It would be easy to ignore the government’s energy review. Don’t.
It has confirmed that nuclear is back on the agenda – which the dogs in the street knew after Tony Blair’s speech to the CBI in May – but there’s more to it than that. The document looks at energy from all directions, from ensuring the lights stay on to cutting carbon dioxide emissions 60% by 2050. As blueprints go, this one does a good job. The scary bit is how we’re going to make it happen.
The argument over nuclear does seem to be decided, and the government appears intent on smoothing the planning process for power stations and wind farms. But there are many other unpopular measures it will need to address on the way. How, for example, does it propose to reconcile the public to the installation of all the overhead power lines that will be necessary?
Then there’s the issue of funding. The government has said the private sector has to stump up for the nuclear power stations, but it will be eight to 10 years before investors see any return, and nobody has the slightest idea how much electricity will be worth in 2016. This means that the government is going to have to underwrite some of the risk. All of which puts those firms hoping to help build the reactors in a difficult position. Do they have to gear up now? Or can they afford to wait until the rules of engagement become a little clearer?
The policy on renewables is another journey without maps. The big message is that from now on, all development work must address the need to reduce energy use, and buildings must increasingly produce the energy they do use from local sources. The government is to write microgenerators and combined heat and power plants into its planning requirements – and it is urging local planning authorities to set tough targets for on-site renewables. It’s a fantastic opportunity for firms with green expertise, partly because carbon-neutral building is so difficult, and this difficulty is a subject on which the review is silent.
One piece of the jigsaw is missing, though. Among the measures for saving energy there is little relating to the existing stock. The government is hoping that home information packs will cover the domestic sector, but details of the energy certification scheme for commercial buildings are sketchy. Bringing older buildings up to scratch is hard – as we discovered in a study of our own building this week. But we could make massive gains if we try.
Denise Chevin, editor