It is generally recognised that the UK may face a severe energy crisis in the coming years. Our dependence on North Sea gas is under threat as supplies begin to dwindle. Nuclear and coal-fired plants are being phased out and no new gas- or oil-fired plants are being built to replace them. Because government regulations have kept electricity prices low, many power stations have been mothballed or closed.
The government is hoping to make up some of this shortfall in energy supply from renewables. Their target is 10% of electricity from renewable sources - mainly wind power - by 2010, rising to 20% by 2020. According to energy experts, this is an unrealistic goal because of the vast number of wind turbines required and their need for 100% backup from traditional power plants.
But, even if the government target were technically feasible, it would do nothing to solve the problem of declining energy production, nor would it contribute to a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. UK electricity consumption continues to grow, and by 2020 it is expected to increase by 15 to 20%. So, the government target of 20% electricity supplies from renewable sources would barely keep up with the growth in consumption. And because of the need for total backup, not one traditional power plant could be closed, no matter how many turbines are built.
In view of possible energy shortages, the best way forward is to save energy and to help reduce the growing demand for energy. Energy conservation would reduce carbon dioxide emission and it would also be the most economical option.
According to the British Wind Energy Association, the cost of saving energy is less than half the cost of producing it. Yet government subsidies and ROC's tend to favour energy production over energy conservation.
Here are a few facts about energy waste and energy conservation:
When electricity travels along the national grid there are leakages into the atmosphere. The UK wastes approximately 30 billion kWh of electricity a year; this is equivalent to 8% of the national supply or the yearly output of two medium-size power stations. It is almost double the amount of electricity supplied by wind farms and hydroelectricity combined (The Sunday Times, 31.08.03). Most of the wind farms in the UK are in remote areas of Wales and Scotland, or offshore, far away from the area where electricity is needed. This means not only added costs of building connections to the grid but also more energy leakage during transmission.
Small renewable energy projects that meet local demand and are close to the point of use do not get government subsidies because they are not big enough to connect to the regional electricity grid.
Vat on insulation and double-glazing is 17.5%. Vat on electricity is 5%. Subsidising house insulation would be much more effective in reducing carbon dioxide emissions than subsidising electricity.
A case study from the Country Guardian: There are 1,628,000 houses in the UK with pitched roofs and no insulation; each house loses about 3,780 kWh of energy each year. Insulation to the 1990 Building Regulations standard would save 3,375 kWh per year. The annual output of a 750 kW turbine is 1.64 million units of energy. Insulating 485 homes would save that same amount. The annual subsidy to the turbine will be £32,850. The cost of insulation is a one-off £122 per house, say £60,000 for 485 houses. Over the 100-year life of the houses, the energy saving cost averages £680 per year. Saving pollution by insulation is 55 times more cost effective than saving it by wind energy ('The Case against Wind Farms', Country Guardian, www.countryguardian.net).
There is no Vat on aviation fuel. Jetliners are the fastest growing source of carbon dioxide emissions; aircraft emissions are expected to double by 2030, rising from 5% to 30% of the UK contribution to global warming.
It is estimated that the average household wastes 65% of the energy it consumes. If every UK household replaced its most-used conventional light bulb with a low-energy light bulb, the energy saved would equal the entire output of all existing and proposed onshore wind turbines.