DECC

Jim Pickard

When Whitehall wants to put out new information without mass coverage the technique is quite simple: ministries publish the data without any press release or calls to journalists.

And so it was a few weeks ago when Decc, the energy department, published figures predicting where Britain’s future energy supplies would come from.

At a stroke of a pen, officials quadrupled their predictions for unabated gas from 8GW to 28GW; in layman’s terms, about 8 new power stations to around 28.

As such, tomorrow’s announcement by George Osborne about a new dash for gas will not come as a surprise to the industry. Ministers have been open about the need for a vast increase in gas, in part to replace the ageing nuclear reactors and coal-fired power stations coming to the end of their life.

Here are the Decc statistics: Firstly, Annex I of this spreadsheet shows you the 2012 forecasts for new energy capacity in its different forms. You can see the much lower estimate for new gas in the same spreadsheet for 2011, also in Annex I.

The stats show how Decc still does not believe that new nuclear will be truly transformative – in size terms – by 2030. The department expects nuclear to provide only a relatively modest amount of new capacity (at 9.9 GW). (Interesting to note cost problems at EDF’s site in northern France, announced yesterday.)

Tomorrow’s gas strategy statement is politically important and was insisted on by the Treasury as a way to reassure potentially nervous investors in the industry. But it does not Read more

Jim Pickard

It’s a striking headline on the front of today’s Daily Telegraph: “Greener energy will cost £4,600 each a year.” And no doubt it will fuel any incipient hositility to renewables among the broadsheet’s large readership. But is it accurate?

Technically, yes. Professor David MacKay, a government adviser on climate change, has done the calculations on how much it will cost on sustaining and replacing the nation’s entire energy system. The resulting figure – which is not synonymous with energy bills – is the total investment in energy needed (£2.4 trillion) over the next four decades. That is then divided by population to come up with the figure.

But as the article makes clear a few paragraphs further down, it could cost even more to rely on traditional sources of power such as fossil fuels and nuclear. (It also suggests we are already spending £3,700 a year already).

MacKay, who is a professor of physics at Cambridge – and has written a highly regarded book on the future of energy – has (with DECC officials) produced a “cost of energy calculator” setting out what Britain will need to spend in the coming years.

Key to this is his assumption that energy already costs us an average of £3,700 a year per person in Britain.

There are several future options including:

* “Do nothing” to develop low-carbon energy systems: this would cost £4,682 a year, Read more

One of the major issues facing renewables developers in the UK, especially those of onshore wind farms, is fighting through local planning problems. The British public (to generalise) has never been overly keen on the sight of mammoth wind turbines cluttering the green and pleasant land.

Previously, the answer to this has been national policy statements, which set out the national need for new energy infrastructure, so bypassing one test carried out by local planning authorities.

But the problem has never been that local authorities weren’t convinced by the need for nuclear plants or wind farms, but that local opposition was too strong.

 Read more

Jim Pickard

When the coalition on May 12 pushed out its announcement for which MPs would take up ministerial roles there was a noticable delay when it came to Defra posts. I can reveal that David Cameron did intend a significant reshuffling between that department and DECC.

The idea was to add “environment” to DECC (creating DEECC, perhaps), beefing up the department controlled by Chris Huhne. I’m told that the documentation was all written and ready to send out. Several responsibilities would have been shorn from Defra, including the entire Environment Agency. Something that day made the new prime minister change his mind. Read more