UK energy scenarios: working with a flawed model

In the UK’s first ever annual energy statement, Chris Huhne, UK energy and climate change secretary, asked researchers, industry experts and members of the public a series of questions about the country’s energy priorities. The answers to these questions, he announced, will help form the basis of Britain’s pathway to energy security by the year 2050.

In line with David Cameron’s “Big Society” idea, the annual statement is accompanied by a “Call for evidence” and a software, essentially an excel spreadsheet, which models energy supply and demand to show alternative energy policy scenarios. The package is the government’s attempt to raise public support for the upcoming energy policy that will be announced later in the year.

But the spreadsheet currently does not contain any information on costs of any of the technologies, which is essential for the decision-making process that would shape public opinion on the subject. This crucial omission makes the tool ineffective for policy-makers and members of the public seeking to engage with Britain’s energy policy.

On Tuesday, Mr Huhne presented six energy scenarios, which he contends are illustrative scenarios for a successful energy policy as they are based on the engineering capabilities present in the world today.

The spreadsheet allows the users to choose from four different levels of effort in each category on the demand as well as the supply side, and shows incremental changes in energy production and efficiency that are required to enable Britain achieve its energy goal.

Indeed, the best choices to meet Britain’s energy needs, using the package, are the six scenarios that the secretary has presented.

The software was produced by DECC in collaboration with UKTI, BIS and DEFRA after consultations with more than 500 stakeholders from industry, academia and non-government organisations such as Greenpeace. The data used for modelling is available to download from the website, and the Department has called on researchers to check the assumptions made in the model, and within three months submit their research which disagrees with the assumptions for department’s consideration.

The consultations which began in October 2009 under the previous government have been made public in the hope that greater transparency will give credence to the Mr Huhne’s energy policy proposals.

For the general user, however, a quick play around with the spreadsheet does not reveal the true characteristics of all the technologies, and limits the choices made by the users to their knowledge of the subjects.

And so, this “call for evidence” may not be the public deliberation on energy policy that the government intends it to be.