The truth about the energy gap: a response to John Hutton

Posted by bex — 22 September 2008 at 10:21am - Comments

John Hutton at the Labour Party Conference 2007

John Hutton committing to take action on climate change at the 2007 Labour Party Conference © Rose / Greenpeace

"No coal plus no nuclear equals no lights," said Business Secretary John Hutton (pictured above, proving he really has heard of climate change, honest) today.

Bearing in mind the findings of leading energy consultants Pöyry (pdf) that we don't need new nuclear or new coal to keep the lights on - we just need the government to meet its own, existing targets for energy efficiency and renewables - he might better have said "no vision plus no guts equals no chance of averting catastrophic climate change". Which at least has some basis in fact.

This systemic lack of vision from the Labour government when it comes to climate change solutions really shouldn't surprise me any more. But it does. In the next 20 years, a large chunk of the UK’s electricity generation capacity will close. Instead of seeing this as an opportunity to quickly de-carbonise the sector, reduce emissions, drive forward low carbon technologies and create thousands of new, green collar jobs in the UK, the government has given up at the first hurdle.

As far as the government is concerned, the twin problems of climate change and energy insecurity urgently need… business as usual. Perhaps it’s not so surprising after all, considering the government’s energy policy is being dictated by a German energy company.

Hutton also said today (in language that weirdly echoed this satire of coal industry speak): "coal is critically important for the UK. Flexible. Available. Reducing our reliance on imported gas."

The truth? Sixty per cent of the gas used in the UK is to supply heat, not electricity - so building new coal and nuclear electricity generating plants will do nothing to reduce our reliance on gas for heating.

On the other hand, the renewables and efficiency scenarios we've laid out (that pdf again) do lead to a reduction in gas use - of up to 42 per cent. And a reduction of CO2 emissions by up to 37 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020. In another report, we showed how industrial combined heat and power plants could halve our gas imports.

Meeting our renewables and efficiency targets will deliver a triple win for the government and the country: the lights will stay on, CO2 emissions will be reduced and our reliance on imported fossil fuels like gas and coal will be dramatically reduced.

So, what should the government be doing? More than panic-stricken myths, we urgently need:

  • a new policy and delivery framework for renewable energy
  • a step-change in energy demand trends
  • the right set of policies to drive the development of the next generation of renewable and combined heat and power technologies
  • a new legal standard setting a limit on CO2 emissions for all new plants that have yet to secure planning consent.

The analysis I've mentioned above, Closing the Energy Gap, is a summary of the report we launched a couple of months ago - the somewhat denser Implications of the UK meeting its 2020 renewable energy targets.

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