrong.


Posted in: Comment, Talks and Presentations


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