Panorama provides a narrow view of rising fuel bills

Posted by Lawrence Carter — 8 November 2011 at 2:50pm - Comments

Last night Panorama attempted to answer the question what is fuelling rising energy bills, instead viewers were treated to a steady stream of arguments against renewable energy that went more or less unchallenged.

The main thrust of the argument is that renewable energy is ‘eye-wateringly expensive’ and will cause our energy bills to rocket over the next few years. But the programme failed to properly investigate the main cause of increased energy prices, which is the rising cost of gas.

According to most predictions the price of gas will remain high over the next 20 years, so reducing our dependency on this one fuel source is clearly the sensible thing to do and will save us money in the medium term. Yet the one sided view presented on Panorama failed to acknowledge that investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency will provide insurance against these rising fossil fuel prices, by reducing our dependence on these finite and often imported resources.

The programme was particularly misleading when they looked at two case studies; a family who are struggling to keep their home warm and a pottery company in Stoke that relies on gas to fire its kilns. In both cases, it is the spiraling cost of gas that provides them with heat that is causing the problems, rather than policies to promote renewable energy, which concentrate mostly on generating electricity.  In the last year alone wholesale gas prices have added around £170 to gas bills, while support for renewable energy added £20 to combined gas and electricity bills.

Some of the arguments made in the programme were based on a report by accountancy firm KPMG which isn’t even finished yet. These arguments included alternatives put forward to solve rising energy bills such as KPMG’s ludicrous suggestion that 10GW of nuclear power will be built by 2020, and the gas-lobbyists’ favorite to increase our reliance on expensive gas.

As a piece of investigative journalism Panorama failed in the basic task of answering the question it posed itself. By relying so heavily on commentators who are openly pursuing an anti-renewable energy agenda, the programme put forward a very one-sided view and thus failed to meaningfully contribute to what is an increasingly important debate.

Hi sjw11, thanks for your comments.

On the KPMG research, it is a two part report, the first part of which was published in June, called "Rethinking the Unaffordable". The second part of this research, which Panorama was partly based upon, is not yet finished and won't be out until later this week/next week according to KPMG's press office.

Regarding the broader points you make about the back up for offshore wind, in the immediate term there is actually already a large amount of gas capacity in the UK. One of the big six energy companies, SSE, has even been forced to mothball a gas plant.

The real worry at the moment is that there are actually so many gas plants in the project pipeline that it will squeeze out low carbon generation. Regarding carbon emissions from reserve gas plants, these plants will run at lower load factor so emissions will be lower.

Longer term, and remember much offshore wind capacity won’t come online until towards the end of this decade, interconnection will allow smoothing of wind power generation across Europe. Studies by the European Climate Foundation, PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee and a recent Garrad Hassan report for WWF have all confirmed the feasibility of this.

Please see Greenpeace’s Battle of the Grids report,  which shows that interconnection means that even exceptional events in EU weather patters can be covered by renewables:

As I understand it every form of power generation needs a back up, and this is what defines the idea of a national grid.

Nuclear power is unreliable in that at any one time several large power stations will be offline due to maintenance and as a consequence of regular small accidents. I recall the news of a couple of years ago over half our nuclear capacity was offline, due to a series of screw ups and 'minor' accidents / leakages.

Because nuclear relies of a small number of large plants, loosing half that capacity if extremely problematic. Wind on the other hands is more distributed, so if a large number of turbines are not turning, it doesn't really matter as a large number will be generating elsewhere. High demand times (i.e. in winter) are also associated with high windperiods.

I agree we should be investing in wave technology, like it was 1939 and we had a critical threat to national security to deal with. We should also be doing similar for solar, and not cutting feed in tarrifs like the governments delightfully latest ill thought out move.

But the bottom line is that we need to do all of these things if we are going to tackle climate change. Large investments in wind, wave and solar will solve most of our energy problem, and are a 'no brainer' compared to the costs, and dangers of nuclear. Once we have fully developed these resources then and only then should we think about investing taxpayers money in other forms of energy, be it gas, oil and coal (with some form of carbon, capture and storage) or possibly nuclear - with its indefinite, and potential infinite liabilities.

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