The UK Government’s latest report on future energy supply is a tissue of unproved assumptions and wishful thinking
Christopher Booker: Chris Huhne Is Piling On The Make-Believe
Sunday, 08 January 2012 08:07 Christopher Booker, The Sunday Telegraph
The Government’s latest report on our future energy supply is a tissue of unproved assumptions and wishful thinking.
If a ministry were to publish a completely dotty and misleading 220-page report on an issue of the highest national importance, one might at least raise an eyebrow. If it appeared under the names of David Cameron and Nick Clegg, one might even be rather worried. But if one then saw that it was also signed by Chris Huhne, as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, one could become seriously alarmed.
At the beginning of last month, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) published two documents purporting to solve the riddle of how Britain will meet its obligation, under the Climate Change Act, to cut CO2 emissions by 80 per cent before 2050 (the UK being the only country in the world committed by law to do this). One document was a lengthy report entitled Carbon Plan: Delivering Our Low-Carbon Future. The other was an interactive computer model on the DECC website called 2050 Pathway Calculator, produced under the aegis of the DECC’s chief scientific adviser, David Mackay (and with a puff from Friends of the Earth).
After Christmas, various newspapers showed some belated interest in these publications. It was shown, from Government figures, that to meet the statutory target would cost every household in Britain nearly £5,000 every year until 2050. Other analysts then made rather more detailed critiques, led by the blogger Tim Worstall who, under the heading “Lying with numbers”, pointed out what seems a fundamental flaw in DECC’s toy computer model.
Worstall was startled to discover that relying on “renewables” to generate our electricity would, according to DECC, be significantly cheaper than relying on conventional power sources, such as nuclear and fossil fuels. As everyone knows, renewable sources such as wind farms are far more expensive than conventional ones, hence their need for massive subsidies. But the model had been designed on the assumption that, with wind power, Britain would require much less energy, because we would have become more “energy efficient”, by insulating our homes and so forth. Using conventional electricity, on the other hand, would be much more expensive because we would be less “energy efficient” and would therefore need more power. As Worstall put it, the model thus contrives to show that renewables, instead of being twice as expensive as conventional power, would mysteriously cost only half as much.
Another flaw Worstall noticed was that the model nowhere seems to allow for the dramatic effect on the cost of gas already evident in America thanks to the “shale gas revolution” – the new technology that is enabling vast quantities of cheap gas to be extracted from shale and coal beds.
What emerges from reading the DECC report in full is how heavily almost every page of it relies on wishful thinking and unproven assumptions. The report babbles on, for instance, about how we will have “zero carbon homes” and a “zero carbon waste economy” and how we will build “33 gigawatts” of zero carbon nuclear power and “45 gigawatts” of wind power (without, of course, pointing out that 45GW refers to the capacity of the windmills, not the 15GW or less they might actually produce, due to the intermittency of the wind).
The report does recognise that we would still need 28GW of the fossil-fuel electricity which currently supplies nearly 80 per cent of our needs. But this brings us to perhaps the most glaring example of wishful thinking that runs right through the report: its insistence that gas and coal-fired power stations can only be allowed if they are fitted with “carbon capture and storage” (CCS), the immensely costly equipment that is supposed to pipe away CO2 and bury it in the ground.
It cannot be stated too forcefully that, as yet, the technology to do this has not been commercially developed, for the simple reason that, as various scientific studies have shown, it cannot work. There is no way in which vast quantities of CO2 can be injected into rock at the high pressures necessary without fracturing the rock to the point where no more can be injected. Yet it is on this make-believe that the dreams of Cameron, Clegg and Huhne ultimately rest.
It is ironic that the shale gas bonanza, now offering the world its greatest energy revolution since nuclear power, depends on a rock-fracturing process that does work – indeed, it already provides 25 per cent of all America’s gas, cutting its cost to the lowest winter level in a decade. In Poland, the first homes will be heated by shale gas this winter.
Britain too, it seems, is sitting on huge potential reserves of shale gas, which could supply us with cheap energy for centuries to come. Yet because it is a fossil fuel, our Government refuses to take it seriously. When I asked DECC, last week, why all its projections ignore shale gas, I was given the truly astounding reply that, even if we do begin to produce gas from shale, “it will all be exported”.
Nothing in the DECC report is so forlorn as the way its final pages list the hundreds of bureaucratic steps that our Government plans to take in the years ahead – its Green Deal, its Green Investment Bank, its work with our EU partners on “establishing standards for a smart grid”, and how a UK Climate Security Envoy will “engage with the US, Canada, Japan, the African Union and Australia on national and global security risks of climate change”.
I was reminded, after reading the report, of the closing scene of the Marx Brothers’ film At the Circus, where a symphony orchestra is sitting on a raft moored at the end of a Big Top at the seaside. The brothers cut the moorings and the raft begins to drift gently out to sea, with the orchestra playing on regardless.
Messrs Cameron, Clegg, Huhne, Mackay, and their subordinates, blithely saw away at their violins while the raft of our national energy policy is carried away into the sunset. For anyone wondering how we are going to keep Britain’s lights on and our economy running, make-believe on such a scale is truly terrifying. (GWPF)