There has been a bit of a stink recently about two reports published (or not) by consultancy firms KPMG and AF Consult regarding costs for energy sources and specifically what that means come 2020.
KPMG wrote a report, carried in the Sunday Times in Autumn 2011, which concluded that £34 billion could be saved from the public purse by 2020 if gas and nuclear power plants were built instead of the mooted wind and solar generators. £34 billion is a little over ten times the cost of Black Wednesday in 1992.
So, KPMG then came under fire from many green campaigners and companies who provide renewables, which likely led to KPMG deciding that they would not publish their full report, as it was ‘ripe for mis-interpretation’.
In any case, another report from AF Consult called Powerful Targets was made, using some of the same figures that KPMG calculated and also devising some of their own. This report gave a few possible outcomes of savings and consequent percentages of the UK’s power demands being met my different means. These methods often involved not abiding by renewable targets but still hitting CO2 reduction aims. The headline from the report that was that KPMG had got it wrong – the real number to be saved could be as much as £45 billion.
So where is this money coming from? Well, renewables are extremely expensive; and that’s not even taking into account the subsidy of the consequently propped-up industry. Modern gas power stations are a great deal cleaner, cheaper and more efficient than ever before. Using these rather than investing in the more expensive, but possibly greener (after many decades) renewable generators is where the money will be made. People forget that for every kW of power generated from a turbine, many embedded carbon miles in their manufacture and maintenance also have to be taken out – so the power is not as free as some think.
The numbers and reasoning behind each report will most likely be debated by people for the coming months, and may well have a great influence on future political discourse, but what does it all mean when it comes down to it? It’s about saving the Smiths’ a few hundred pounds from their energy bill. It’s about properly insulating homes to make systems as efficient as possible, bringing people out of fuel poverty by affordable means. These are the end results of these high numbers and it is important not to forget that.
But if we are talking about pie-in-the-sky numbers for imperfect technologies, then why not invest in hydrogen energy? The theory is there, but the electrolysis needed to create cheap hydrogen is not. Remind anyone of any technologies that are common-place now but space-age a few decades ago?
So whether saving billions by investing in clean gas generators is the future or not, it is vital that we acknowledge the end product. This is what often gets lost in the rhetoric. We have a great responsibility to keep our planet for future generations, and the truth is that bar a few broad brush strokes like recycling and increasing energy efficiency, we are a long way from knowing many things for certain, like which technology to back in the long run. Worrying? Yes. But not to lose sight of the final goal is vital.