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Get British energy off the back burner

    As shown in a CPS report published yesterday, MPs are again struggling to understand how important it is that Britain remains able to keep the lights on. Now that we're in the election season, it is worth remembering that Labour should have ordered replacement nuclear capacity no later than 1999 (based on a ten-year build time) but still hadn't done so in 2010. Perhaps tough decisions like nukes didn't fit well on Tony's "sofa".

    Worse still, through various BNFL deals, the government found itself owning Westinghouse Electric, probably the world's leading builder of reactors. Gordon Brown put it up for sale for $1.8bn in 2006, and was surprised when buyers offered him $5.4bn for it.  Brown appears to have understood the value of Westinghouse, and the impending resurgence of nuclear, about as well as he understood the value of gold.

    So the Coalition inherited a nuclear replacement situation 10 years behind schedule, and lacked the domestic technology thanks to Gordon's fire-sale.

    As a result, Britain is relying on "life extensions" to keep its nuclear power plants going. I distrust "life extensions", and have to wonder about the recent rash of fire-related shut-downs.

    Part of the Coalition's solution is to assume diminishing energy use in the future. That might be realistic, but only so long as we have no ambitions to expand the manufacturing share of the economy.

    For “big society” Conservatives, an effective future energy policy could play to "localism" pretty well. Whereas fossil and nuclear stations benefit from economies of scale, this doesn't apply in the same way to solar power, where the best answer can be mid-sized solar farms serving small localities.

    I hope no one is pinning their hopes on a long period of $50 oil. That price will continue only until Saudi Arabia et al have undermined US shale, and oil markets are likely to start to tighten from the second half of 2015 anyway.*

    I’m on record as a shale sceptic, and I've never believed in betting the house on it – but even I can see the merit in a pilot programme!

    *For a contrary view see Deploying the Saudi Oil Weapon Against Russia

    Tim Morgan was global head of research at Tullett Prebon plc from 2009 to 2013, and is author of Life After Growth (Harriman House, 2013), and numerous influential papers published by the Centre for Policy Studies.

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