Analysis: Long-term thinking and unlikely alliances vital for success
POLITICS is generally a short-term business, but energy policy demands long-term thinking and strategic planning. That means a proper commitment to the best technology currently available – it also means backing research that might make that technology obsolete.
Policy-makers must also be pragmatic and resist Nimbyist campaigns – especially those funded by American billionaires.
The question is superficially simple: how do we secure an affordable and sustainable electricity supply? Compared with the main alternatives – fossil fuels and nuclear power – sensibly sited onshore wind is unarguably the best available technology to meet those three core needs. Wind is also ideally suited to community ownership.
We will also need a supporting mix of other measures, such as solar power, existing hydro plant, energy efficiency and small-scale biomass. Offshore wind is increasingly useful, despite higher installation costs. Investment already under way into pumped storage can help answer the intermittency question, as can better grid connections to our neighbours.
It’s too early to rely on wave and tidal power, though, promising as they are.
On cost, onshore wind is competitive with nuclear, even excluding the full costs of nuclear decommissioning, while the cost of wind power continues to fall.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance recently calculated that onshore turbines would be price competitive with fossil fuels by 2016.
Besides, we cannot rely upon a continuous supply of oil and gas at current prices. Global oil supplies are now at or nearly at the point at which output goes into terminal decline, just as North Sea output did in 1999.
Relying on the wind and other inexhaustible natural resources is by definition a secure choice. The easiest to find and best quality supplies of both fossil fuel and uranium are long gone, and neither the Russians nor the Saudis can turn a tap and cut off Scotland’s wind as they can oil and gas.
Sustainability may sound like a hippy buzz-word, but it is one simple question: can we keep doing this indefinitely? Only renewables can be operated indefinitely without irreversible environmental damage.
Opponents of renewables make two arguments: first, they don’t work, and second, that turbines are ugly. The first is simply a myth: within the next two years, more than half our energy demand will be met by renewables, and Scotland has the resources to close down oil, gas and nuclear plants by 2020. The second is entirely subjective – some people find turbines beautiful.
If we want a pragmatic policy capable of delivering affordable energy for the long term, it is time to ignore the unholy alliance of the nuclear lobby and Donald Trump, and listen instead to the unlikely alliance between Friends of the Earth and companies like Scottish & Southern Energy.
• James Mackenzie is a former director of communications for the Scottish Greens
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Monday 20 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 21 C
Wind Speed: 9 mph
Wind direction: South
Temperature: 6 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: North west