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The Future is Bright, the Future is Electric

Since I first wrote about the visionary genius of Lord Armstrong of Cragside, the pervading influence of electricity in all our lives is a subject I have written about many times and I am prompted to return to the theme by the growing debates about electricity generation across European and international governments.  


Society cannot survive without energy. Energy demand continues to grow rapidly and is expected to increase worldwide by nearly 30 per cent by 2030. The energy market is undergoing fundamental transformation and the global carbon reduction agenda and the decline in fossil fuel reserves will increasingly require electricity to meet worldwide energy needs. The commitment within Europe to improve security of supply and create an integrated and interconnected EU further suggests that only electricity generation and distribution can meet the need. These facts have been neatly captured by Maria van der Hoeven, Executive Director of the International Energy Agency, in her recent statement that, ‘Electricity is going to play a defining role in the first half of this century as the energy carrier that increasingly powers economic growth and development’.  


So while it is clear that the future can indeed only be electric, it is less clear how demand will be satisfied, especially here in Scotland. Many options exist such as fossil, hydro and nuclear power plants and renewables generation. While oil, coal and gas fired plants have provided reliable generation for decades it seems unlikely they have a long term future, given their production of large amounts of carbon dioxide and the inevitable future shortage and growing cost of their fuel. Large hydro power plants can generate large amounts of electricity, but most acceptable sites have already been exploited. Nuclear sites have the potential to reliably generate huge amounts of electricity, but while operating and fuel costs are relatively low capital costs can be daunting. Wind, solar and small scale hydro, like nuclear, produce almost zero greenhouse gasses, but there remain questions over the consistency or predictability of generation and some growing concern about the impact of renewable technologies on the landscape.


This simply highlights what we already know; that every form of electricity generation comes with a cost and each has its strengths and weaknesses. It does however seem clear that current and future governmental policies will shift the energy market away from fossil fuels and steer us to an environmentally sound energy mix.  


Whether we like it or not, this can only mean more renewables backed up by clean large scale base load generation, which means nuclear. The rest of the world has already accepted this fact and approvals for nuclear construction are already on track to develop around 60 GW of capacity by the end of this decade. The UK has been slow to jump onto this bandwagon, but is now doing so. If Scotland does not do likewise at some point, we could well lose out on the considerable benefits that the growing demand for electricity will bring. 


June 2015



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