COAL AND nuclear fired power stations both have an important role to play in the future of UK energy generation.
That was the view of the ICE energy board, meeting last week to finalise its response to the government's review of energy policy. The government aims to produce a white paper on the future of UK energy supply by the end of the year.
The board expressed deep concerns regarding reliance on gas, which currently provides 43% of energy demand, a figure which the Department of Trade & Industry predicts will rise to 75% by 2020.
Security of supply is another major issue, the board suggested. The UK is now a net importer of gas and by 2020 up to 90% will be imported. Yet at present there is only capacity to store 4% of annual gas consumption - about two weeks' supply.
It highlighted recent power cuts in California and the UK fuel crisis of September 2000 as examples of the drastic effect interruptions to supply can have on an economy and the environment.
'We need to take steps to ensure a diverse supply of energy - including nuclear - and accept that the extra cost is a premium that has to be paid, ' said Adrian Langford, board member and mechanical engineer with consultant WSP.
This view was echoed by fellow board member Peter Chambers, a campaigner for renewable energy: 'To have 70% to 80% of supply from one source, down just two pipes, just doesn't make sense.'
Chambers claimed that the government's target of generating 10% of the UK energy demand from renewable sources by 2010 is easily attainable, but accepted that expanding beyond this will require back-up from more traditional sources.
'The real problem with the two big players - wind and photo-voltaic - is that on a calm day in winter you will get zero generation. How do you promote such an energy system that has to meet peak demand in winter evenings?' Chambers asked.
'Only coal is cheap enough and secure enough to back up the variable supply, ' he said. 'If we don't hang on to the coal expertise which is in danger of being lost, we will never get the renewables.'
Board chairman David Anderson doubted that even the 10% target would be met: 'In engineering I believe there is a will to meet it, but I suspect that the government will fail in its target.'
The board also called on government to stick to its policy on the climate change levy, if energy efficient generation such as that from combined heat and power plants is to survive.
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