Stop talking, start delivering

Policy statements and initiatives from the Government on reducing Britain’s carbon emissions and boosting the country’s use of renewable energy abound. At the same time, we regularly hear that Britain’s carbon emissions are not falling fast enough and that the country is unlikely to meet its Kyoto commitments. To our mind, the problem is not identifying ways to reduce carbon emissions and energy consumption but to put those ideas into practice on a large enough scale. Every year that goes by with carbon-reduction targets not being met demands even greater efforts in the remaining years. So the launch of a new film by environmental group Greenpeace ‘showing the innovative solution to the UK’s energy challenge’ attracted attention. Technically, the film repeats what has been common knowledge to engineers and scientists for many years — namely that two-thirds of the energy in fuels burned by centralised power stations is wasted by heat rejection and losses in transmission lines. It also explains in a simplistic way that decentralised power using, for example, combined heat and power close to demand so that both heat and electricity can be utilised is vastly more efficient in its use of primary energy — easily double. Nothing very startling there. However, what the Greenpeace film really focuses on is how far other countries have already gone in decentralising energy generation and exploiting renewable resources. In The Netherlands, the installed capacity of CHP is 8 GW(e), representing nearly 45% of the total installed capacity of 18 GW(e). Don’t ask what the figure is in the UK; it isn’t much. The question that can be answered, though, is what the benefit is of a decentralised energy strategy — simply by referring to experience in Woking. The council’s energy use in that town has been nearly halved and carbon dioxide emissions has been reduced by 77% since 1990. That is six times more than the Government’s Kyoto commitment six years before the required timing of 2010. Looking at the longer term, the Carbon 60 objective to reduce carbon emissions by 60% by 2050 looks like no target at all. Woking’s achievements were made possible by a committed council, that enabled an ‘energy island’ to be created. What is stopping similar achievements becoming much more widespread is the existing regulatory framework favouring centralised generation. An informed source tells us that all that is needed to open up the opportunities for the potential of CHP to be realised is the stroke of a pen from the Secretary of State. The Greenpeace film presents more successes in other countries that can surely be emulated in the UK — given the will to actually do something rather than talk about it. Let’s have those pen strokes, and then let engineers deliver — just as they have done throughout history.

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