Lights going out in the UK?

A report on energy security published by former energy minister Malcolm Wicks warned that the UK had not adequately considered its energy security risks, and made quite a lot of recommendations, including building more gas storage and reconsidering the tax regime for some parts of the energy sector.

The government said it “welcomed” the report. “We are already taking a number of responsible far-sighted steps to put the UK on a secure, low carbon, affordable energy footing in the long-term,” prime minister Gordon Brown said in a statement.

He was in part referring to the very lengthy strategies published last month on reducing the country’s carbon emissions by 34 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020. But The Economist magazine this week argues that the government is not doing enough to avoid a crunch.

Britain’s problems with future electricity supply are many. Its nuclear plants are ageing and the question of how to fund their replacement is the subject of intense debate amongst both political parties and government and industry. Supply of natural gas, which is expected to become more important to the country as big carbon reduction targets are sought, is vulnerable to all sorts of political complications, mostly involving Russia, and the UK has made little effort to increase its gas storage despite other European countries rushing to do so.

Here’s The Economist, highlighting the difference between the industry and the government on exactly how the country has before the lights go out.

The government reckons that, of a total of around 75GW in generating capacity, 20GW will disappear by 2015. The private sector is less optimistic. EDF (a state-owned French firm that wants to build nuclear plants in Britain) puts the size of the hole at 32GW, and E.ON, a German competitor, reckons it will be 26GW. One survey of experts before the recession (conducted by Mitsui-Babcock, another power-station builder) found that three-quarters expected blackouts by the time of the London Olympics in 2012. When the BBC did a similar poll in 2008, the downturn had pushed the date back to 2015. “There’s a risk of blackouts somewhere between 2013 and 2016, depending on how fast the economy recovers,” says Mr Helm. “It may not happen,” says an engineer, “but we’d be lucky”.

Related links:

Britain trails as gas storage importance grows (FT)
UK renewable energy plan sparks cost fears (FT)
Is the market righit for energy security? (FT Energy Source)

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