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Power talk

Cover story: Renewable energy

Making sure our energy needs are secure for the coming decades, while also tackling climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions, are the key challenges behind the government's review of energy policy, writes energy minister Malcolm Wicks.

In January I published Our Energy Challenge, a consultation document setting out the policy issues being considered and the big questions to be answered.

We are keen to receive as wide a range of views as possible. That is why the NCE conference, The Future of Energy, taking place today (Thursday), is very timely. I have asked NCE to contribute the conference's conclusions to this debate.

Things have changed since we last took stock of our energy policies in 2003. Gas supplies have declined faster than anticipated and we have moved to become a net gas importer.

This makes us more exposed than before to the international energy market, both in terms of supplies and prices. At the same time, global demand for energy is increasing. China's energy demand alone has been rising by 15% a year.

This winter, concerns about energy supply - at a time when new infrastructure is not yet fully operational - have led to high spot prices for gas. This shows just how crucial it is to get the timing of energy policy decisions right, given the lead times for major infrastructure projects and new technology.

There are even bigger challenges on the horizon.

Nuclear energy accounts for about 19% of our electricity generation, but a number of plants are likely to be decommissioned over the next 15 years so that by 2020 only about 7% of our electricity might come from nuclear.

Strict new EU directives on emissions mean that coal generation, which accounts for 33% of electricity, might reduce to about 16% by 2020. Taken together, we are likely to see about 30% of our generating capacity being decommissioned over the next 15 years.

It is a matter of strategic national importance that we take a cool-headed, evidence-based look at all the options open to us.

However, there will be no simple answers and no single solution.

We need to consider a range of options to in'uence the ways we both produce and use our energy. As the prime minister has said, this includes looking again at nuclear power. We also need to look at whether we are doing enough to create the conditions for other low carbon technologies to come forward and examine how carbon capture and storage can ensure continuing access to coal and other fossil fuels.

Hard choices will have to be made, but it is only through maintaining diversity within the energy mix can we ensure true energy security for the UK.

This is an energy review, not a nuclear review, and we are keen to stimulate a wide-ranging and informed debate. No decisions have yet been taken. I urge NCE readers to join the debate to help ensure our energy policies meet the challenges of the future.

See www. dti. gov. uk/energy/ review before 14 April for more details.

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