Will the Last Person in Britain Keep the Lights On?

This week’s edition of The Economist carries a leader article (no subscription required) on the looming energy crunch in the United Kingdom.  Its Jeremiah-like reading of the situation includes:

Many of Britain’s neighbours may find this rather amusing. Britain, the only big west European country that could have joined the oil producers’ club OPEC, the country that used to lecture the world about energy liberalisation, is heading towards South African-style power cuts, with homes and factories plunged intermittently into third-world darkness.

As far as I can see, this is not science-journalism but there is little doubt, as one commentator states, that successive British governments have been kicking the can down the street for years, if not decades, whilst riding off the boon of North Sea oil. With accessible reserves of this in rapid decline, predict more squabbles with the SNP far ahead of the curve with their chauvenistic references to “our oil”.

With onshore wind-farms in Caithness still increasing, the weird local debate that arises is a veritable microcosm of that regarding Israel/Palestine. The potential of wave-energy in the Pentland Firth has attracted the attention of the likes of Google and the metaphorically-confused Alex Salmond.

I do not have the values to hand, but whilst I do see wind-energy as providing one source of non-hydrocarbon electrical energy, I believe one thousand wind-turbines would be required to generate the same wattage as one coal-powered station: and then, it will not be as reliable. Nimbyism does have its drawbacks, but there comes a point when the prospect of thousands of turbines in the windy areas of the country (e.g. Caithness) looks decidely dodgey.

With the main prospect at the Dounreay-site being decommissioning, in keeping with the current Scottish Executive’s ideological opposition to nuclear energy and research, one major source of non-hydrocarbon energy is slipping through out grasps. There is no denying the danger of an accident at a nuclear plant, but nor have hydrocarbon-related industries been free of pollution.


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