This entry is part of the Science and the European Election series, a collaboration between SciencePunk and the Lay Scientist blog to encourage public discussion of the science policies of the major parties standing at the forthcoming European elections.
Currently the EU imports over half of its energy. Recent disputes between Russia and it neighbours have highlighted Europe’s precarious dependency on these imports. What are your proposals for increasing energy security?
Tim Worstall, UKIP:
Supply security of any product or input is achieved by widening the network of suppliers. We achieve food security by getting our food from a wide variety of sources, some close, some far, so that if any one area suffers from floods, drought, infestations or whatever, food will still be available from other areas of the world not so afflicted. Exactly the same is true of energy security.
We want to have a mix of technologies and a mixture of suppliers of the essential fuels and inputs for each of those different technologies.
Alan Sendorek, Conservatives:
Britain must secure safe and sustainable energy supplies. Ensuring security of supply is now a complex and urgent challenge. The first step we can take to improve security is to reduce demand, for example through better insulation of buildings and improving the energy efficiency of goods. Second we need domestically produced energy; renewable sources such as solar, wind and tidal have a key role to play here. Our system of feed-in tariffs mean that a fixed price is paid for all electricity produced from decentralised, low carbon sources. Third, we must tackle the energy infrastructure issues that threaten blackouts by creating a framework for building new gas storage and replacing ageing generating plant and transmission infrastructure. Fourth, we need to ensure that Britain has a diverse mix of fuels, from a range of countries delivered via a variety of routes, thus reducing the effect of disruption from any particular source of supply. And finally, we need to include energy security in our foreign policy – opening up markets, forging energy partnerships with energy-rich nations and using collective security to strengthen our position.
Scott Redding, the Green Party:
The Green Party wants to see nothing less that a revolution in energy conservation and renewables that will cut overall demand, reduce dependency on fossil fuels and reduce the need to import energy and fuels. The UK is in the fortunate position of being one of the most potentially energy rich counties in Europe for renewables, due to its geology and location at a latitude where wind strengths are relatively high to make wind power viable, for solar power, for tidal power (due to long coastline) and other renewable technologies including tidal mills, geothermal and hydro.
There is an urgent and clearly beneficial need to cut energy wastage and raise levels of efficiency in energy use through measures such as the Green Party policy to provide free insulation for all homes that need it. A national efficiency programme would cut fuel bills for households and businesses.
The planning system needs to be overhauled to allow local planning authorities powers to ensure much higher levels of energy efficiency in new buildings and conversions, as well as making installation of microrenewables standard practice.
It’s important that the energy demand debate reflects the reality of the demand sectors. Moving to nuclear as an “answer” to climate change and energy demand won’t work if demand keeps rising and nuclear cannot power the millions of domestic heating systems that use gas or aircraft, lorries and almost all cars, etc. Transport energy demand has continued to grow whilst other sectors have stabilised or fallen. This is why expanding aviation is such a nonsense in the overall need to cut demand and hence cut carbon emisions. Expanding aviation directly offsets gains in other sectors.
Fossil fuels will of course continue to be used for decades, because these changes cannot happen overnight – but fossil fuels use would be at diminishing levels if the right decisions are taken now.
Much of this would need to be driven at national level but EU co-operation is clearly vital, for example by making regional investment decisions to boost renewables.
Euan Roddin, the Liberal Democrats:
Most importantly we need to control our energy demand. So energy efficiency is the top priority: investment in research, but also ambitious energy efficiency legislation to set high standards for buildings and appliances, extending to energy-related products such as shower-heads.
We also need to invest massively in renewables, which are the only true indigenous sources of energy. This means not only small-scale renewables, but also big scale projects like the North Sea grid or solar collectors in the Mediterranean. Alongside this there needs to be investment in the grid so that it can take full advantage of decentralised generation and become a “smart” grid, and also research into energy storage.
We need to give financial support to pilot projects on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) but we shouldn’t put all our eggs in one basket because CCS is not yet proven technology. If CCS does work it will offer the chance to make deep cuts to CO2 in the medium term and provide a bridge towards a longer term non-fossil fuel economy, as well as enhancing UK and EU security of energy supply. In particular, research at Newcastle University on more efficient pre-combustion CO2 capture and the gasification of coal underground opens up the possibility of using UK coal reserves which are no longer accessible from deep mines.
Aside from a rather scant reply from UKIP, the parties have a lot to say on this matter. It’s interesting to see that the Greens are arguing against nuclear on its practicalities rather than environmental issues, and although they’re right to point out that most homes run on (imported) gas rather than electricity, in my mind it follows that converting these to run on nuclear-produced electricity would provide greater energy security – what do you think? All parties recognised that lowering demand was to play a key role in any energy plan, and it’s refreshing to see that most have clear, detailed, policies on this matter.
This question or energy security isn’t just about what’s good for us. Our reliance on external sources of petroleum products is a key factor in stifling criticism for some fairly brutal regimes. Lowering our dependence on these states could be as good for their citizens as it is for our own.
*Unfortunately Labour’s thoughts on this were lost in an email error.