Fuelling the energy debate

  • Wind turbineNuclear is on the cards. The UK is set to oppose a 2030 renewable energy target, and possibly replace it with a “low carbon” target. What’s the difference? The latter could include a ramping up of nuclear power, and may destabilise investment in renewable energy. The suggested move to low carbon targets comes at a time when reductions in planning regulation are expected, and the likelihood of planning permission for nuclear facilities could increase.
  • But is it the answer? A report by Sir David Kind suggests that global uranium supplies (currently the basis for nuclear power) will run out by 2023, and that the focus must shift to plutonium use. Plutonium is currently a waste product of nuclear energy and there are over 100 tonnes of it currently in storage in the UK with no future plans. Whilst it does present a currently untapped energy source, there is likely to be major opposition to its use (due to its association with use in atomic bombs), and previous failed attempts to harness its energy.
  • Renewable energy is still a key component of low-carbon energy security. The Royal Academy of Engineers published a futures report which describes the need for the biggest step change in energy since the war.
  • The report suggests that whilst nuclear or clean coal technology will be needed to fill the energy gap, the UK are likely to still need a dramatic increase in renewables to reach our 2050 goal of an 80% reduction in carbon emissions. The report predicts a need for 20,000 wind turbines, 36m2 of solar panels per house, 1,000 miles of wave power machines, 2,300 tidal turbines, 40 new power stations (nuclear or “clean coal”), 75% reduction in fossil fuel use, and 20% cut in white goods energy use.

For government, these insights suggest that political enthusiasm is still needed to boost renewable energy. Whilst the need for nuclear is recognised, new evidence suggests that the benefits may be short-lived without a move to plutonium usage. Anecdotal evidence suggests that changes from renewable targets to low carbon targets may deter renewables investors and destabilise the market on the lead up to 2050.

For more information, visit:  http://tinyurl.com/cxqjztu http://tinyurl.com/6skjc5o http://tinyurl.com/6tovgkk

About Hayley Shaw

Knowledge Exchange Manager at Cranfield University's Centre for Environmental Risks and Futures (CERF). Sharing the latest news from Cranfield, and insights from across the industry. All things risk, environment, and the future.
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2 Responses to Fuelling the energy debate

  1. Dr M C Smith says:

    I like this, but you also need to link it to wider debates concerning reducing the demand for energy, through energy efficiency, and working with other policy areas to promote sustainability. This is not new thinking – others have been at it for years (see for example spatial planning).

    • Hayley Shaw says:

      Hi again! I agree that the argument is not new (we’ve been talking about renewable vs nuclear energy for a long time). However, as you will see, new evidence has now been pushed to the fore which may help policy makers define national strategies. Futures isn’t always about coming up with crazy new things that might affect our future – sometimes it’s about looking for the new evidence that could change the trajectory of a system or debate we know well. In this case, this new evidence suggests we are likely to need nuclear, but need a big step change in terms of renewables investment to support energy security in the future. Given there are signals that investors have started to shy away from renewables, the Government may face new challenges in ramping up this activity.

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