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Institution of Civil Engineers

29th June, 2007
The outlook is not bright for energy in the south west say the Institution of Civil EngineerS - Warning signs of a new energy crunch.

According to the Institution of Civil Engineers South West, the UK is in danger of sleepwalking its way into an energy crisis of even greater impact then the current credit crunch.

If the government does not manage to ensure that we meet our huge energy needs, there is a danger that the three day week, blackouts and candlelight of the 1970s will make a return in the next decade.

Regional Director of the Institution of Civil Engineers South West, Barry Griffiths said: “The energy crisis the UK is facing over the next decade is very real. We have not had enough short to medium term planning to provide a blueprint for energy generation that will see us well into the 2020s.

“The government will have to pay far more attention to what the country’s engineers are telling them and start investing in a comprehensive strategy to meet demand and improve energy efficiency.

According to a report by Fells Associates – ‘A Pragmatic Energy Policy for the UK’ 1- we are failing to replace old power stations fast enough and falling behind in our renewable energy production targets which is why the government is keen to pursue the Severn Barrage project which could potentially supply 5% of the UK’s electrical energy needs.

Critics have warned that while the government has made inroads into energy conservation through introducing subsidised insulation schemes for landlords and homeowners, it has not put enough resources into tackling the very real energy shortfall that will come with the scheduled closure of older power stations.

It has been estimated that nationally we will lose a third of our domestic generating capacity by 2015 because of the age of our power stations and the decreased production of oil from the North Sea while by 2010 we will be importing 50% of our gas supplies.

New commissions for gas-fired power stations at West Wales, Norfolk and South Yorkshire, have recently been announced which combined will generate approximately 4 gigawatts of electricity. However, these have angered environmentalists for not immediately addressing the issues of carbon capture and storage (CCS) – a new technology allowing generated carbon to be stored rather than released into the atmosphere through emissions. The companies have instead agreed to leave enough land available for a CCS plant to be installed at a future time.

At present the South West needs approximately 25 terrawatt hours of electricity per year to meet demand. Currently, 15 terrawatts is generated locally. By 2016, with the closures of both Hinkley and Oldbury power stations, the South West will become more and more reliant on the importation of energy with only 20% of the total energy required generated here.

Along with the need to generate more of our own electricity, the UK needs to ensure security of supply when it comes to the importation of energy. The recent stand off between Russia and the Ukraine that left much of Eastern Europe without a gas supply, and whose effects were felt as far away as France, is an indication of what can happen when energy supply is reliant on some of the world’s less stable regions.

There is now a very real danger that there will be a massive energy production deficit by 2016, which will leave the UK reliant on importation of energy such as Liquid Natural Gas (LNG), which is in itself highly inflammable.

This energy gap could therefore translate into a 3 day working week as use of energy becomes regulated through power cuts. Restrictions on usage affecting the home would leave many families using candles and generators for lighting and heating in the evenings.

This scenario becomes truly frightening in a society that has become so dependent on easily accessible energy supplies. Every aspect of our lives from hospitals, street lighting and social care to business, communications and industry are reliant on a constant power supply.