Personally, I find it is easy to become depressed about the slow rate of transition to renewable energy sources. If we viewed the prospect which faces us as the challenge that it really is, it could be as inspiring as the Apollo project to put a man on the moon. But much much more important.
There is good news:
- Last week the UK passed 1 GW of installed solar PV plant. If I understand this correctly, this means that in the summer there will be one large coal or gas power station which we can leave switched off. Germany has 25 GW of installed solar PV plant so we have plenty of room to grow. If we installed something close 25GW, then it would mean that in the summer we could switch off nearly all the fossil-fuel power stations – during the day at least.
- As I mentioned the other week, in 2011, 5% of our electricity was generated by wind. 10% is probably not far away and we could – and probably will – go higher.
But there is still a reluctance to commit to change.
- The Energy and Climate Change Committee are calling for an increase in research for wave and tidal power. The amounts we spend are pathetic – a few tens of millions of pounds each year. We could multiply this by 10 and not notice the loss – but it would transform the field. Following Professor MacKay, I am sceptical of wave power, but utterly convinced of the rationale for tidal power: it is a no brainer – and could generate 10% of UK requirements!
- DRAX power station, has withdrawn from a plan to burn bio mass to generate electricity citing lack of support. For similar reasons we seem to have abandoned plans to actually build plant which will capture and store carbon dioxide.
- Major wind power companies have expressed concern at the extent of negative ‘sentiment’ in government about wind power.
- We still subsidise Gas, Electricity, Oil and Coal for domestic use by rating them at 5% for VAT. While politically understandable, this is economically and ecologically insane! The 3.63 billion pounds(!!!) lost in this way could be funding genuinely renewable energy projects and dwarfs the subsidy to wind energy.
Looking at these stories as a whole, I see that changes occur at the places where they can occur – the weak points in the existing infrastructure. So when it is possible to advance small change by small change – then renewable energy advances. But when a change requires a billion pounds of investment -then investors will inevitably wait until they can guarantee a return on their investment. Having privatised our energy infrastructure, we now have no choice but to make sure it is profitable for companies to build the infrastructure we need.