Lights out, Britons told – we're running out of power
Carbon quango The Energy Saving Trust has come up with a new reason for Britons to save energy in the home. Our power stations will soon close, and you’ll need to do your bit.
That’s what one Reg reader discovered, after enquiring about the Trust’s calculations on the effectiveness of new low-energy bulbs.
“A reduction in electricity consumption will be essential over the coming decade as a large number of power stations are being withdrawn from service, and as a result there is a gap looming between supply and demand,” Graham Crocker was told. “More efficient lighting (which accounts for nearly 20 per cent of domestic electricity consumption) will go some way to alleviating these demand pressures.” The answer came from Alex Stuart, assistant manager of services of development at the quango.
“This is the first time anybody has acknowledged that new power capacity will not be delivered on time to replace existing capacity,” Peter Lilley MP told us.
There’s no doubt that Britain faces a looming energy crisis. CapGemini estimates that a quarter of the UK’s energy plant capacity will close by 2015. The nation will also see declining oil and gas output from the North Sea. But new, replacement power generation will not arrive in time.
The capacity crisis is largely a consequence of EU environmental directives. The Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD), which affects coal and oil power stations generating 50MW or more, obliges plant operators to adapt their stations by the end of 2015, or close them down. E.ON has decided that three of its four stations which fall under the directive will shut.
But the directive was introduced in 2001, leaving the state plenty of time to plan ahead.
“There is a gap looming because of New Labour’s incompetence,” James Woudhuysen, Professor of Forecasting at De Montfort University, and co-author of Energise! told us.
In 2003, then PM Tony Blair had blocked plans for new nuclear power stations, he pointed out. “Today’s government is now planning nuclear operations to resume in 2018, but more likely 2025,” says Woudhuysen.
But should the public turn out the lights because of years because of the failure of political leadership?
“If people are being asked to use electricity as efficiently as possible, they should do that because it’s a cost-efficient thing to do, rather than because the government created a crisis through bad planning,” says Lilley.
Complicating things is an additional dilemma, of the government’s own making.
The Whitehall department responsible for keeping Britain’s lights on now has additional duties of “tackling climate change” and “moving towards a low-carbon economy” – it’s the new “Department of Energy and Climate Change” (DECC). This means it is obliged to oppose exactly the kind of fossil-fuel power generation capacity that will save Britain from blackouts. So which will it choose?
On the department’s own website, under the heading “What We Do” – Climate Change is a higher priority than maintaining the UK energy supply.
The Energy Savings Trust has a budget of £43m a year. Around 150 staff are on secondment from BERR, the former Department of Trade and Industry. Much of its work is duplicated by two other quangos – the £250m a year Carbon Trust, and Envirowise.
The remit is explicitly to change people’s consumption patterns. The umbrella project “Act on CO2″, intended to co-ordinate the output of different government departments, was described as “the premier government-backed behaviour change brand” according to tender documents seen by The Register.
“The Energy Saving Trust is about making you feel guilty about ‘your impact on climate change’. It is about how you can generate your own energy – no doubt as efficiently as a normal power station,” says Woudhuysen.
“With rights, Tony Blair enlightened us, come responsibilities. This clearly means that New Labour has the right to screw up on energy supply – while hectoring us about how we should take responsibility for its failures.”
The Trust was named as the 9th most useless quango in 2005 – along with the Potato Council.
For a quango that puts communications as priority, the Trust doesn’t half drag its feet on responding to enquiries – reader Graham Crocker spent a fruitless three months trying to get answers. Eventually, the Trust admitted, the low energy bulbs make little difference to the householder because the lower heat output in cool climates – like ours – means people spend more on heating. “The Trust do not seem to have fully formed policies or a coherent strategy to deliver them,” Graham concludes.