ROYAL COMMISSION STUDY OF ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT

ROYAL COMMISSION STUDY OF ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT

ROYAL COMMISSION STUDY OF ENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT

The Royal Society of Edinburgh is pleased to respond to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution study of Energy and the Environment. The RSE is Scotland’s premier Learned Society, comprising Fellows elected on the basis of their distinction, from the full range of academic disciplines, and from industry, commerce and the professions. This response has been compiled with the assistance of a number of Fellows with direct experience of environmental and energy issues.

The impact of human activities on climate and the environment, particularly through energy use, is likely to be the most important issue facing mankind during the next century. Energy policy will have an impact not only directly on agriculture, water resources and land use, but also indirectly on the stability of international relations and world order. However, given the complex inter-related scientific, technological, political and financial factors involved, minimising the impact of the World’s energy requirement on the environment will not be easy to achieve.

There is a sufficient range and quantity of resources of fossil based energy available to the UK to meet needs for the foreseeable future. For the longer term commercially proven technology in nuclear energy together with renewable sources, such as solar energy, will mean that there need be no concerns on material sources of energy for sustainable prosperity, barring some unforeseen calamity. It is a measure of past achievement in the provision of energy for peoples’ needs that environmental concerns now feature in our present day agendas.

The specific issues identified in the consultation document are addressed below:

Energy Sources

1. In the light of political, economic and social constraints, what key policies would be needed to force the pace of adoption of renewable sources of energy in the UK on the scale required to replace fossil fuels by the middle of the next century, and how could such policies be implemented?

Fossil fuels cannot be replaced completely in the foreseeable future. Employing a mixture of energy sources has implications for the environment but these may be minimised by strategies based on good scientific and technological research, and a philosophy of "think globally – act locally". Therefore, policies should concentrate on:

i. improving energy efficiency in the home and workplace;
ii. minimising the effect of the use of fossil fuels by improved technologies;
iii. encouraging more research and development into renewable energy sources, both globally (e.g. Ocean Energy Conversion (Vadus et al., 1992, p.375), Nuclear Fission etc.) and nationally.

New fiscal regimes and incentives will be needed to force the pace of change, and possible implementation strategies could include:

i. subsidies in the form of direct grants or higher prices paid for electricity from renewable sources;
ii. subsidies for energy conservation;
iii. carbon tax;
iv. legislation on carbon emissions;
v. inventories of greenhouse gas emissions;
vi. emission trading system, i.e. carbon trading; increased use of nuclear power.

2. Are there environmental impacts of renewable sources of energy which would be critical limiting factors?

Potential renewable energy sources have a number of environmental impacts which could be critical limiting factors. Wind power has adverse environmental effects through the noise of wind turbines, their visual impact. Smaller more effective generating units might overcome some of these problems but they would still have a low energy density, requiring a large area of land to be used. Generators are often located in environmentally sensitive locations, where long lasting environmental impacts are incurred through their installation and the burial of the cables connecting the turbines to the rest of the supply grid. Solar energy relies on panels which can be somewhat obtrusive, and further potential hydroelectric developments often involve environmentally sensitive areas.

3. Which renewable sources of energy are likely to offer the most scope in technical terms in the UK?

Solar energy could be a good option if new, more efficient, cells can be produced and introduced into small factories, houses etc. as a boost to grid energy. Similarly, wind power offers potential, with offshore winds offering promise for both technical (more sustained and powerful airflows) and environmental reasons (less visual intrusion and effect on landscapes).

Fuels of biological origin are making a substantial contribution to the reduction of use of fossil fuels incombined heat and power systems in some countries in Europe, for example Sweden. In view of the large current usage of fossil fuels in the UK, the prospect for such schemes in the UK is comparatively small and may contribute to a reduction in the use of fossil fuels by only a few percent. Nonetheless, a more extensive use of biofuels in combined heat and power schemes could make a significant contribution to a basket of measures. Suitable biofuels include residues from normal forestry management operations and purpose-grown short rotation forest crops. World-wide, an increasing number of sawmills, wood pulp plants and composite board plants utilise the residues resulting from their processing operations to provide energy and are thereby self-sufficient for heat and power and, in some cases, export electricity. Purpose grown, short rotation forest crops (willows and poplars in particular) contribute a significant amount of energy in combined heat and power schemes in Sweden and Finland and with the expansion of such schemes in the UK they could also make a significant contribution.

Marine wave energy has still to overcome the potential difficulties of mooring and transmission costs to areas of demand, and macro-tides for tidal (barrage) power only occur in a few locations e.g. Solway. In areas of greater tidal ranges (e.g. Bay of Fundy in Canada and the Rance in France), power is generated but at high cost and only with difficulty. Both areas feed into an existing grid which evens-out the tidal cyclicity. Small-scale stream flow generation is being evaluated on a local scale and hydroelectric power is already exploited to a large extent.

4. Is there a realistic prospect of technologies (for example for sequestration of carbon at source of emission) that would help make some continuing use of fossil fuels as an energy source acceptable?

There are some limited prospects but it is imperative for such prospects to be achieved by joint ventures between Government and industry. More research into the underground storage of carbon dioxide is also required in the UK, whilst disposal in the deep ocean basins offers potential globally.

5. What might conventional nuclear power contribute? To what extent will its contribution be dependent on :

innovations in technology?
establishing valid disposal strategies for wastes?
public attitudes?

Nuclear power is the one large-scale source of clean power (in carbon emission terms) that the UK possesses. In Scotland the generation of primary electricity by large gas-cooled nuclear reactors is already well established and has proved to be successful, reliable and efficient. Over recent years the contribution that has been made by the two Advanced Gas-Cooled Reactors (AGRs) at Hunterston and Torness, both of which power plants consist of twin reactors individually rated at 600MW(e), (i.e., a potential total output of 2400 MW (e) from the 4 nuclear reactors), is more than sufficient to meet a large share of the required peak generating capacity. While there have been several major operational incidents involving these reactors, for the most part these have occurred on the steam-generating side of the plant and the nuclear reactors themselves have not been directly affected. The resulting loss of electricity output on these occasions has been covered by other forms of power generation including coal and gas-fired stations which can be used to meet any shortfall experienced by the two main Scottish utilities, Scottish Power and Scottish Hydroelectric. Following reorganisation of the nuclear power industry, the operator responsible for the performance of the 4 AGRs in Scotland, Scottish Nuclear, has become part of the wider operating company, British Energy plc, which also manages and operates thermal nuclear power stations of the same type in England.

Innovations in technology

The reliable and continuing safe operation of the AGRs in Scotland is not dependent on further innovations in technology. The power rating of each nuclear reactor unit is dependent on the thermal rating of the fuel element bundles which make up the main core of the reactor.

In the AGR the principal limitation on the nuclear side of the plant is the maximum surface temperature which can be sustained by the nuclear fuel rods, which consist of enriched uranium dioxide fuel pellets clad in a thin tubes of stainless steel. In the reactor these rods are cooled by circulation of carbon dioxide gas under high pressure and the heat extracted is converted to electricity in a conventional steam cycle. Under steady-state operating conditions these fuel element bundles perform fully to the output design specification but if the reactor is required to follow load or demand fluctuations to any significant degree over the period of the plant’s nuclear fuel cycle, then operational difficulties can be expected to occur. Given the present state of reactor technology in Britain and the fact that the nuclear fuel for these reactors was designed and tested in the late 1960s, it seems unlikely that the AGR will benefit any further from technological innovation. Replacement fuel designs are not commercially available for this type of reactor and any further construction of this type of reactor would, therefore, have to utilise the standard fuel element design as currently operated. This standpoint is supported by the move in England to adopt the Pressurised Water Reactor, which is similarly rated in output and performance terms, at Sizewell and elsewhere.

Disposal strategies for waste

The dilemma for the operators of civil nuclear power plants throughout the European Union is that strategies for the intermediate and longer term storage of nuclear waste materials have not been carried forward to a satisfactory conclusion in any country which has a large dependency on nuclear-generated electricity. Even in France, which is probably still the leading exponent of the thermal nuclear power plant, there are still many unanswered questions about the long-term management of the nuclear fuel cycle throughout the country.

Investment in nuclear energy in France has been sustained while other countries have withdrawn and as a result more than 90% of primary electricity production in France is dependent on nuclear power plants. In these circumstances the build-up of nuclear waste in considerable volumes is an inevitable consequence of such large-scale dependency but, despite that, there is no robust long-term management strategy for radioactive waste materials. Given the slower rate of investment in civil nuclear power in the UK in recent years, the British need to find a solution to the problem of long-term waste management is on a much lesser scale than in France. However, in environmental terms the problem should be shared as there is mutual self interest in ensuring that there is no carry over of the effects of this form of industrial pollution from one country to another. Britain has singularly failed in delivering a viable longer-term strategy through the designated operating company, NIREX, spun off from the UKAEA.

It is, therefore, appropriate to join forces with other countries in the EU, particularly France and Germany, to develop and implement an EU-wide approach which can be jointly funded and managed by those countries with a direct interest. Deep rock monitored storage, using current vitrification technology, is perfectly feasible and provides a level of safety very much higher than that presently demanded for hazardous chemical and biological substances. In addition there are new possibilities for dealing with waste by neutron processing, and for new types of accelerator reactors,which merit R & D investment.

Public attitudes

Although in principle nuclear power is a viable way to reduce our contribution to global warming, the degree of public opposition is so great that this will be difficult to achieve.

With a long history of involvement with the nuclear power industry going back to the Magnox reactors at Chapelcross and Hunterston, public attitudes to the development of nuclear energy have been remarkably well balanced in Scotland. Perhaps the first serious jolt to public opinion occurred in the wake of the Chernobyl accident and this has been followed by the more recent exposure of management failures and operational incidents on the UKAEA site at Dounreay by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, acting together in the public interest. The criticism that the UKAEA has failed to respond to legitimate public concerns over the continuing safe operation of the plant is a matter of public record and the Authority has indicated that it will be taking the appropriate remedial actions to restore public confidence.

The main problem hinges on a lack of willingness by operators of nuclear installations to acknowledge the risk element that exists in all large-scale nuclear plants, irrespective of their location. A lack of attention to detail in the internal and external monitoring of radioactive emissions from all nuclear installations has resulted in significant gaps in the available data relating to the operation of these installations over their lifetime. Consequently it is often impossible for the operators to provide adequate assurances to the public at large that there are not unanticipated pathways for radionuclides into the natural environment, or into animal food chains, in close proximity to these plants. All major nuclear power plants together with the associated fuel management facilities, including reprocessing and waste management, are susceptible to this criticism. The uncertainties linked to these gaps in the monitoring data can give rise to disproportionate fears amongst members of the public, which are not easily resolved by the operators themselves. The lack of trust is usually caused by exchanges with senior management of the nuclear operation which has often been defensive if not obstructive.

Attempts should, therefore, be made to rebuild public confidence in the acceptability of nuclear power generation using thermal reactor systems for the longer-term future of industrialised societies. This confidence will only come about if the nuclear power industry acknowledges its oversights in not planning systems for the safe storage of nuclear waste materials and corrects this omission, with subsequent political endorsement by the Government. Practical demonstrations of the long-term storage capacity of nuclear wastes in the EU must now be taken forward by the industry over the coming decade. Partnerships between the UKAEA and the power utilities who operate the nuclear plants in the UK will be essential in order to provide the necessary resources for this approach. Without the co-operation of the wider public who have learned to appreciate the risks and the environmental impacts of nuclear power, the industry will have its future prescribed and limited to decommissioning work on existing installations.

6. Should fast breeder reactors or nuclear fusion be regarded as potentially viable energy technologies in the next century?

Fast Breeder Reactors

It is difficult, in the light of recent political pronouncements on prototype fast reactors at Dounreay and elsewhere, to suggest that there is a viable future for any form of fast reactor technology which depends on a plutonium fuel cycle for its economic advantage over other nuclear power systems. Large-scale fast reactors using plutonium oxides as the main fuel core, and with liquid sodium as the heat transfer medium, are likely to be more hazardous to operate over a lifetime of 30 years than the existing thermal reactors. The potential environmental implications of any future emissions outside the primary and secondary containments of the plant structure are likely to be large and extremely long lasting. Some plutonium isotopes contained in the fuel rods have a radioactive half-life of more than 24,000 years so any failure of the plant containment cannot be countenanced.

The constructors of fast breeder reactors would be operating at the boundaries of the known physical properties of materials in the nuclear core. The issue of an operating licence would depend on guarantees about the reliability of steel pressure vessel components which cannot be given. Any serious emission of plutonium dust or debris to the atmosphere would have both localised and global impacts. Such accidental events would be unacceptable and would be a direct breach of international treaties and conventions relating to environmental protection.

Nuclear Fusion

Nuclear fusion is an unknown quantity despite its theoretical potential. The constraints applied by magnetic containment of the heat generated in experimental systems do not connect with the practical limits of mechanical and electrical engineering capability. A new family of high temperature materials capable of structural engineering and long-term endurance is needed before a viable prototype reactor could emerge. There are some environmental attractions to this approach as the fusion of light atoms will not give rise to the same volume of radioactive waste materials as thermal reactor systems. However, in the event that a viable fusion reactor evolved towards the middle or end of the 21st century there would still be a major requirement for sensitive and responsible long-term radioactive waste management extending forward indefinitely.

It follows that neither fast reactors nor nuclear fusion systems can be assumed to be viable technologies for the next century.

Improvements in energy efficiency

7. Can UK primary energy demand be stabilised by the middle of the next century? Can it be reduced over that timescale, and if so by how much?

Demand is a function of population, industrial activity and standard of living, and political processes will be seeking to enhance the latter two. Nevertheless, a stabilised demand could be a reasonable political objective for the UK, with efficiencies secured both for technical and social reasons in power generation and usage.

8. What are the actual and potential drivers and barriers for reducing demand for energy? How are the drivers and barriers affected by the structures and regulation of the energy market? How could the drivers be enhanced and the barriers be reduced?

The drivers for reducing demand will be the cost of energy, while the barriers will be energy wastage in the home and industry. Regulation or selective tax levels can be used to drive the method of power generation, with other drivers including cost penalties for over-use, and rewards for less use (i.e. energy efficiency measures). A tax on fuel may dampen energy consumption, but it would be difficult to convince public opinion of the desirability of personal impoverishment for remote general benefits. Such dampening effects may also have a limited and brief effect, as rises in petrol prices/taxes have generally only had a limited effect. Taxes on heating fuel in particular has an inequitable effect on those on low income.

A global reduction in demand would not be feasible without the leadership of the USA, as the highest world consumer of energy, and there would be many countries that would claim that they need less impoverishment, not more.

9. In comparison with other strategies, how attractive is reducing demand as a way of reducing the impact of energy on the environment?

Every aspect of a strategy to reduce energy impacts on the environment needs to be pursued, and reducing demand is only one component. However, the attractions of sectoral demand management applied to supplies of primary energy are clearly attractive. From a UK standpoint, our future prosperity depends upon improvements in our international competitiveness. Energy efficiency has a significant part to play in this, and at the same time contributes to reducing our impact on the environment.

If demand could be more evenly distributed, then there would be a better prospect of utilising high cost capital plant more efficiently. Unfortunately these savings are not going to be realised without the support of Government and the public at large. Conventional patterns of work and leisure, not least the timetable of the working day, have a profound effect on the way in which primary energy supplies have to be managed in the interests of society.

In domestic and commercial settings the consumption of primary energy in buildings and by transport is largely influenced by short-term expediency. Introducing relatively high cost improvements, for example double-glazed windows, only generates a return over a period of 20 years or more, particularly if the market price of primary energy continues to fall in real terms as in recent years. In the past the Government has promoted home insulation schemes which do not address the structurally limiting constraints on energy conservation built into the housing stock during initial construction. The relatively small turnover of the housing stock in each decade makes these energy losses difficult to contain. The same arguments can be applied to commercial properties. Thus, even well intentioned initiatives in energy conservation started in the 1970s at the time of the world energy crisis, have not been sustained.

What is needed is to build up a picture of energy inputs and outputs in regional and local economies so that identifiable savings can be targeted over a prescribed planning period. Government could help this process by assisting the conduct of targeted energy analysis in the domestic and commercial sectors.

10. What contribution can increased efficiency of generation and distribution make to reducing the environmental impact of energy?

In the 1970s the Department of Energy was un-willing to support a systematic study of energy input-output analysis. Although there was significant support for this line of approach from professional and scientific bodies, the initiative foundered because of a lack of political will. Under current international treaty obligations (including Kyoto 1997) the targets for the reduced emissions of greenhouse gases have been set without a proper regard to identifying energy-saving measures at the appropriate working level throughout the economy. In the absence of any systematic analysis of the energy economy the Government has to fulfil its treaty obligations in crude overall terms amounting to a 20% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2010. No direct link has been made between energy savings and the associated environmental benefits in meeting these obligations. This oversight should now be remedied.

11. What more needs to be done to integrate a concern for energy efficiency into professional training and practice in fields such as architecture, engineering and land-use planning?

Although the study of energy efficiency is, to some extent, included in the curriculum to some degree for the relevant professional disciplines, more needs to be done on designing buildings for efficient energy use, and designing equipment for higher efficiencies and longer life. Building regulations need to be tightened in some respects to promote energy saving, and relaxed in other areas to allow energy conserving measures. For example, planning restrictions on the use of solar panels should be re-examined and the design of new forms of solar panels with less obtrusive visual impact should be encouraged.

12. How should considerations about energy efficiency enter into determinations of what represents the best practicable environmental optional and into implementation of the EC Directive on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control?

Considerations about energy efficiency are an important ingredient. However, the EC Directive on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control does not target energy efficiency explicitly but concentrates more on outputs, and this emphasis should be changed.

13. Where should lead responsibility lie for promoting energy efficiency, and are additional powers required?

At a UK level the responsibility for promoting energy efficiency has remained within departments of central Government, currently DETR. The Scottish Office has hitherto had a minor role and thus has been unable to address specifically Scottish problems, despite climatic differences which have a bearing on patterns of energy use and potential energy conservation savings. This situation should not continue once the Scottish Parliament has been set up. However, overall energy policy will be a reserved subject outside the powers of the new Parliament which are contained in the Scotland Act 1998. In order to advance the potential for separate initiatives in energy conservation in Scotland, the Scottish Parliament will be obliged to seek additional powers for this purpose.
Implications of climate change

14. What measures should be taken
in the UK
in the European Union
in other parts of the world
in order to adapt to environmental changes that are inevitable as a consequence of higher concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere?

UK/European Union

The dynamics of the different Greenhouse gases need more research, especially in oceanography, and it is encouraging that carbon cycles are now top of the NERC agenda. Caution should, therefore, be used on the "inevitable consequences" argument as there are currently insufficient data to warrant a single approach to a complex problem. However, it would be sensible for contingency plans to be drawn up in each part of the UK, and correspondingly in each member country of the EU, to ensure that the effects of climatic change are fully interpreted in each locality. There are no short cuts to detailed and systematic planning at a local level. A degree of central co-ordination will be necessary for this purpose and the UK Government, together with its European partners, should ensure that an appropriate international protocol is drafted and widely adopted by the EU. Given the gradual nature of the expected climate changes, it should be possible to achieve a consistency of approach which will enable countries to share their knowledge in a practical way. For example, the vast store of engineering expertise built up in the Netherlands in engineering sea dykes and other coastal defences will need to be deployed more widely. Joint groups of civil and mechanical engineers will need to begin working on this problem.

At the same time scientists and engineers should participate in public forums to promote understanding of the social, economic and environmental implications of climatic changes. The concept of risk management should be developed to place climatic change in a proper perspective.

Other possible measures include:

i. The instigation of regular monitoring to quantify the magnitude of the changes.
ii. The adoption of measures to assess the affects of climate change on crop growth and distribution, and also on national water resources.
iii. Further research to determine the effect of climate change on the spread of sub-tropical diseases such as malaria, the effect of rising sea levels on coastal wildlife (saltmarshes, breeding and migrant birds), and the increasing frequency of storms and flooding.
iv. The development of a "new forest management" focused on the conservation and enhancement of carbon stocks in forests.

Other parts of the World

Britain has a moral obligation to contribute its scientific and engineering expertise in defining and managing solutions to these problems at a global level. Many of the countries that are likely to be affected by rising ocean levels are coastal states in the developing world with access to very limited technical resources. Pairing or twinning arrangements with a designated European Union member country should be devised by the European Commission to ensure access to the required expertise at an early stage.

15. Is the factor which effectively limits utilisation of fossil fuel reserves likely to be requirements to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, or the availability or distribution of reserves, or the relationship between the cost of exploiting those reserves and the cost of competing energy sources? How different are the respective limits on fossil fuel use likely to be imposed by these three constraints?

The availability and location of finite resources do not constitute any problems in the foreseeable future. Cost will always be a consideration. For example, as the oil companies transmute into energy companies, they will strive to supply energy from whatever source, or combination of sources, is technically, financially and politically advantageous to them. Nevertheless, there needs to be a global perspective both on the geographical distribution of reserves and the pattern of demand in countries where economic parameters, and alternative sources of future energy are significantly different. The UK and US have a mixture of primary fuels, while India and China have abundant coal and need to burn it to produce a stable economy.

The utilisation of fossil fuels will inevitably continue to some degree, so the reduction of damaging emissions must be addressed by methods other than prohibition. Reductions in net carbon dioxide emissions can be effected both by reducing emissions to the atmosphere and by increasing removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The latter can be effected by uptake of carbon dioxide by commercial or natural forest. It is imperative to take into account both uptake in photosynthesis by the trees and their consequent growth on the one hand, and emissions to the atmosphere as a result of processes of autotrophic and heterotrophic respiration, particularly from the soil, in forests. In the UK, the annual net carbon sequestration by commercial plantation forest, largely comprised of Sitka spruce, is in the range of 3-5 t C ha-1. Continued expansion of the commercial forest estate in the UK and the adoption of special measures to minimise losses of carbon to the atmosphere during forest operations, could help to meet our obligations under the Kyoto Protocol both by energy substitution and by net removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Because some return of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere is an inevitable result of forest operations,such as thinning and harvesting, considerable scope also lies in the restoration and expansion of our native Scottish Pine and Birch forests. Our remnants of native forests are in a poor state, largely because of over-grazing by sheep and deer. Substantial areas of native forest could be restored and turned into effective carbon dioxide accumulating systems, by erecting fences to exclude these herbivores. Such forests, as carbon dioxide sequestering systems, have the advantage over commercial forests in that they are not subject to forest operations and thus will continue to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the foreseeable future. On the other hand, they do not have the added advantage possessed by commercial forests of providing biofuels for energy substitution.

Social Issues

16. How will different strategies to reduce the impact of energy on the environment affect different groups in society?

Significant effects can be expected, both nationally and internationally. At the personal level the effects will include financial costs due to increased unit and downstream costs, together with rising taxation levels required to fund the chosen strategies. They will also affect quality of life, mobility, communication and health. All levels of society will be affected, but relatively rich people and countries may well fare better than the rest of the world.

17. How can approaches be developed to reconcile reductions in demand for energy with greater equity in access to the services provided by energy?

It is important that the legitimate demands of the "developing" world for similar standards of living to those enjoyed elsewhere be recognised and action taken appropriately. To this end, the research and development of alternative sources of energy, such as clean oceanic energy conversion systems, become priorities because the likely points of production lie, for the most part, in areas adjacent to the population centres of the "developing" world.

18. What will be the health effects of different energy strategies?

All strategies probably have an associated health risk of some kind. While the problems of waste disposal in general and nuclear waste in particular are well known, it is worth noting that nuclear reactors and waste presently contribute about 0.1% of the average annual radiation dose. It is important that Chernobyl type accidents never recur. In a well engineered enterprise, run to high standards by competent people, the risk can be made so small that it would be acceptable in any other circumstance. Deaths associated with coal burning plants in the US vary from 7 to 70 times those attributed to radiation from nuclear reactors, depending upon proximity to the plants and the use of 'scrubbers'. Coal mining in countries like the Ukraine result in several hundred fatalities per annum. Less well researched may be the health risks associated with problems of power transmission cables. Reduction of emissions of NOx, SOx will also improve health.

International considerations

19. Are future trends in market prices likely to move the UK energy system in the desired direction, and if so how quickly? To the extent that interventions in markets will be required, how far does the UK have the ability to pursue its own energy policies?

Ultimately energy costs are central to standards of living and to economic performance, including balance of trade. At national levels, international market prices and other fiscal measures will continue to be extremely important. The UK government could intervene to affect the cost to consumers but this would distort natural market forces with unpredictable knock-on effects. For localised problems, such as those relating to opencast coal extraction, there is scope for particular UK strategies.

20. Should the UK adopt policies to phase out use of fossil fuels in the absence of equivalent action by other countries?

A national policy of staged implementation combined with efforts at securing general compliance should be considered. Unilateral compliance is unlikely to be a politically feasible policy.

As an industrialised country with large urban conurbations, it is difficult to see how the major problem of energy supply to these centres can be switched to decentralised systems utilising renewable sources. If a decision were to be taken by the Government to phase out the use of fossil fuels for the purposes of power generation, then there would have to be a viable alternative to put in its place. At present, the UK would have no alternative other than to fall back on nuclear power.

As indicated above, France has already adopted this policy and it appears to be working satisfactorily. Consequently France will have no difficulty in meeting future treaty obligations in regard to greenhouse gases and can do so largely by concentrating its policy focus on the transport sector. Germany, under its new governing coalition, is faced with phasing out its nuclear power reactors over the coming decade. The distribution of the population in Germany will not allow energy demand to be met by renewable sources and Germany will probably face a ‘drive for gas’ in order to meet its political commitments.

21. How should the UK seek to influence the development of policies internationally to limit fossil fuel use? How can a sufficiently wide coalition be formed to obtain agreement on a global carbon tax?

Fiscal and legislative programmes concerned with energy policy are unlikely to impact globally without strong support from USA and acceptance by the developing countries. A practical way forward would be to fund research and development projects on an international basis into new technologies for more efficient extraction, processing, distribution and use of energy.

22. Does research need to demonstrate specific national impacts of global climate change before the people in a given country will be prepared to support strong international action to counter it?

For the most part, yes. An improved public understanding of all the factors involved in both the underpinning science and engineering and the practical applications is crucial, but any research findings have to be presented effectively. The current BSE inquiry makes clear the dangers of ineffectual communication between departments, politicians and the general public. It will be difficult,however, for the public to understand the complexities of global climatic change.

In terms of demonstrating national impacts the prediction of climate change must involve highly sophisticated modelling, not only of the earth’s atmosphere, but also of the oceans, ice sheets and land surface characteristics. However, one must regard current predictions, particularly those of climate change in specific regions, as liable to amendment as climate models are further refined. It would be sensible for the UK, at this stage, to formulate an energy policy for a number of climate scenarios for the next century.

23. What scope is there for the UK to profit from exporting or licensing commercial technologies developed for clean energy supply?

There is considerable scope for the export of ideas and technologies in these fields to help other countries meet required targets. We should give consideration to subsidising exports in such technology and related equipment. What is lacking currently, is finance to facilitate both the translation of research into commercial applications and the modification of existing technologies to new overseas markets.

Conclusion

The issues surrounding energy and the environment are complex, and considerations should include:

i. The environment changes on short, medium, and long-term time scales, and therefore any attempt to preserve the status quo is impossible. Such natural change is also greater than anthropogenically induced changes.
ii. Energy is necessary for our survival, but its location, extraction, processing, transportation and consumption will affect the environment to varying degrees. It has been estimated that global energy demand is doubling every 12 years (Vadus et al., 1992, p.375)
iii. It is unlikely that sources of renewable energy could satisfy global demand, although they will make a contribution at the national level.
iv. There is a need for the implementation of research programmes which target both the development and improved use of renewable energy and also improved technologies for the use of fossil fuels. Funding must be provided to translate relevant scientific and engineering research into practical applications.

Reference: Vadus, J.R., R.Bergman and P.K.Takahashi. (1992) The potential of Energy Conversion Systems. pp 373-402. In J.K. Hsu and J.Thiede (Editors) Use and Misuse of the Seafloor. John Wiley & Sons Ltd. 1992.

Further information is available from the Research Officer, Dr Marc Rands

 

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