In their latest briefing note on energy policy, academics at Newcastle University argue for a much more focused approach to develop the UK’s energy system.
They state that a long term approach is needed that takes account of the many different ‘energy challenges’ we have if we are to attract the estimated £100bn of investment we need to upgrade generation, transmission and distribution in an environmentally sound and cost effective way.
A key proposal made in the paper is for an independent, non-government, expert body or ‘system architect’ to address the complex issues that need to be balanced as the UK’s energy system develops. Among the more controversial suggestions the academics make is that electricity could be seen as too cheap, as evidenced by people still leaving lights and appliances on and using electricity at peak times when costs are higher. Current pricing also doesn’t reflect the cost of electricity generation, storage and distribution, as the paper points out that electricity tends to become less costly as we use more under the pricing models used today.
According to the paper, too much of the debate within Westminster has focused on issues of affordability and emissions reduction while ignoring other vital issues such as the energy sector’s use of water.
“This thinking risks locking the UK into a future in which water availability could put energy security at risk, and power stations could be forced to reduce production or even shut down if there isn’t sufficient water available to keep them safely operational”, the briefing states.
These kinds of arguments are increasingly being raised in different forms around the industry. A group of energy experts set up by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) warned before Christmas that “whole system” thinking was needed for the power grid to ensure the lights stay on in Britain.
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