Coal, Nuclear, Renewables

Reports warns of future UK fuel supply vulnerability

20 January 2004 – A report published today by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) reveals that, within a generation, Britain will become completely reliant upon energy sources supplied via pipelines from politically unstable countries thousands of miles away.

The ‘State of the Nation 2003’ report highlights a potential 80 per cent shortfall in meeting the country’s energy demands from current supplies by 2020, and points to the possibly cataclysmic effects of becoming reliant upon unsecured, imported fuel supplies.

Tom Foulkes, ICE Director General, says: “This country has been largely self sufficient in electricity generation for the past 100 years. We have been able to ride through a succession of energy crises, such as oil in 1973, coal in the early 1980s and the self-inflicted petrol crisis of 2000. All of these had the potential to inflict serious economic damage, but this was largely avoided by the fuel mix and diversity available at the time. This is about to change dramatically”.

Currently our generation mix for electricity is approximately 32 percent coal, 23 percent nuclear, 38 percent gas, 4 percent oil with 3 percent others and renewables. Emission constraints mean that the UK’s coal-powered generating plants will close shortly after 2016 and only one nuclear power station will remain operational beyond 2020, due, ICE says, to the government’s failure to invest in maintaining and upgrading Britain’s nuclear power programme. At present, renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and wave can only provide a fraction of the total requirement.

Under current government planning, the outstanding balance will have to be replaced by gas-fired power stations, importing 90 per cent of their fuel, no later than 2020. Initially, some supplies will come from Norway, but as demand across Europe exhausts supplies during the 2020s, Britain will be forced to source gas supplies from West Africa, the Middle East and the former Soviet Republics.

According to the report, Britain’s future energy plans lack both diversity and security of supply. ICE is calling upon the government to develop a sustainable solution that incorporates a mix of all types of generation, including renewable sources like wind and wave power, nuclear and cleaner coal and gas-fired power stations. ICE also urges the Government to increase public education on energy conservation.

According to Foulkes, “If future gas supplies were interrupted, this country would have major difficulty in keeping the lights on. Britain is a long way from the major new gas fields being developed in central Asia and Africa. Can the security of the UK’s gas supply be guaranteed, given that it will have to travel thousands of miles in a series of pipelines that are vulnerable to mechanical failure, sabotage and terrorist attack? What would happen then? Under current plans, with no gas, this country would have no electricity.”

David Anderson, chair of ICE’s Energy Board, says: “The Government simply isn’t taking on board the generation mix that will be needed beyond 2020 if security of supply and meeting our environmental commitments are both to be achieved. A return to the blackouts that marked the ‘Winter of Discontent’ and the country grinding to a halt are very real possibilities in less than 20 years time.

“As well as increasing investment in the full range of available fuels, the country needs far greater capability to store long-term energy reserves to see us through any future crisis. Major gas users such as Germany, France and Italy all have a gas storage capability of over 20 percent of annual consumption, or over 70 days worth. The UK has a woefully inadequate capability of less than two weeks’ worth”, says Anderson.

In grading all aspects of the UK’s infrastructure, the State of the Nation report exposes a decline in almost every area, except water, wastewater and flooding, and gives a dismal overall grading of D+, down from C- in 2002. The report calls for a number of actions to remedy the situation, in particular the appointment of an independent Chief Engineering Adviser to ensure a co-ordinated, long-term, sustainable approach to infrastructure planning, rather than decision-making being dominated by political short-termism. ICE believes that the position should be similar in remit to the Government’s Chief Medical Officer or Chief Scientific Adviser.