Sunday, July 21, 2013

Ideology versus Reality in the UK

This is but another gentle cough! And for those not familiar as yet with the way I write, it is, in the culture in which I was raised, generally considered more polite to gently cough and quietly explain why someone is wrong, rather than engage in the confrontational breast-beating and name calling that seems more prevalent in scientific argument in these latter days.

Which brings us to the new “news” out of the UK. The argument that a nation’s government must, in the end, deal more for the benefit of its voters, than to its political views has been one of the underlying cynical views I have held for the energy future for a long time. Telling a nation that they need to do something “for the good of their grandchildren”, does not go very far when oil prices are rising and they have a cheaper, indigenous source of energy – which is, quite frequently coal - that will allow them to feed themselves, and their children, and thereby provide a path to the generation of said grandchildren.

My anticipated example for this has been, for a while, India and the sub-continent of Asia, where indigenous coal can be a much cheaper resource than increasingly expensive foreign oil, and natural gas which is often politically more difficult to acquire through trans-continental pipelines. And so I was caught a little by surprise, although, based on Euan’s excellent previews it was something which had to happen, but which I did not yet expect, and that is a volte face from the British Government.

The underlying premise to which I have tried to adhere has been one of realism, rather than ideology. As a research scientist for most of my life I have had, too often, to go to meetings where I have had to admit that experimental results did not exactly follow my predictions, and that, as a result, the underlying theory has had to be changed. But that does not mean that the overlying premise changes, only the nuances of the argument. (And for those few interested, the work dealt with how things break.) And in the current case the overlying premise has always been that a nation has to ensure its fuel supply at a viable cost to the nation.

It is something that, inter alia, drove Japan into war over 70 years ago, and now that reality is becoming evident to Her Majesties Government, it is apparently a realization that is beginning to strike home over there too.
In April 2012 coal took over from gas as Britain’s dominant fuel for electricity for the first time since 2007, driven by a collapse in the international price and a rise in the cost of gas. In addition, the tax the Government levies on companies emitting carbon currently stands at £16 per ton, rising to £30 a ton in 2020. But analysts warn that at the current prices this would have to rise to more than £40 to make such coal generation uneconomic. . . . . . Under the Energy Bill, 12 of Britain’s existing 18 coal power stations that could stay open will be exempt from the Government’s emissions performance standard (EPS) that sets limits on CO2 emissions for all new power generation.

The political cost of supporting a coal-based economy have yet to be determined, and the unrelenting assault on coal-fired power has been so widespread and unrelenting that this will not be an easy sell, but this step is something that may well be an indication of where, ideology aside, reality will move to define the future.

In essence the relief of the burdens on the existing power plants will strengthen the base-load capacity (usually provided through coal and nuclear power) and will take some of the strain from the commitment to renewable energy (which is often wind-generated in the UK) and thus work to ameliorate some of the criticism from such folks as the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. (There is no longer any criticism from the Institution of Mining Engineers, since that went the way of the dodo, some years ago.)

No comments:

Post a Comment