Tuesday, December 20, 2005

No single solution for Britain's energy problems, says minister

Guardian Unlimited Politics | Special Reports | No single solution for Britain's energy problems, says minister

Mark Milner
Tuesday December 20, 2005
The Guardian

Malcolm Wicks, the energy minister, said yesterday there would have to be some form of "relationship" between the government and the energy market if Britain opted to build a new generation of nuclear power stations.
But he made it clear it was far too early to discuss what form such a link would take. "If we go down that path, and I underline 'if', there would have to be some particular relationship between the state and the market. What that would be I don't know; we are not there yet."

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In a speech to the Social Market Foundation Mr Wicks made it clear that the government's energy review, announced by the prime minister last month, would not be looking to find a single solution to Britain's energy problems. "No such solution exists, no silver bullet - or uranium bullet."
He warned that Britain could not duck its energy challenges. Around 19% of the country's electricity is generated by nuclear plants and another 33% from coal-fired stations. Mr Wicks noted, however, decommissioning could see nuclear's share of UK generation fall to 7% by 2020 while European Union directives on emissions could cut coal's contribution to 16%.

"Taken together we are likely to see around 30% of our generating capacity being decommissioned over the next 15 years. In addition to already being a net importer of gas we will be a net importer of oil by the end of the decade." Unless Britain changes its energy policy "we run a real risk of falling behind our energy goals".

Mr Wicks said investment decisions taken over the next decade would determine Britain's energy mix for the next 20 to 30 years. He added that the government needs to give the industry some clarity in order to ensure that those decisions are in line with its aims of reducing carbon emissions and achieving reasonable security of supply.

Mr Wicks said that energy from renewable sources would play a key role, but it could not provide the complete answer to either generation capacity or carbon targets. "Other renewables will emerge over time as significant players such as microgeneration, wave and tidal. But currently only wind can provide meaningful levels of low carbon capacity at a cost comparable to existing non-renewable technologies such as gas, coal and nuclear."

While nuclear was already part of the mix, Mr Wicks said Britain needed to look at what will happen as its share of generating capacity falls. "While nuclear excites interest and controversy, it can never be the only answer."

He said: "Electricity generation is only 30% of the carbon emissions picture. We need to look to energy efficiency; our homes account for 30% of emissions. And transport is obviously also key - every individual and sector has a role to play if we are to meet our goal."


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