18 July, 2006

Energy review says nothing much

Oooh, the government must be afraid of me. Why else would they choose to wait until I was away to release their new, improved energy review? Get the full details here. I neither have the time or the inclination to wade in detail through its entire 218 pages, but I have done more than skim through the executive summary; and, in contrast to the OTT pro-nuclear rumblings being put about by certain people, it does at least have some semblance of balance. In fact, contrary to the ‘back with a vengeance’ rhetoric, I find it a bit wishy-washy and non-committal. For example, the heavily-leaked nuclear stuff: as has been widely expected, the review concludes we need to build some new nuclear power stations, but doesn’t seem anywhere to suggest how many it thinks we might need. This might be why:

It will be for the private sector to initiate, fund, construct and operate new nuclear plants and to cover the full cost of decommissioning and their full share of long-term waste management costs.

Nothing to do with us, high gas prices will mean the private sector will be queuing up, no public money needed, oh no! Whether you think more nuclear is a good idea or not, I think we can all agree that this at best disingenuous. Decommissioning and waste storage issues are also somewhat glossed over (although to be fair, this is no change from the last 60 years or so).

One pleasant surprise is that there’s a whole chapter devoted to distributed energy generation and CHP which is actually reasonably positive, highlighting the potential benefits (which I’ve discussed before) as well as discussing potential downsides (possible loss of economies of scale, problems with fully exploiting offshore wind and other renewable resources). In the end, however, there is a disappointing, but predictable, commitment to not very much at all in this area:
To understand its true long-term potential, and the challenges we face in getting there, we will commission a high-powered investigation of the potential of distributed energy as a long-term alternative or supplement to centralised generation, looking at the full range of scientific, technical, economic and behavioural issues.

In a similar way, domestic energy usage and transport are referred to, but not in a way that lends confidence that the government is going to provide much in the way of leadership in these important areas. Even the warm and pleasing tones about renewables obligations are slightly marred by the fact that whilst wind is mentioned a fair amount (116 times in all compared to 441 for nuclear) solar and tidal energy get hardly a mention (17 and 11 times respectively).

It’s hard (especially in the current heatwave) to get really mad about something so fundamentally unambitious. Climate Change Action summarises some disappointed reactions from the likes of the Sustainable Development Commission and the Tyndall centre (pdf).

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