Conservative Energy Review


In may 2006 the Tories are open to suggestions for their Energy Review. Here's my 2p worth:

Dear Alan Duncan

I must admit that I never dreamed in the 1980s I would be writing to the Conservative Party in the hope of encouraging you to adopt the green way of looking at energy matters. I was a Green Party councillor in the 1980s in Conservative Woodspring, and while there I developed a very low view of your party's environmental awareness. My present MP, John Penrose, has been instrumental in giving me a more positive view of Conservative individual politicians, although I fear that your political and economic philosophy is at the moment, sadly, on a par with the simple core tenet of Blairism - "Business Rules OK". I am uncomfortably aware that a party in opposition can be more green, and that once in power, you will have to bend to the will of an entrenched Civil Service - as well as media, business, and the EU. However, politics is a strange business, and I care not a whit which party saves the planet, so long as it is saved.

Having got that lot off my chest, I would like you to know that there is a reasoned case against using nuclear power as a low-carbon production system here: . A summary of the argument is linked on that page. A key specialist text on the argument is here: explaining why nuclear could only produce 4 years of low carbon electricity for the world.

The energy review must fundamentally be about climate change. The key thing to understand about the rational response to the immense threat posed by global warming (GW) is that there is no one single "magic bullet". GW is a systems failure, and the response must come from a systemic (that is, wide-ranging, interacting and total) approach beginning with a cognitive shift to a new paradigm, a new way of thinking in terms of planetary systems instead of sectional interests.

In particular, we need a new, Green, economics , and a response to the threat using a multiplicity of means: reduction in activity (yes, including less car and air journeys) energy efficiency, diverse modalities of renewable energy, and extensive carbon sinks.

I am sure that you are aware that energy efficiency is by far the most cost effective way of reducing CO2 emissions, from simple house and pipe insulation to Combined Heat and Power, a technology that government seems determined to undervalue.

Renewable energy is often identified with "windmills". (Not. Mills grind corn. Wind _Turbines_ produce electricity).
I am sure that you are aware that renewables are much wider, encompassing solar water heating, Photovoltaics (PV), biomass, geothermal, hydroelectric, ocean current, wave, tidal and many other, emerging, technologies. It is the sum of these technologies that will meet our needs, once we have reduced our expectations in a realistic way. Government must stimulate the British talent for inventiveness here. The point is that there is a wide spectrum, and we must develop them all. Nuclear is so expensive, such a huge project, that it would suck funding away from this multi-modal approach.

Be aware that the side effects of some renewable technologies is positive. For instance, the Lanchester wave barrage can reduce costal erosion. The Severn Barrage could prevent large areas of Western England and Wales from inundation from sea level rise (although it would no longer generate energy in that role).

The "Intermittency" argument against wind power is not as strong as its proponents claim. The National Grid is able to compensate for this, since if it there is no wind in Land's End, it is quite likely that it will be breezy in John O'Groats. The energy balancing mechanism can cope with intermittency, and John Penrose will be able to tell you that I am involved in a promising technology that will make the balancing mechanism much more efficient, and that could bring the load factor of wind turbines up towards (or even beyond) 80%.

The carbon sink and carbon offset approach needs sympathetic review. Here I am tending to move ahead of many of my environmentalist colleagues, who have been unenthusiastic in the past, because they felt it detracted from the emissions reduction approach. I personally feel that things are so desperate that we should not reject any activity that offers a promise of mitigation.

I favour tree planting, and have for many years sent money to Trees for Life, about £120 per annum, to fix my household's CO2 emissions. If more people went down this route, we would enhance the environment while mitigating global warming. The essential point is that trees should be planted in a way that is ecologically appropriate by local communities - not as monstrous industrialised monocultures. It is possible that the rainforests could be regenerated by these means.

Ocean fertilisation with iron salts to stimulate CO2 uptake by phytoplankton has been suggested. Scientists pore over the question of whether it would work. My response - do it, and let the scientists then pore over the results. Science can study the intervention, not just the problem. I am a doctor. We never know the result of new treatments until we have applied them. We audit new treatments to see that they are effective and non harmful. The experiment could begin now, dripping iron salts (rust is not exactly in short supply) from ferries as they move. This addition in a small area would give oceanologists an opportunity to examine the impact.

I am writing in haste, off the top of my head, in order to encourage you to get an overview of the topic, to see that the solution will not come from a single, expensive, technological intervention such as nuclear power. That latter approach is the stuff of science fiction. The solution can only come from a multiplicity of diverse interventions on a world wide basis in which everyone - individuals, communities, businesses economists, politicians and philosophers - takes part.

Thank you for applying yourself to this immensely important topic.

Best wishes
Richard Lawson

© 2001 R. Lawson