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UK Energy Network Must Move to Multi-Plant System to Meet Sustainability Targets

Originally Published 06 October 2003

Recent massive power failures in the US, Sweden, Denmark, London, and Italy combined with environmental concerns are forcing the world to rethink energy policy so environmental and security objectives are met together, and the UK is no exception, says Dr Catherine Mitchell, a researcher with Warwick Business School.

In February 2003 the UK Government published a visionary White Paper on Energy Policy and placed environmental concerns at it's centre. However, to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 60% by 2050 the energy system will have to change fundamentally, argues Dr Mitchell. To be sustainable the energy network will have to move from on the current 'passive' top-down operation where just a few big generating power plants send electricity 'down' the system to customers, to a new 'active' managed network with numerous power plants of all sizes sending electricity into it from onshore or offshore. This 'active' system is far more secure.

Dr Catherine Mitchell, from Warwick Business School, said: “The White Paper had little substance to back up the vision. Sustainability and security go hand in hand, and now is the time to ensure adequate investment in energy efficiency, renewable sources and the UK energy infrastructure so that the UK experiences no more black outs and meets international environmental requirements.”

“There are failings in key aspects of UK climate change policy. A stronger stance must be taken on global warming and more decisive domestic security policies implemented.”

The government has a target for renewable energy supplying 10% of electricity by 2010. More importantly, the White Paper introduced an aspiration to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 60% by 2050. These targets will not be met unless the Government has a clearer, more supportive policy towards sustainable energy.

Privatisation of supply has meant that profit making is more important than reinvestment in infrastructure, and this is putting Britain at risk. The system needs to remain secure as we move from one system based on fossil fuels to another based on renewable sources, but adequate measures are not in place.

Renewable energy such as wave and tidal power have the potential to provide all our energy needs and is a clean, safe and affordable alternative to nuclear energy and inefficient coal-fired power stations.

Dr Mitchell added: "Since privatisation in the 1980s companies have been saving money to meet regulators, but what are needed are incentives to meet quality standards. Powerful new incentives for companies to be responsible must be introduced and the conflicts in energy policy that are undermining the development of renewables and a secure power grid must be resolved. There is still time to secure targets, but the government needs to step up investment. There need to be clear lines of responsibility for maintaining infrastructure and to maintain the existing network adequately."

Contact: Dr Catherine Mitchell, Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, Tel: 024 7652 4985 or 0116 2597326

Dr Catherine Mitchell was a member of the Government's Energy Advisory Panel from 1998-2003 and a team member of the Energy Review, the precursor to the recent White Paper on Energy Policy.