The UK needs a sustainable, holistic energy policy.

21 January 2018

Burton Wold Wind Farm, NorthamptonshireIn 1987 the Green Party proposed an alternative energy strategy that included research and deployment of renewable energy systems, the creation of a sovereign wealth fund and pulling out of nuclear.

This was dismissed as being naïve and unrealistic - I know, I was a candidate in 1987 and was stressing the need to take the alternative energy and not the nuclear route that Thatcher favoured. Isn't it a shame that we were ignored and that successive governments continued with the dead end policies of fossil and nuclear?  Had we been listened to, the UK would now have a sovereign wealth fund to rival the world's largest – Norway's, created from oil wealth.  Instead UK governments allowed our north sea oil wealth to be frittered away by the market and be converted into private wealth.  Had we been listened to, the UK would now have a world leading renewable and clean energy sector, able to export to a rapidly expanding global market, now dominated by China. We would have the much needed research expertise to help the global energy switch from fossil to renewables. We would have no fuel poverty.  What missed opportunities!

On the way back from the COP in Bonn last November I met a director of National Grid; talking about his work, he bemoaned the lack of government energy policy, no joined up or long term thinking, increasingly reliant on foreign, notably Chinese expertise.  Our Government is in denial about the potential of renewables while investing heavily in nuclear that will deliver the most expensive electricity in Europe.  It continues to follow the nonsense of fracking because it will make a few loyal Tory supporters richer. Because of its hostility to the EU, the UK government it is not cooperating with the development of a European High Voltage Direct Current [HVDC ] supergrid, even though National Grid plc is currently working with European partners to bring this to the UK connecting us up to renewable and storage capacity on the continent.  

Solar FarmGreens 'naive' view that renewables could replace fossil fuel and nuclear is supported by the current trend of renewable deployment in the UK.  Despite little support from the Tory government, renewable generation grew in 2017 and in October generated 25% of our electricity – admittedly a favourably windy month.  Wind alone supplied 15% of mainland electricity and is set for a bumper year in 2018 with new plant coming on stream.  Wind is also getting cheaper with the price from wind generators being nearly half that agreed for the Hinkley nuclear station, when ever that may come on line.  Such is the pace of the growth of renewable generation, coal and gas produced less that half of Britain's electricity in 2017.  And still we have the huge potential of solar and tidal to come, once we have a government that wakes up to realities and adopts the Green alternative energy strategy that we proposed 30 years ago.

Supporters of fossil and nuclear are quick to point to point to the intermittent nature of wind and solar, making it unsuitable for sustained generation.  The answer is so simple it is again dismissed as naïve: storage and tidal.  Tesla is showing the way with battery storage, opening the worlds biggest Lithium battery in Australia in December 2017. Norway is planning to become the 'battery of Europe' by converting its surplus hydro-schemes to pump storage power stations to meet peak demands via the European wide HVDC grid.  Tide and wave power has been totally ignored by governments, leaving this to a handful of lone pioneers sinking their own money into projects that they can't commercialise.  But the UK has some of the biggest tidal and wave resources in the world and the tides and waves will roll as long as the moon is in the sky.  This would provide the base power that wind and solar require, we could now have had a world beating wave and tidal industry that would be in huge demand if the 'naïve' forward sighted policies of the Greens had been adopted even 10 years ago.  But no – governments persisted with wildly expensive nuclear and the ludicrous concept of 'clean fossil' fuels. 

Renewables are for all of our futuresGreen policy is based on three crucial principles that are lacking in government policy:  sustainable, forward looking and joined-up thinking.  Business needs forward planning, it needs consistent long term government policy to steer investment. It needs to base its decisions on sound science and analysis not political whims.  Greens understand this long term need, it seems that the so called 'party of business' does not.  Long term means sustainable, what could be more sustainable than sun, wind and the tides?  No risk of depletion or being held hostage by the fuel producers.  Does it not make sense to take the fuel for energy generation for free – sun, wind and tide, rather than pay ever rising prices to foreign governments and corporations for coal, oil and gas?  The Government seems to think not. And joined-up thinking? Energy policy impacts on social policy – fuel poverty for example, transport, business, the economy, even foreign policy.  A sustainable and reliable energy network in the UK needs cooperative relations with Europe.  

The failure of UK energy policy is a symptom of the failure of the old political order.  The obsession with the market mechanism, adversarial attitudes that pitch one department of state against another;  gathering power to the centre rather than enabling local communities to make decisions that are best suited to their needs and circumstances.  Many Governments, cities and businesses are recognising the need to plan sustainable and holistically, the time has come for Green thinking to penetrate the corridors of power in Westminster.

Written by Mike Shipley on behalf of  the East Midlands Green Party

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