With oil breaking through $75 per barrel, top business bosses say Britain’s energy is at risk because the UK’s cumbersome planning system is blocking the building of vital new gas storage facilities. But they say nothing about the role microgeneration has to play, and the way the planning laws are blocking the development of off-grid homes and businesses. The same is true of United States zoning laws, and elsewhere.
The UK government hopes to meet 10% of the country’s electricity needs with renewable energy by 2010 and 20% by 2020. Currently less than 4% of Britain’s energy is from renewable sources.
The Confederation of British Industry raised the alarm as part of its submission to the UK Government Energy Review. CBI director-general Digby Jones warned last autumn that the UK had only 11 days of energy supply set aside – significantly below recommended levels. Jones said Britain’s competitors on mainland Europe had set aside 55 days of supply.
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Energy supplies ran perilously low last winter and the CBI is warning that supply will remain ‘tight’ this year. The UK is now a net importer of gas, having been a net exporter for more than two decades thanks to North Sea supply, which is now past its peak. The UK moved to being an importer sooner than had been expected, and key import infrastructure projects, including pipelines to Norway and Holland, along with terminals to land liquefied natural gas, are not due for completion until later this year and next.
Shortages were exacerbated by political tensions between Russia and the Ukraine, which saw a temporary cut-off of gas. Energy security is being considered as part of the Government Energy Review.
This weekend, Jones said 80 per cent of the UK’s new gas storage is mired in the planning process. Even if all the facilities proposed were approved, Britain would only have storage capacity equal to 9 per cent of total demand – half that of Germany, France and Italy.
‘This is a dreadful condemnation of the UK planning system. Ministers are saying “we’re sorting this out”. If that’s the case, how come 80 per cent is stuck in the planning system?’ Jones asked.
MEANWHILE – WAVE energy parks will soon be started off the coast of Britain to generate enough green electricity. The Scottish firm AWS Ocean Energy will trial its first Archimedes wave swing (AWS) machines, each capable of producing enough power for 2,000 homes, off the coast of Orkney by 2007.
The AWS is an 800-ton cylindrical device suspended under the water, moored to the seabed by a cable. It measures 39ft by 98ft and will not be noticeable from the surface. Each AWS will produce one megawatt of energy and installation of the first device in Orkney will cost 2.5m.
A 100-machine park could cost 250m but would produce power more cheaply than a nuclear station. As well as providing cheap green energy, the AWSs could create up to 4,000 jobs.
But this is not micro-generation or off-grid energy.
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