What happens if you let prejudice drive your policy?

Last week the New York Times published an titled ‘How not to deal with climate change’, explaining that in the US, when a nuclear power plants have closed, its energy production has been almost entirely replaced with fossil fuels. Countries who have successfully moved from fossil fuel-dominated to low carbon power have done so with the help of nuclear and that without it, emissions either increase or fail to fall as quickly as elsewhere.

This low carbon blind spot doesn’t just affect some UK states. Until March 2011 Germany got about 25% of its electricity from nuclear power, using 17 reactors. This has now fallen to about 16% from eight reactors. Almost half of German electricity is generated from coal, with an increasing reliance on lignite – the dirtiest, most polluting type of coal.

Now there are reports from Germany that suggest its government is looking to water down its sector specific CO2 reduction targets and abandon plans to set out a timetable for ending coal-fired power production. This isn’t unexpected when you learn that Germany’s CO2 emissions from industry and power stations have diminished very little from 2008 to 2015, suggesting the target of a 20% reduction from 2007 levels by 2020 is not attainable.

In contrast, in recent months in the UK, coal’s contribution to the grid fell to zero for the first time in 130 years. Total UK emissions in 2014 were at an all-time low, with the reduction in greenhouse (35%) and CO2 (29%) on 1990 levels mainly due to a decrease in the use of coal for electricity generation.

In the UK, the need to meet strict carbon emission reduction targets is one of the reasons behind the Government’s plans for new nuclear. It has an ambition to phase out unabated coal generation by 2025 and to increase the amount of offshore wind as well as more interconnection and use of demand management technology.

In the final quarter last year official statistics show nuclear power accounting for 21% of the power produced in the UK. That is a year-on-year increase from 19%, and together with established hydro-power, intermittent renewables and biomass, contributes to an overall lower carbon mix of close to half of our power output for the first time.

The NIA is clear that no silver bullet exists to tackle climate change. Nuclear needs to work alongside renewable technologies as well as gas in the transition to a low-carbon energy sector. Indeed, the eight operating nuclear stations avoided some 49 MtCO2 in 2015 – that’s the equivalent of taking 78% of the UK’s cars off the road.

That is a massive and continuing contribution which should counteract the suggestion from some that the UK should turn its back on nuclear as well as fossil fuels. But, without it, the evidence points to a rise in energy bills as well as a rise, or, at least, a slower fall in emissions.

With 24GW of power output having retired in the last six years in the UK, the effective replacement of mostly coal fired power stations with lower carbon sources is a sign of progress. Yet the scale of the challenge seems often to be overlooked – replacing output no longer available, improving security of supply while reducing exposure to volatile commodity prices and doing so in a lower carbon way – remains a huge task.

Any country serious about moving to a low carbon energy system needs to ensure policies are driven by the facts and not prejudices. And the fact is that without nuclear power, it will be more difficult to drive down emissions and meet climate change objectives.

tom_greatrexTom Greatrex
Chief Executive 

Was politics better boring?

In the weeks leading up to the referendum I was desperate to talk to people about the referendum, and the answer I got from friends and colleagues was, “not everything is about the referendum!” Well now it really is, economies around the world tanked, largely because the markets bet against a vote to leave, the future of the United Kingdom could be in jeopardy and everything is shrouded in uncertainty. Even the idea that the UK will actually leave the EU.

The Prime Minster, the Chancellor and others including Energy Secretary, Amber Rudd have said “to be clear, Britain will leave the EU.” But what happens if a snap election is called and a pro-EU Prime Minister is installed and reverses the decision or puts a Brexit deal to another referendum? It may be unlikely but if two years ago you told anyone the UK would have voted to leave the EU, Jeremy Corbyn would be leading the Labour party, Donald Trump would have a serious chance of replacing President Obama and Iceland would knock out…

So what happens now? At the moment nothing, despite Westminster tearing itself apart, the UK remains a member of the European Union for at least another two years and in theory it is business as usual. The pound is recovering from an initial crash and markets will rebalance as more and more statements come from Governments across the world designed to firm up what Brexit really means.

For the business community it looks as though the UK will have access to the single market, although whether that is tariff free like Norway or more like the US with no deal remains uncertain; although likely to be somewhere in the middle. Simply because I don’t think the EU will allow free access to the single market without some form of free movement of people, the most important issue for voters throughout the referendum campaign. Tory leadership contender, Stephen Crabb has outlined this as a red line and if Theresa May wants to defeat a Brexiteer, as a ‘remainer’, she will need to be firm on immigration just as she was in her last Tory conference speech.

While energy took up very little debate time throughout the course of the campaign, the division between the two leaders within the Department of Energy and Climate Change was clear. Amber Rudd infamously questioned Boris Johnson in an ITV debate and Energy Minister, Andrea Leadsom led the charge at Wembley Area for the Leave side. Now both have said the UK’s energy policy and the challenge remains the same, as Tom Greatrex said, “More than 24GW of generating capacity has come offline in the last six years and needs to be replaced, whether in or out of the EU.”

In her first speech after the result Amber Rudd said, “We will continue to invest in clean energy” and Andrea Leadsom told the Energy Committee, “In my view, as I was clear all the way through the campaign, for energy policy I don’t believe anything will change.” The more difficult issue now will be stabilising the markets and maintaining the mantra that the UK is a safe place to invest in.

For the nuclear new build programme, all three developers have set out their commitment to continue with each of their developments. Rudd has also set out the Government’s position, “We remain committed to new nuclear power in the UK – to provide clean, secure energy” adding “we made a clear commitment to acting on climate change in our manifesto last year.”

So for the time being all remains the same. Looking ahead, a new Tory leader (May, Leadsom, Gove, Fox or Crabb) will be in place in September, at which point, or very soon after, Brexit negotiations will formally begin. In such a fraught atmosphere a snap election is unlikely but not impossible; the new Prime Minster will more likely run on the deal he or she has negotiated. Meanwhile the future of the Labour leader remains uncertain, but with determined support from some grassroots activists Corbyn sees no need to go and as a result it is the future of the party which may be under threat. Who ever said politics was boring?

Rupert LewisRupert Lewis
Public Affairs and Communications Executive