Skip to main content

The British Way Forward on Energy

Huhne460x276 The current British government is a coalition between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, an awkward marriage considering that the Conservatives favor increased use of nuclear energy and the Liberal Democrats most definitely don’t.

As part of the coalition agreement – or compromise – the liberals got much of what they want in energy policy, as laid out by new Energy Minister Chris Huhne (who is a Liberal Democrat):

The UK is blessed with a wealth of renewable energy resources, both on and offshore. We are committed to overcoming the real challenges in harnessing these resources. We will implement the ‘Connect and Manage’ regime [this has to do with connecting off-the-beaten-path energy sources to the electricity grid] and I am today giving the go ahead to a transitional regime for offshore wind farms.

Ah, wind. And a little more:

We also need incentives for small-scale and community action. We are currently consulting on a new micro-generation strategy. I am today laying an order to allow local authorities to sell renewable electricity to the grid.

This is all pretty small-bore, especially when you consider:

We face short term challenges as a result of the legacy inherited from the previous government. We have the third lowest share of renewable energy in the EU – the same ranking as in 1997.

Remember, in this context, renewable doesn’t include nuclear energy, so percentages of renewable and carbon emission-free energy generation are different. By this standard, for example, France produces about 12 percent of its electricity via renewable energy, but virtually all its production is carbon emission free due to nuclear energy (and those renewables, of course.)

Britain isn’t quite as low on the renewables scale as Huhne suggests, but it is at around 4.6 percent, clumped with small and eastern European countries. (Austria is best, at about 62 percent.)

Where does this leave nuclear energy?

The coalition agreement is clear that new nuclear can go ahead so long as there is no public subsidy. The Government is committed to removing any unnecessary obstacles to investment in new nuclear power. In the Memorandum I have outlined some clear actions to aid this. As a result, I believe new nuclear will play a part in meeting our energy needs.

In an exceptionally fair editorial, the (U.K.) Telegraph sees the difficulty here:

In the years to come, we will need both renewable and nuclear energy, but also honest thinking and straight talking about how they work in concord. Judging by what Mr Huhne says today, the necessary elements of a long-term strategy may be in place – but the correct emphasis is not.

And here’s why:

Yet by making nuclear power the poor relation among potential energy sources, Mr Huhne is making a strategic error. Although the exploitation of renewable sources such as wind, wave and solar power is undoubtedly sensible, Britain will imminently require substantial and reliable alternatives to fossil fuels, and there is little chance that renewables can deliver the assured quantity of energy in the necessary time-frame.

So true. There’s a reason why the Conservatives and Labour parties both embraced nuclear energy as a way forward and this is it. The smaller Liberal Democrats have seized their moment, as why shouldn’t they, but that may last only as long as the coalition is sustainable (er, or renewable).

I couldn’t find much beyond speculation whether Huhne’s approach will actually set back nuclear energy in Great Britain – but the speculation, as in this article at Der Spiegel (in English) – thinks that it will. That means it’s in wait and see mode.

So let’s wait and see.

U.K. Energy Minister Chris Huhne

Comments

SteveK9 said…
What's more bizarre is that Labor (what we could call 'liberals') also favors nuclear and put in place things like the Sheffield Forgemaster loan for a 15 000 ton press, etc. So, you have a political party with about 15% support dictating (well maybe that is too strong) policy. This is typical of coalitions.
Joffan said…
SteveK9, the UK Labour party can no longer be described as 'liberals', since about the mid-90s. The Lib Dems are to the left of both Labour and Conservative parties. See the Political Compass, especially the migration graph at the end of that page.

Popular posts from this blog

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

Why America Needs the MOX Facility

If Isaiah had been a nuclear engineer, he’d have loved this project. And the Trump Administration should too, despite the proposal to eliminate it in the FY 2018 budget.

The project is a massive factory near Aiken, S.C., that will take plutonium from the government’s arsenal and turn it into fuel for civilian power reactors. The plutonium, made by the United States during the Cold War in a competition with the Soviet Union, is now surplus, and the United States and the Russian Federation jointly agreed to reduce their stocks, to reduce the chance of its use in weapons. Over two thousand construction workers, technicians and engineers are at work to enable the transformation.

Carrying Isaiah’s “swords into plowshares” vision into the nuclear field did not originate with plutonium. In 1993, the United States and Russia began a 20-year program to take weapons-grade uranium out of the Russian inventory, dilute it to levels appropriate for civilian power plants, and then use it to produce…

Nuclear Is a Long-Term Investment for Ohio that Will Pay Big

With 50 different state legislative calendars, more than half of them adjourn by June, and those still in session throughout the year usually take a recess in the summer. So springtime is prime time for state legislative activity. In the next few weeks, legislatures are hosting hearings and calling for votes on bills that have been battered back and forth in the capital halls.

On Tuesday, The Ohio Public Utilities Committee hosted its third round of hearings on the Zero Emissions Nuclear Resources Program, House Bill 178, and NEI’s Maria Korsnick testified before a jam-packed room of legislators.


Washingtonians parachuting into state debates can be a tricky platform, but in this case, Maria’s remarks provided national perspective that put the Ohio conundrum into context. At the heart of this debate is the impact nuclear plants have on local jobs and the local economy, and that nuclear assets should be viewed as “long-term investments” for the state. Of course, clean air and electrons …