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Energy needs engineers

Viewpoint - We need engineers to kick-start plans to upgrade our energy mix to head off future electricity shortages.

The Energy White Paper maps out a possible framework for the future, but it will be the engineers who play the central role in solving these pressing issues.

The White Paper shows that government is at last getting to grips with the situation. It is now starting to understand the breadth of the problem and the consequences of inaction.

It now proposes a range of measures to support more distributed forms of energy and large scale energy investment.

At last we are now looking at a diverse energy mix, being good for our security of supply.

Together with the proposed reforms in planning process, released in a separate White Paper earlier last week, it is seen as an answer. A new fast track planning body is to be welcomed but proper and timely consultation is essential.

Together with the White Paper, a consultation document on new nuclear power baseload has been published so a decision can be made before the end of the year.

Many countries are in a similar decision making process on the nuclear question. Each week sees another country accept nuclear power on the basis of green energy and the most appropriate technology to deliver their needs. The longer we hesitate the longer the order queue will be if we make that same decision. And sadly, gone are the days of UK capability for key components.

The paper accepts that energy demand will grow over time, despite increased energy efficiency. It also says that with replacement of our exhausted stations we will require 35GW of new electricity capacity.

Despite the Non Fossil Fuel Obligations and Renewable Obligations Certificates (ROCs) to entice new green generation, it has not yet delivered the goods and we will always have the challenge of the need to store the energy produced by some renewables to use when demand requires. Tidal energy is predictable but where are our bold plans here?

Energy efficiency is discussed at length but with particular regard to heating and electricity with scarce mention of an increase for the need to cool our built environment. Free visual 'real time' displays on request, to show homeowners how much electricity they use and working with industry to 'phase out' inefficient goods and energy consuming standby switches can only be the start.

The paper better handles the need to band ROCs to construct a wider range of green energy projects. This is a much needed development.

Engineers have always been the true problem solvers in our society. Today we need them more than ever. The White Paper maps out a possible framework for the future, but it will be our engineers who play the central role in solving these pressing issues.

We only have one chance - decisions we make on the generation and consumption of energy today will have consequences for the next 50 years.

As we grapple with these problems, engineers must be given a central role in delivering these answers.

Richard Coackley is managing director for White Young Green Energy and an ICE vice president

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