Plenty of clean energy. Wrong and bad energy policies

Plenty of clean energy. Wrong and bad energy policies

If there was any doubt the plunging world crude oil price confirms it. There is a global abundance of primary energy and energy sources. There is plenty of energy. Unfortunately there are plenty of politicians as well, and plenty of political turmoil, instability and violent regional disruption across the planet. Hence an area that should be almost free of problems - the energy supply sector - is full of problems.

The Trilemma turns into ‘Trifailure’.

In Europe I can report to you that these emerge in the form of an immense trilemma – not a dilemma, but a TRIlemma – a triple challenge to energy policy-makers which they are failing to meet on all three counts. What is this ‘trilemma’? It is that energy and climate policy makershave set themselves the triple goal of delivering affordable – if possible cheap – energy to consumers, that they have promised reliable supplies – no power cuts and black-outs – and that they want to see rapid decarbonisation and the replacement of fossil fuels with low carbon energy sources wherever possible.On all three fronts they are failing spectacularly. In fact things are going the opposite way - backwards.

Affordability Abandoned

Affordability goals have been brushed aside. Indeed, energy costs are scarcely mentioned in latest EU policy documents. Yet the energy price issue is at the heart of the EU’ economic future and recovery. For Poland, and not just for Poland, the huge extra costs being imposed on industry by the subsidies to expensive renewable energy are no longer bearable. The threat is to veto EU proposals for the target of 40 percent reduction in emissions by 2030. It would, say the Polish leaders ‘destroy half of Europe’s industry’. For the domestic consumer there has been real pain. In Britain gas and electricity prices have risen, after inflation, by more than 50 percent in the last ten years. Meeting the European Union targets for reducing carbon emission – 80 percent by 2050 – would involve equally large future increases to raise the funds to pay for the gigantic subsidies to renewable energy – notably wind – required. The EU target would mean covering an impossibly large area of Europe with turbines at a cost of 3.2 trillion Euros – most of it to be squeezed from consumers. And all this while the actual cost of primary energy supplies – gas, oil and coal – are actually falling!

But Emissions are rising

All this would be tolerable if these policies were the essential way to guarantee reliable electricity supplies, to cut the growth of carbon emissions and perform a worthwhile role in combatting climate change globally.

But they are doing no such thing.

As old coal-fired stations in Europe are closed they are being replaced not by reliable generating sources – such as gas turbines, or new nuclear stations, but by intermittent sources such as wind, which themselves require new gas fired plant to back them up when the wind does not blow, or blows too hard.

But the investment in new gas capacity is not going ahead, because the Government–imposed penalties on gas burning make it unprofitable. In Britain some quite new gas turbines are being shut down. And meanwhile new nuclear stations are far too expensive. In Germany they are being closed down altogether. In Britain a new station, Hinckley Point C, has been cajoled into being by hideously high guaranteed price promises for years to come, penalising future generations – although it will anyway take a decade to build.

Meanwhile the spare generating capacity to meet crises or times of extra heavy power demand has dwindled to a wafer-thin margin, and may well lead to black-outs. The final irony is that in an effort to counteract this chaos new coal stations are being built in Europe and much more cheap coal being imported – from Russia, America and elsewhere.

The net effect of all these policy blunders is that carbon emissions are rising, not falling - in Germany dramatically so. Even if carbon emissions from production and electric power have fallen with recession in Europe, carbon consumption per head has soared as carbon-intensive imports pour into European markets. There is not the slightest chance that carbon reduction targets in Europe will be achieved. . So while the threat to our global environment is not being met, the costs of these ineffective policies are rising exponentially.

Effective clean energy policies rejected.

Common sense tells us how to reverse these trends and help rather than damage our environment. In theory it should be easy. Burning gas emits at least 40 percent less carbon than oil or coal, as the American example of switching from coal to gas demonstrates. It has been estimated by BP that a switch of one percent of global power generation from coal to gas, would produce carbon emission savings the equivalent of increasing renewables by 11%.

And if only nuclear power construction costs could be reduced that would really set us on the path to curbing CO2 growth. But in practice energy policy in Europe is taking us directly the other way.

GAS is being taxed and its global trade impeded. New gas developments – e.g. fracking – are big resisted or forbidden. Nuclear power progress is being stymied by politics. Renewables, instead of benefitting from new technology, are sucking up subsidies and enriching the powerful at the expense of the weak. Oil is full of dangers from the Middle East, and from refinery and transport challenges. Coal is getting a free rein and is expanding its grip on world energy production.

Those of us who are deeply concerned about potential resumption of global warming – after the present pause of the past eighteen years – have a right to be furious at these appalling policy failures. The entire process has rightly been called by some ‘insane’.

Reversal. Some Practical Solutions Now

But what are the practical solutions? How do we counter massive incompetence and misunderstanding, starting from here?

  1. The whole attitude to gas production, transmission and use has to be transformed, and gas seen not as an enemy of a greener world, but as its most powerful friend- the best pathway to the future.
  2. Huge efforts MUST be made to design and build cheaper and safer nuclear power plants, maybe building on a much smaller scale. No more Hinckley Cs!
  3. Coal-burning can be met half-way not by banning it but by super-efficient new methods, super-critical boiler technology, more efficient transmission and a host of other improvements.
  4. Resources now going to subsidise inefficient and costly renewables, such as offshore wind, should now be diverted to all out efforts to make greener energy CHEAPER, not far more expensive. It is the sheer forces of ingenuity and competition that must be allowed to do the job. Solar power is already benefitting – slowly. Wind power must respond in the same way.
  5. Technology must be allowed to deliver to the producer, the transmitter and the end consumer of fuel and power the enormous efficiency gains that are just around the corner. Final demand can be held flat even with a growing world population, and even with the full development needs of the awakening giants like China and India being recognised and respected.

The Lessons that Must Now be Learnt.

The LESSONs of the present disasters and backward steps are;

  1. That bracketing ALL fossil fuels together as anti-environmental undermines far the best environmental and greenway forward. It causes great pain and suffering to the world’s poorest and slows growth.
  2. It has inevitably produced a major and angry reaction from consumers the world over, and especially throughout Europe. Sensible and constructive green policies have been destroyed by blind zealotry
  3. If policy-makers and politicians will disengage and stop distorting markets and investment, new technology and competition, and the world-wide urge to have cheaper, cleaner and green power, now almost universal, will deliver strong results and our planet will survive and prosper.

At Last

There are, to repeat, plentiful supplies of all kinds of cleaner, greener energy available to all the world’s peoples, rich and poor. It is the present blind and perverse policies of too many politicians, and too many misguided lobbies, which are stopping them having it. Our world is indeed being endangered, and much harm being done to our environment and to future generations, through the energy and failed climate policies being that have been pursued – both in Britain, in most of Europe and in some other nations as well, although thankfully not all.

At last some people are beginning to speak up. At last what some have been warning about for a decade past is beginning to prompt changed thoughts and a better new direction – both for the planet and all its peoples.

David Howell titled the Right Honourable Lord Howell of Guildford, was the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for International Energy Policy in the UK between 2010 and 2012. He also served in Margaret Thatcher’s government as Minister of State at the Department of Energy in 1974.