Energy storage and interconnectors offer best route to decabarbonisation, says policy expert
Britain should drop its focus on nuclear power and carbon capture and storage (CCS) and refocus spending on optimising renewables and energy efficiency, a leading academic has urged.
Catherine Mitchell - a professor of energy policy at Exeter University a lead author on the IPCC's Fifth Synthesis report - said on Wednesday: “I think the current energy policy in place is simply not credible.”
Speaking at an event in Westminster, titled 'Renewable energy: How far can Britain go?', Mitchell said: “We may have one or two new nuclear plants, we may not. Even if we do, it doesn’t actually matter, because it does very little for carbon reductions. There may also be CCS being talked about - but even if CCS comes out, there’s really no space to put the carbon.
“The only thing in town is renewable energy and energy efficiency. And it’s because those are the only things in town that we need to take stock as a country, and make sure that things are in place to be the building blocks of the future.”
The first step to decarbonisation, argued Mitchell, is reducing the amount of energy needed in the first place, through fully insulating houses, and managing the demand side, so that the maximum demand and thus maximum capacity needed could fall.
Mitchell also urged the Government to find ways to optimise the renewables system so “we don’t waste or dump the renewable energy that we do produce”. Her suggestions included more interconnectors with Europe and other countries, and an investment in various types of storage, including batteries and pumped hydro.
A recent report suggested that a natinoal network of pumped storage could cut the cost of the UK's decarbonisation by £3.5bn.
However, Mitchell’s comments join a wave of recent criticism of current energy policy.
Already this week, the centre-right think-tank Policy Exchange has criticised the Government’s ‘reckless’ green initiatives for driving up the cost of energy bills.
And at the other end of the spectrum, the National Grid warned that the UK’s spare capacity had dropped to a 10-year low, creating a real danger of power failures, while the country could also miss its legally-binding decarbonisation targets.
Responding to the Policy Exchange report, a DECC spokesperson said the Government’s priority was reducing consumer energy bills. The spokesperson said: “We’ve already announced reforms to remove subsidies for onshore wind and that work to make sure bill payers are getting the best possible deal is going to continue.”