Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Energy policy: go back to basics

Nuclear energy - The government-backed Sustainable Development Commission last week advised against the construction of new nuclear power stations. Others increasingly agree.

According to Amory Lovins, chief executive of US sustainable development think-tank the Rocky Mountain Institute, the UK government's energy policy review relies on outdated thinking and should be scrapped.

Speaking ahead of his influential lecture to the Royal Academy of Engineering last Monday, Lovins pointed out that the government's energy policy consultation has failed to address the critical issue of demand management 'It has a rather derisory treatment of the demand side, ' says Lovins. 'It adopts a paradigm based in the 1970s and such a lot has happened since then. If you ask the wrong question then you will get the wrong answer.

They really should start the whole process over again.' To Lovins the wrong answer for the UK - or anywhere - is the construction of new nuclear power stations. The economics have never stacked up, he says, and are very unlikely ever to.

In his Royal Academy of Engineering presentation, delivered to a packed audience of over 300 engineers, he put forward 90 minutes of detailed evidence intended to dispel the belief that nuclear power provides a cost effective solution to energy supply and climate change.

Nuclear power is not economically viable, he explains.

'You cannot pay for it without subsidy from the public purse.

This is not an option that we should look at.' Instead, he believes we should think small, think local and think renewable. Only then will we achieve the seemingly impossible goals of reversing CO 2 emissions and climate change while simultaneously meeting demand and maintaining a secure, uninterrupted supply.

'There is something odd about the notion that to do a big job you need big equipment, ' he says.

'With small scale equipment you actually need less capacity: it is less likely to fail catastrophically and so you need less back up.'

But energy efficiency must also play a major part in the equation.

In particular he recommends the mass retrofitting of property in the UK to cut draughts and increase insulation as a starting point.

'What will it cost? Well, put simply, less than the amount saved, ' Lovins says. Typically he reckons that investment in refurbishing building stock could achieve 60% energy savings, offering capital pay back in two to three years.

Getting the right incentives to reduce consumption is crucial, he says. He points out that the structure of the UK market means power companies are rewarded for selling more power rather than helping customers to use less.

Decentralised supply of electricity is also a key part of his strategy. The grid system was invented to help back up the unreliable central generating stations.

But, he says, times have changed. 'Today we see that most failures are caused in the grid system not the power station.

It makes sense to put the power supply nearer to the demand.' He predicts that there will be a much greater appetite to finance such infrastructure as the financial market knows that there is less risk in small, quick to construct modules than big slow ones.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.