Energy sector's use of water 'being ignored', says study

The vital issue of the energy sector's use of water is being overlooked by the current Government, putting energy security at risk.

The UK is at risk of being locked into a future in which water availability puts energy security at risk

The UK is at risk of being locked into a future in which water availability puts energy security at risk

That's just one of the arguments put forward by academics at Newcastle University as part of a new study which concludes that an independent body is needed to inform energy policy.

The study claims that the Government's market-based approach to the energy industry is 'too fragmented and that a 'system architect' is needed to inform technical decisions and take a holistic view of the energy system; in order to secure the UK's future energy supply.

Professor Phil Taylor, director of the Newcastle University Institute for Sustainability, said: "The University is calling on the Government to establish a group of experts that can take a long-term view about what is required and inform technical decisions and energy policy in a more effective manner than the current situation.

"For instance, debate among policymakers focuses almost exclusively on issues of affordability and emissions reductions, ignoring the vital issue of the energy sector's use of water. This thinking risks locking the UK into a future in which water availability could put energy security at risk, and power stations could be forced to reduce production or even shut down if there isn't sufficient water available to keep them safely operational."

Fundemental problems

The study's recommendations are included in a briefing note on energy policy being sent today (6 May) to relevant MPs and other organisations. The note outlines a number of concerns about the 'fundamental problems' facing the UK energy market. These include energy storage and distribution; energy pricing models; lack of competition; and water use in electricity generation.

It specifically argues that the Government needs to look for ways to store low-carbon energy efficiently and effectively in times of high supply; to allow for its release during periods of high demand. 

"The Government has made some positive steps to open up competition in the market, but much more work is required - and quickly," added Taylor. "There's an urgent need to reduce carbon emissions while protecting the UK's future energy security.

"It's vital that politicians move beyond short-term political soundbites and instead support those initiatives that could make a real and sustainable difference."

Energy too cheap

The study criticises the existing energy pricing model; claiming it does not accurately reflect the high economic and environmental cost of generating, storing and distributing energy. Instead, energy providers should be rewarded for providing tools and techniques that help customers use energy efficiently and cost-effectively, Taylor argues.

"The Government needs to work with the energy industry to fundamentally change the way energy is priced," he said. "Although we must make sure people can afford to heat their homes, for the majority of us energy is actually too cheap - this is why we leave lights on, keep appliances running and use machines at peak times when energy costs more."

The issue of water availability was also the key focal point of new research from the World Resources Institute, which discovered that more than half of the world's largest coal-producing and consuming countries are now facing high levels of water stress.


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