Alternative Choices

Energy choices are usually framed in terms of costs to consumers, and 'keeping the lights on'. Energy security (are we in hock to the Russians?) comes some way behind. Environmental and sustainability factors have been relatively minor players, to be addressed as long the others are not compromised.

Because the Outlier school emphasises 'Fairness and Physics' in the long term we put sustainability first. Whatever your energy supply system might do, it must have  very low carbon emissions.

There are quite a large number of ways to do this, but on the whole policies fall into two groups:

  • the Base-Load school, emphasising the supply side of the equation, and traditional always-on sources such as nuclear and 'clean coal'.
  • the renewables school, emphasising the demand side of the equation, a wide range of renewable sources, and suitable backup systems.

In 1977 CAT produced one of the very earliest models of the renewables school, called An Alternative Energy Strategy for the United Kingdom (AESUK). In 2002 I looked at this again to see how it measured against the historical out-turn. It had actually done remarkably well, and acted as a direct inspiration for the first Zero-Carbon Britain report of 2007.

How Low Can We Go? 2003 (doc)

Meanwhile, understandng about the climate crisis was rapidly developing, and evidence of feedback effects suggested we might be much closer to a 'point of no return' than we had previously suspected. This meant that some of the energy policy blockages might need to be confronted with hitherto unthinkable approaches. Hence the following. See also the nuclear power section in Controversies.

A Devil's Pact 2005 (doc)

Energy from plants has long been a substantial strand of the renewable energy rope, ever since the vigorous advocacy of D.O. Hall in the 70s and 80s. Subsequently, doubts arose on account of the apparent conflicts between biomass for energy on one side, and food and biodiversity on the other. The following talk at a Royal Society of Chemistry meeting in 2007 attempts to give a balanced view of the possibilities.

Bioenergy 2007 (ppt)

Following the actual series of Zero-Carbon Britain reports from the Centre for Alternative Technology, it seems to me the choices are rather clearer.  They have demonstrated that an all-renewable modern Britain is possible. Analysis of the cumulative emissions to 2050 makes it clear that any pathway other than rapid phase-out of fossil fuels, fails to meet the touchstone criteria of 'Fairness and Physics'.  Notably this rules out certain of David Mackay's scenarios. The following pair of files, based on a lecture at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, try to argue for a grown-up energy debate that accepts the need to 'break certain eggs' to make the UK energy omelette.

Fairness and Physics 2014 (doc)

Energy: Fairness, Physics and Sustainability 2014 (ppt)