Unintended consequences

It seems that every time the Government tries to solve the UK’s energy challenge, the law of unintended consequences kicks in.

A recent example is that a subsidy scheme apparently aimed at keeping the UK’s gas-fired power stations open will create big payments to the nuclear industry.  Many believed the capacity market scheme was only open to gas-fired power stations, but DECC has stated that all forms of generation will be covered, including nuclear.

Because nuclear energy is cheaper to generate, when it comes to bidding in the capacity market, it will almost inevitably win out over gas.

I am not necessarily against nuclear energy, particularly if the alternative is regular power cuts that leave us all sitting in the dark wondering whether we have left the our only torch in the garage. But this another indication of why sorting out theUK’s long-term energy requirements looks like nailing jelly to the wall – even if you manage to nail down one corner, the rest of it just slides away.

According to most sources, the UK’s energy capacity stretched so thinly you can almost see through it. Hence the government’s attempt to get power stations on standby from 2018. However, it seems that the way government works and the need for long-term solutions are not compatible. Government thinking extends to the next election which is five years at most. Tackling the energy challenge requires much more forethought.

One area that seems to be continually overlooked by DECC and others is energy efficiency. Yes, we’ve had support for more energy efficient homes and encouragement of better insulation. But to overlook the fact that we use more energy than we need to in our homes, offices, retail outlets and factories, is an expensive error.

The frustration is that it’s a lot easier to save energy than it is to generate more of it. Perhaps the energy suppliers are a stronger lobby group than the energy ‘savers’ . Perhaps government feels a message on cutting energy use is too negative and not a vote-winner.

Whatever the reason, overlooking energy efficiency as the key to energy security is a mistake. If we keep adding to our capacity without considering our usage, the unintended consequence could be that we just keep using more energy, much of it unnecessarily.

Karen Fletcher is Director of Keystone Communications

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