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Policy development - Energy policy
#1
The Liberal Party’s energy policy as stated on our website proposes that central government should be taking the lead to produce a national plan for all energy resources.


Unfortunately faced with a cacophony of demands on government time, energy policy only appears in the media accompanied by apocalyptic commentaries about potential disruption to supply and rolling blackouts.

Much of our national oil and coal generating capacity needs to be retired on a range of grounds including climate change, pollution and increasing maintenance costs for aging plant and machinery.

Energy companies themselves, although increasing storage almost exclusively for natural gas, are unlikely to want to move into the generating field, clouded with uncertainties over revenue from generating and returns on investment.

The UK regulator has taken over from National Grid in ensuring uninterrupted supply but has been criticised as having insufficient experience to manage such a complex system, and relying on open bidding for additional generating capacity, which only adds to consumer cost.

As a civilisation we are addicted to fossil fuels, and the current national debate on the exploitation of shale gas and fracking is one example of this.

One of the major draw backs to the current proliferation of renewable energy sources in the lack of off-peak storage. Material science is still some years away from battery storage of the national scale needed to dispense with conventional power generations.

German renewable energy generation dropped 40% during the last European partial solar eclipse necessitating conventional power sources to be brought online. Gas powered facilities are able to meet such short notice demands, but national electricity grids needs a steady power source, only sustainable by larger coal, oil and dare I say it nuclear power.

Conventional power grids run at a high voltage base, and are very inflexible in accommodating energy sources such as renewable with daily and seasonal cycle’s. Yet the technology to bridge potential capacity shortfalls using ‘stored’ renewable energy does not readily exist.

The last nuclear power plant to be commissioned in this country was Sizewell B in 1995, having previously been subject to a 2 year public enquiry, at the time the longest one in domestic planning history.

Plans for up to 3 more pressurised water reactors were side tracked by the ‘Dash for Gas’, the realisation that a cheaper and more ready supply of fossil fuels existed under the North Sea, with the added incentive of an opportunity to the further dismantling of the UK’s coal industry.

Yet after less than 25 years, we as a nation have become a net importer of gas, in a continent already increasingly dependent on supplies from an antagonist Russia Federation, leading to increasing concerns over security of supply.

Nuclear energy and projects like Hinckley have been criticized for their up-front cost and guaranteed generating price, but it has been argued that renewables already receiving a subsidy and that like for like comparisons on price per megawatt are questionable.

Renewable energy has needed subsidies and preferential access to national grids to get established. As Liberals we would normally oppose such manipulation of the free market but as an answer to the prospects of global warming, it is for the wider benefit of society.

In Germany though a pricing system to encourage renewables, actually penalises conventional power sources to such an extent, that in peak summer, fossil and nuclear power is actually penalised for generate electricity, despite the fact they form the base line of the power generating grid.

What is needed is a complimentary mix of conventional and renewables into the near future. The UK’s domestic energy demands are reasonably well understood, and peak capacity relatively easy to predict.

Tidal power has yet to be full exploited whilst urgent investment needs to be made in extending energy storage.

Perhaps the most pressing issue is the construction of an ‘intelligent grid’ better able to accommodate the fluctuations in renewal energy generation.

This investment should not simply be solely funded by ‘green levies’ on hard pressed domestic consumers, but through properly funded investment, either from government or industry
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#2
There are two serious equations we need to balance. The first being the energy needs of the country, the second to provide safe, efficient energy. In this there has to be short term needs and long term goals.

Looking at the matter of energy,  I feel we have to make it clear there is no such thing as '100% clean energy'. Be it mining of materials or fuels or the actual production of equipment to generate energy, all contribute to our carbon footprint. Therefore we need to ensure efficiency and the least polluting forms of production (include production of equipment) as well as sustainability. We must also take energy  conservation seriously.

I do feel nuclear power is in many ways a potential time bomb. There is still no real solution to the problem of how we dispose of nuclear waste, and this is a price which may be paid very heavily by future generations. Our quest for energy must therefore not in the long term dramatically increase nuclear waste and the problems that go with it upon future generations from whom shall inherit the planet from us. Fracking, without serious regulation, represents another distinct risk.

I believe any energy policy must include:
  • Ensuring all present nuclear power plants abide by stringent safety and security procedures. This includes the transport and processing of waste.
  • Working towards the gradual phasing out of nuclear power as the output of other energy production increases.
  • Re-invest in carbon capturing storage to provide cleaner energy production from fossil fuels. Again gradually phase out coal burning plants as production of cleaner energy increases.
  • Calculate our requirements for necessary imported fuels and secure long term trade deals for their supply. Favourable trade terms for other items in exchange should not be ruled out to ensure such deals are secure.
  • Restore tax breaks for renewable energy. This would allow additional funding for research and development into all forms of renewable energy and energy storage, allowing this to advance at a faster rate.
  • Promotion of community energy hubs and co-operatives for the wide scale installation of renewable energy such as solar from local communities, industrial estates and business parks.
  • Introduce a national survey into potential sources and sites for micro energy production.
  • Form a government department who will work with local authorities, businesses and local communities in reducing energy consumption.
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#3
Stone de Croze states:

 There is still no real solution to the problem of how we dispose of nuclear waste, and this is a price which may be paid very heavily by future generations.

This is incorrect. There is a reliable way of disposing of our nuclear waste - it can be used in a Linear Accelerator Reactor.  That would also provide us with a reactor that could use low grade material such as Thorium, which we have a plentiful supply of in the UK, rather than relying on imports of high grade uranium.

However, the LA Reactor model does not fit well with the commercial model of nuclear energy with massive investment funded by high interest loans on which banks can make massive profits.  We were leading the world in LA Reactor research until the Thatcher government stopped it as not providing required economic benefits.
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#4
I take your point Nigel about the Linear Accelerator Reactor. However I feel wherever there is waste at present and for the foreseeable future there are huge risks. With this being the case I believe the priorities have to be in renewable energy production, reducing energy consumption and increasing efficiency of products. Obviously additional funding will be required, especially in research and development, but this could also herald a green industrial revolution Britain can be at the heart of.

As for Margaret Thatcher - the country is still suffering today from the legacy of that woman.
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#5
I totally agree Stone with the need to move to renewables. We were leading the world in renewable development until the slashing of the funding on R&D projects. Now a lot of the industry and research that was based in the UK is to be found in Denmark and Germany.

It is estimated that probably 2 to 3 billion pounds of R&D are required to build a fully working LA Reactor prototype - the Japanese already have a couple. New working reactors would probably cost about 1.5 billion each. All right they would only produce about a tenth of the output that Hinckley Point will produce but we can build 20 of them for the cost of Hinckley Point and have twice the power. They do not have a radioactive waste problem (they actually help solve it). Above all there is no risk of meltdown. The moment the Linear Accelerator is switched off the reaction stops, there is no chain reaction to run away.

It is going to be at least 2050, and the way this government is going probably a lot later, before we are in a position to fully power this country from renewable sources. We need something to fill the power gap. I agree that Hinckley Point is not the answer but there is no way I want to see coal or gas power stations stay in service one minute longer than necessary.
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#6
Short term I think there is no alternative to gas and coal powered stations. However to adapt Theresa May's saying 'Short term means short term'. Coal fired stations need to incorporate carbon capture - clean coal technology. I take on board your argument regarding looking into LA, but we must look closely at what Japan is doing and see if this can be adapted for use in the UK. I do strongly believe increased efficiency and energy conservation has to be a major part of the equation.
I think we have also hit upon the point that we lack seriously in investment in r&d, preferring to import skills and technology.
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