Global warming is happening. The only SLIGHT doubt is how much human activity is contributing. The consequences of a wrong decision could be a total calamity.  It’s better to err on the safe side. There are other reasons to abandon fossil fuels (except for metal and cement production where they are unavoidable.) Eventually, they will run out. Nobody is quite sure when, predictions have been made for the last forty years at least, (all wrong.) However, they will become more expensive as they become harder to find and extract.

They are poisoning us, mainly by reason of air pollution. At least forty medical conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s to previously unknown childhood diseases. They may even be affecting our DNA, thus affecting our descendants. There are NO “clean technologies” to burn fossil. fuels, especially in the internal combustion engine These are an invention of the fossil fuel lobby. Fossil fuels can be burned in a more controlled way at power stations in that the combustion gases can be “scrubbed”, i.e., the pollutants removed. However, the detritus so collected still has to be disposed of as it contains heavy metals (including uranium), not so easy to permanently dispose of. (Yes, coal ash may be radioactive.)Years ago they made “cinder blocks” out of it. You might have radio-active walls in your house.

The extraction, preparation, and transport of fossil fuels are also extremely damaging and costly.

We depend increasingly on dodgy foreigners for our supply of all our fossil fuels; there is ample scope for hostile countries to cause disruption, leading to future energy wars: the Middle East, Russia, and South America spring to mind.

In the medium to long term, only renewable energy is pollution-free, endless, and can’t be taken away from us. It has massive disadvantages too, mainly in the matter of initial investment costs/times, intermittency, and utilisation factor.

However, it will provide thousands of jobs, and the primary fuel is free. It excites the NIMBYs who were happy to see coal mining and power stations away from their own localities but not to see renewable energy projects in their own neighbourhood (e.g. wind turbines). It’s important to note that renewable energy projects are not necessarily eco-friendly. There are some problems for which no solution is even on the horizon. (Eg aviation and agriculture) THE FUTURE IS ELECTRICITY.

Fossil fuels are described as primary fuels. Energy derived from them is deemed a secondary fuel,  electricity is one of them.  Electricity can be transported efficiently, i.e., with little loss.

By far, the most important aspect of future energy policy will be energy efficiency, domestic, commercial, and industrial.

It’s possible to build homes that are net energy neutral or even energy negative (i.e., export more energy than consumed.). I own such a house myself. As it’s energy negative, it profits me by £2500/year.

Domestic gas is to be banned from 2050. Gas will go instead to generate electricity as an intermediate solution before 100% renewable energy is achieved. This can be done in new technology power stations that are twice as efficient as traditional coal and oil-fired power stations with much less pollution.
We need to search for “frack gas”. There may not be any in the UK, but we need to know what our options are.

Instead of gas as at present,  home heating will be done by heat pumps which you will already see on some new houses. These multiply the electricity used to power them by a factor of three or four depending on weather conditions (if they are “air source heat pumps”) so making them an economical proposition.

Also to be decided, what ratio of small and large scale electricity generation is desirable and technically achievable. Dispersed small electricity generation (e.g., domestic solar PV panels) has the advantage that electricity generated is used locally so obviating transmission losses.

Cars powered by internal combustion engines are also to be banned; this gets rid of fuel originated pollution at street level, though not the pollution arising from brakes and rubber tyres. The total energy needed is much reduced and can have multiple sources. The progress of electricity storage devices will be critical to future policy. (Here the future does not look good, there are numerous technical and financial problems.) With the increase of renewable energy comes increasing control and stability problems on the electricity grid.

There are lots of steps being implemented right now that are not understood by the population who are therefore hostile to them. (Eg smart meters, ending of domestic gas supplies, electric cars, etc.)The implementation of some of these projects has been less than perfect.

The 2050 zero-carbon target is unachievable. To get 75% of the way, there can be done using existing technology; the last 25% will need vast expenditure and new technologies. Far more will have to be done with tidal resources which are abundant in the UK.

Our nuclear industry was originally set up to facilitate the manufacture of nuclear weapons; electricity was a by-product.

Nuclear power stations are carbon-free in running cost (though not in the construction). Aside from the issues of nuclear leaks and terrorism, no-one has yet worked out how to safely dispose of nuclear waste. If they had, they would be doing it, and they’re not. Instead, they are just stashing it away for future generations to deal with. Securely burying various toxic wastes (nuclear and non-nuclear) is not as easy as some people imagine.
All the nuclear promises have come to nothing; we were once promised that nuclear-generated electricity would be so cheap, it would not be worth metering. The pigeons have well and truly come home in the French nuclear industry with vast decommissioning costs. (And no money to carry out the work). Our own nuclear project at Hinkley Point is looking increasingly disastrous as time goes by.

I was an energy efficiency engineer in the NHS for twenty years prior to retirement.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email