Nuclear Physics…Almost

‘Every action has an equal and opposite reaction’, that’s basic physics. Apply it to the global energy situation and it’s easy to see that something’s got to give: consumption is not so much creeping up as it is hurtling skyward, and natural sources of energy are dwindling with remarkable speed. Any sort of equilibrium between output and intake looks like a dim and distant memory, and some brave moves need to be made to stop the equation from spinning off into frightening territory.

Therein lies our first problem.

Nobody, particularly when in any position of power, wants to be ‘brave’ on this topic. No-one wants to be the one to say, ‘sorry everyone, but sacrifices have to be made’ in the faces of constituents angry about proposals for a wind farm or biomass plant, because that’s not how you win elections. Of course, a cynic would say that in the case of energy supply this attitude demonstrates cowardice of the worst kind, one that could eventually affect quality of life for millions of people.

Problem number two is that sustainable power often gets swept into the debate surrounding climate change, but in reality they are two separate, albeit interrelated concerns. For the majority of people, the most compelling thread in the low carbon transition is one that addresses the economic consequences of committing to one path or another, low carbon or otherwise. It may be very easy to bundle everything related to sustainability up and throw it to aside shouting ‘tree-huggers!’ and ‘hippies!’, but the fact is that life is going to get mighty expensive without alternative sources of energy.

Problem number three is chronic legislative indecision, which has seen policy move in all directions without seeming to do anything besides denting consumer and investor confidence. Just this week at their party conference, Ed Davey announced that Liberal Democrats would no longer fight against the expansion of nuclear energy, ushering in yet more calls of indecisive leadership from the opposition. There are countless examples of U-turns on the subject of energy supply, but at least there is some hope to be gleaned from this one; this is because, in acknowledging the need for nuclear, Davey has identified the final and most serious problem:

We don’t have the luxury of saying ‘no, thanks’ anymore, or cherrypicking the technologies with no undesirable baggage. The scale of the energy problem is such that it becomes irrelevant whether wind turbines are ugly, or even whether fossil fuels really are causing irrevocable damage to the environment; if we carry on as we are we’ll burn out in decades. It would be naïve to think that consumers will stop consuming, or even that they might slow down; their increasing desires for energy-guzzling gadgets are very unlikely to change, and this is on a global scale.

We all learnt Newton’s third law of motion in school; it’s so far removed from where we’ve ended up, perhaps it’s time to go back to the blackboard.

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As Chairman of the Rolton Group, Peter provides high-level strategic advice to a range of governmental, public sector and commercial clients. He is an acknowledged specialist in the renewable energy sector, and there is good reason for this: when it comes to energy, Peter is clear about the issues we face and the need for a cohesive strategy to tackle them. He is a passionate advocate of informed debate, and has consistently brought clarity to this complex situation."If the UK is united on one thing about energy it is that, on an individual basis, the public knows what it’s not in favour of. When it comes to offering up solutions, it’s not that confident. Pointing at single solutions like wind farms and saying that they are too expensive is missing the point. Carbon-based forms of energy like oil and gas are running out. Energy is going to be more expensive and a portfolio of renewable energies will necessarily be part of our solution in the future." Peter holds particular expertise in the areas of site-wide energy planning, zero carbon power generation, low carbon design, carbon offsetting and the application of renewable technology. He has acted as a Government advisor on numerous consultations and white papers, presenting to the Secretary of State on a number of occasions on the subject of renewable planning and public sector engagement. He has worked as a strategic partner with some of the world’s largest and most successful blue-chip companies, and is a Director of Renewables East, the renewable energy agency for the east of England.Peter is both a chartered building services engineer and a chartered member of the Institute of Energy, and has gained accreditation under the Carbon Trust Consultant Accreditation Scheme for solution development, with particular expertise in the establishment of energy strategies. He founded his first business, Rolton Services Consultants Limited, in 1989, and founded Cool Planet Technologies, a specialist renewable energy delivery partner which was sold to British Gas in 2010. He has been the architect of the path through which Rolton Group has addressed the challenges of renewables, carbon and the built environment."We need to see the bigger picture and not become hung up on individual technologies and individual costs. We need a completely different technology mix and not a reliance on one form of energy supply. We need all forms of technology to be applied – and we need it to happen quickly."

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