23 January 2017: Clean energy sectors should set up an alliance to shape a supportive industrial strategy.
The British government is today publishing a consultative green paper on a new industrial strategy. It proposes to offer ‘Sector Deals’ to address sector-specific challenges and opportunities. These would “offer a range of support”, including supporting innovation.
The Government highlights that Britain has strengths in research and development of smart energy technologies. And one of the ten” strategic pillars” will be:
“Delivering affordable energy and clean growth. We need to keep costs down for businesses, and secure the economic benefits of the transition to a low-carbon economy.”
“An Alliance would bring together like-minded organisations – those concerned with energy security, fuel poverty, economic competitiveness, environment, air quality and climate change – to work towards a common goal of decarbonisation. The renewables, CCS and nuclear sectors do already work together on specific issues, through their trade associations. An Alliance would add value by taking a strategic approach, to complement, not duplicate, the tactical co-operation that takes place between sectors already. The Alliance should not be an alternative public voice for clean energy, but rather unite existing voices.”
“The energy industry needs to offer strategic advice to governments on how best to facilitate clean energy. Some competition between sectors is inevitable: public money is limited. Nevertheless, there are significant questions on which competition is neither necessary nor helpful.”[i]
The criteria for judging what is low-carbon should include the full life-cycle of the technology, including land use change. Full members should be trade associations: companies and civil society organisations could become associate members.
Stephen Tindale, Weinberg director, said:
“An active industrial strategy offers a great opportunity for clean energy. To take advantage, different clean energy sectors should work together more strategically. With all the energy challenges of today, now is not the time for sectoral technology tribalism: it is the time for a Clean Energy Alliance.”
Contact: Stephen Tindale
[i] Strategic questions that an Alliance could address include:
A commitment to industrial strategy is welcome, and must include sustainable development, decarbonisation and energy security at its core.
The debate on the extent of state involvement, in reference to climate change and sustainable development, is a valid one. However, the market is far from free. It would only be free if all externalities were included, but they are not. If there was a strong carbon price the government would be able to be less involved, but there will always be a need for some government intervention. Examples of this include research and development for industrial innovation that often requires initial government support.
The government must ensure that the Climate Change Act remains central. It has now been proven that the costs of action on climate change are far less than the costs of inaction (Stern review), with key industry and market leaders in agreement. The CBI says:
“Ensuring that we maintain a secure, affordable and low-carbon supply is vital to British business. Additionally, we must continue to use energy more efficiently. The CBI is lobbying for government to provide a long-term, stable policy framework to enable continued business innovation and investment in the UK’s low-carbon transition.”
The Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney said:
“The combination of the weight of scientific evidence and the dynamics of the financial system suggest that, in the fullness of time, climate change will threaten financial resilience and longer-term prosperity. While there is still time to act, the window of opportunity is finite and shrinking.” 
Christine Laggard, of the International Monetary Fund, agreed saying:
“If climate change issues are not adequately addressed—if we keep running those nice energy subsidies, if the price on carbon is not adequately set, if policymakers don’t have it on their radar screens—then financial stability in the medium and long-term is clearly at stake.”
It is thus essential that this significant threat to industries, markets, and the environment is mitigated.
The government also needs to accompany the targets on climate change with action by investing in future solutions. Research and development must continue to nurture infant industries that not only have the potential to benefit the UK’s energy and environmental security, but could also offer exciting new export potential. Initiatives like the Swansea tidal lagoon (a world first), advanced nuclear power including the SMR competition, floating offshore wind farms, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and advanced bioenergy from algae are all great opportunities for the UK to pursue. Until externalities are internalised, low carbon energy industries will often require public financial support. The UK Government should provide this, where necessary, from taxes not consumer bills, and should also stop subsidies to unnecessary high carbon energy, including coal-fired power stations
An industrial strategy should be about developing new industries, whilst providing what existing industries need. Developing sustainable energy options not only consolidates the UK’s position in the growing green economy but also contributes to achieving affordable, sustainable and secure energy that is essential for existing industries. Some options, such as CCS, could give new life to declining existing heavy industry as a new report suggests and development at already approved nuclear sites could help improve the rural economy in those areas. Combining heat and power provision through systems like district heating, also offer promising mutual benefits once the initial investment and development is made.
Industry needs security, but in the uncertainty wrought by the Brexit vote it also needs consistency. Blocking low cost, green solutions such as onshore wind, is unwise. A consistent approach should be used between energy sources. For example, if local communities are not allowed a veto vote over shale gas developments, they should also not be allowed a veto on wind farms. Whatever is decided on veto policy, it should be consistency across technologies.
Similarly, industry needs consistency over time. Regulatory stability and long-term agendas help investor confidence. One of the key mechanisms for delivering regulatory stability was EU membership. In the Brexit scenario that the UK now finds itself in, it is essential that a stable, consistent and long-term approach to policy is developed, to maintain confidence and ensure industrial progress.
The UK must also ensure it stays competitive and open to EU and global markets, whilst also maintaining its leadership in certain fields. One of these fields is emissions. The Industrial Emissions Directive, is a key policy that keep relationships with Europe strong whilst protecting our local and global environment. It is essential that that this, and other environmental initiatives are maintained and strengthened to allow the UK to continue to be a key part of Europe’s sustainable industrial future.
Finally, the UK should take inspiration from around the world. In the USA, Obama’s “all of the above” strategy allows security in energy to be achieved through variety of supply. Germany became a world leader in wind and solar development largely due to its Stromeinspeisungsgesetz law, ensuring a very attractive feed in tariff for renewables. This policy was so successful they now need to invest in storage and interconnection to integrate the renewables into a wider energy system. Sweden’s NUTEK created demand for new technologies with greater energy efficiency by technology procurement and government guarantees for market demands. By keeping abreast of these policy developments elsewhere, and future-proofing industry by investing in sustainability, the UK can ensure it continues to prosper.
A well-designed industrial strategy can propel the UK into a leading role in a number of policy areas, including energy, as well as provide some much needed clarity in the post-Brexit environment.
Theresa May has nothing to fear from foreign investment in nuclear. Here’s why…
New Nuclear Watch Europe (NNWE) was established under my chairmanship at the end of 2014. Its purpose is the promotion of new nuclear capacity across Europe and further afield.
As such, although an industry funded body, NNWE is not a trade body but more a campaigning organisation. Our philosophy and core principles are described in more detail on our website: www.newnuclearwatch.eu.
Our starting point is that tackling the challenge of climate change requires almost total decarbonisation of the electricity industry by the middle of this century. That goal can only be achieved with a substantial contribution from the nuclear industry. Nuclear power is therefore an important element in the energy mix in many countries.
However, in addition to being a reliable, low carbon and very safe source of electricity, nuclear must also show governments, taxpayers and consumers that it offers good value for money. This is necessary because of current unusually low gas prices and falling costs in renewable technologies such as solar and wind power.
In Britain, controversy has surrounded the high strike price which the Government has agreed for Hinkley Point C (HPC). What appeared a reasonable deal during negotiations four years ago, when the cost of alternative sources of electricity was much higher, looks less competitive now.
In addition, EDF’s continuing technical problems with the EPR have created doubts about when, or even whether, HPC will actually come on stream. Against this background, NNWE has argued strongly for consideration to be given to alternative cheaper nuclear technologies.
However, any fresh setback at HPC will be seized on by opponents of nuclear as evidence of the industry’s inability to deliver new capacity. We have therefore supported the project, even though the value of the baseload power it can provide will be less if further technical delays occur. We have suggested that a reduction in the price should be sought if HPC is not in production by 2025.
Nuclear will certainly have been high on the agenda for the bilateral meeting between President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Theresa May last weekend in the margins of the G20 summit in the lovely old eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou.
Various explanations of the last minute intervention by the Prime Minister to review the HPC agreement have been advanced in the last few weeks. One of the most common – though least rational – advanced by some people who ought to know better is that foreign ownership of a nuclear power station exposes British consumers to the risk of blackouts.
There are two serious flaws in this theory. The first is the inability of its proponents to explain the circumstances in which it would be in the interests of China, or any other foreign owner, to shut down a nuclear plant on whose construction they had just spent billions.
Nuclear power is more capital intensive than almost any other form of energy. All of the huge investment required has to be made upfront during the construction period. This means that almost a decade passes before any return at all is earned on these massive capital outlays, and a second decade will go by before the project produces a net surplus.
A malignly motivated plant shutdown would therefore be financially catastrophic for any foreign investor. Equally important in this case, it would destroy any possibility of future Chinese investment in infrastructure assets in western countries, effectively closing the door on profitable opportunities in many of the world’s most attractive markets.
Furthermore, no commercial objection could be raised to including in the contract a provision that if the generation of electricity from a nuclear plant is halted by the owners for political rather than operational reasons, the reactor could be taken over by the British government without compensation being paid.
The second flaw in the theory is the ineffectiveness of action to stop electricity production. Although the loss of as much as seven percent of the nation’s supply would be uncomfortable and strain capacity for a while, it would not paralyse the economy as effectively as interference in some other foreign controlled infrastructure would.
For a start, other generators would increase their output. Additionally, by the late 2020s, the earliest possible completion date for Bradwell, the nuclear plant which China hopes to control, the capacity of interconnectors to import electricity from continental Europe will be much greater. National Grid could also ensure that the burden of any shortages was shared by consumers nationwide.
Contrast this with the devastation which would result from a closure of, for example, UK Power Networks. This company delivers electricity to the premises of millions of users in southeast England including the whole of London.
Few people have heard of this crucial infrastructure company. It rarely receives attention from the popular media because it does not send bills directly to domestic consumers. Its ownership by a company based in Hong Kong has been accepted for years, without a murmur of protest from the people now clamouring to block Chinese investment in Hinkley.
Yet at the flick of a switch UKPN could impose a total blackout on London. This would inflict far more devastating consequences than the loss of a single nuclear plant could ever achieve. The economic damage alone would be incalculable and there wouldn’t even be a minority British shareholder to protest.
This is not intended to raise any alarms. In my view it is inconceivable that UKPN would ever act in such a harmful and irrational way because it has much more to lose than to gain. But the same arguments apply to other foreign investors too.
So when the Prime Minister discusses these issues with her counterparts, let her concentrate on real concerns such as cyber security, completion date guarantees and proportions of localised supply chain work. These are legitimate subjects for negotiation. Fanciful notions of malign plant shutdowns are not.
The importance of settling the Hinkley question swiftly goes much wider than nuclear, wider even than the whole energy sector. Until the present uncertainty is resolved, every infrastructure investment in Britain is affected because all investors hate uncertainty.
The inevitable consequence is that prospective investors will seek higher returns from any investment they make in Britain. The cost of those higher returns will fall entirely on British consumers.
For that reason, let’s hope that the Prime Minister enjoys a cup of China’s finest tea beside the scenic West Lake with her host President, and returns home determined to get the best deal for the British people. One way to do that is to maintain, on this issue at least, her predecessor’s welcome for responsible foreign investment into Britain and its energy industry.
Tim Yeo was Conservative MP for South Suffolk from 1983 to 2015. He now chairs New Nuclear Watch Europe and the University of Sheffield Industrial Advisory Board for the Energy 2050 initiative. As an MP he served as Shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (2002-03, Chair of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Select Committee (2005-2010) and Chair of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee from 2010-2015.
Guest blogs represent the views of the author(s), and not necessarily the views of Weinberg Next Nuclear.
New Nuclear Watch Europe (NNWE)
www.newnuclearwatch.eu | @newnuclearwatch | firstname.lastname@example.org
To effectively mitigate the climate threat, the world needs more nuclear power. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, International Energy Agency, UN Sustainable Solutions Network and the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate have all argued for a doubling or even trebling of nuclear energy to address climate change.
Progress towards that expansion in many places has been sluggish; with big, old reactors meaning that neither the necessary quantity, nor the best possible quality of reactors is being developed.
However, Russia has just announced an ambitious target that will, if delivered, represent a significant step towards the necessary nuclear development. On the 9th of August, a Russian government decree has indicated country plans to build eleven new reactors by 2030. This does not include the seven reactors that Russia currently has under construction. In fact, Russia plans to have one new, large reactor come online every year until 2025.
As well as increasing quantity, Russia is endeavoring to improve the quality of the reactors. Among the 11 planned reactors are two sodium-cooled fast neutron (SFR) reactors.
The SFR is the most developed in the fast neutron spectrum, with successful projects and constructions across eight countries. Low-pressure liquid sodium is used to cool the core, and a very wide variety of fuel can be used, including waste from other nuclear reactors. The SFR uses a closed fuel cycle, where all the waste products are converted into more useful fuel or inert products, which eliminates the problem of nuclear waste.
As advanced, 4th generation designs, these reactors could be cheaper, even cleaner and even safer. Russia already has an advanced reactor operating, the BN-600 fast breeder reactor at Beloyarsk has been supplying electricity to the grid since 1981 and has the best operating and production record of all Russia’s nuclear power units. An updated BN-800 fast reactor at Beloyarsk was connected to the grid in December last year and is expected to be increased to full capacity in the coming days.
This commitment to not only an increasing, but also an increasingly advanced nuclear fleet should be a model for the rest of the world. To mitigate climate change, it is essential that others follow.
 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Working Group III – Mitigation of Climate Change, http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg3/, Presentation, slides 32-33; International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook 2014, p. 396; UN Sustainable Solutions Network, “Pathways to Deep Decarbonization” (July 2014), at page 33; Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, “Better Growth, Better Climate: The New Climate Economy Report” (September 2014), Figure 5 at page 26.
What will be the impact of Brexit on clean energy in the UK? Answer: nobody knows, because nothing is remotely clear in British politics now. Who will be prime minister? Will there be an early general election? What will be the relationship between the UK and the remaining EU member-states? Will there even be a UK?
However, some broad predictions can be made – and they are not optimistic.
In the short term, there will probably not be significant change in the policy framework. But there will be further slowdown in investment in energy infrastructure: potential investors do not like instability. Investment in renewables will be reduced because the UK will no longer be obliged to meet the 2020 legally-binding renewables target. Investment in new nuclear will also be reduced: progress on Hinkley looks even less likely this week than it did last. Investment in new interconnectors will probably suffer less. Other countries’ governments may be very cross with Britain, but that will not stop them wanting to sell us more electricity.
In the medium- to long-term, some laws governing the energy sector will probably be revoked or weakened. The free market right of the Conservative party has been strengthened, and attacks on ‘Brussels red tape’ were frequent in the successful Leave campaign. There were criticisms of the EU’s 2010 Industrial Emissions Directive, which limits air pollution emissions from power stations and protects public health (http://www.thelancet.com/commissions/climate-change-2015). However, air pollution is quite high on the UK political and media agendas. So the Industrial Emissions Directive will probably remain in force post-Brexit.
Weaker climate policies
Climate policies look more vulnerable, because there is a significant overlap between Euroscepticism and climate scepticism. The UK’s Climate Change Act, which commits the UK to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent (from1990 levels) by 2050, was passed with all party support in 2008 – only five MPs voted against. There are more climate sceptic Conservative MPs now than there were in 2008, and likely to be even more following a general election called by the new prime minister. But the new government is not likely to repeal the Act. Instead, it will probably weaken it by adopting less ambitious ‘carbon budgets’. The Act requires governments to set such budgets for four year periods, on advice from a Committee on Climate Change. The Cameron government has yet to accept the Committee’s latest recommendation.
The 2010-15 Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government implemented an Emissions Performance Standard banning the construction of new coal power stations unless they have carbon capture and storage. The opposition Labour party tried to get this applied to existing coal as well (as Obama is doing with his Clean Power Plan). There is now little likelihood of this happening. And the promise made by energy and climate secretary Amber Rudd (a leading Remain campaigner) to close unabated coal by 2025 looks unlikely to be met. Rudd said in her speech announcing this target that it would only be implemented if consistent with energy security. The slow down in energy infrastructure considered above makes the target much more challenging.
The coalition also introduced a ‘carbon floor price’: emissions allowances under the EU Emissions Trading System are not sold in the UK if the auction bid is lower than £18 per tonne of carbon dioxide. This raises around £2 billion a year, (https://sandbag.org.uk/site_media/pdfs/reports/Sandbag_Carbon_Floor_Price_190312.pdf ), so a Chancellor of the Exchequer will not want to abolish it. But making UK operators pay around three times the cost of allowances elsewhere in Europe does not help UK competitiveness, so the next Chancellor will come under considerable pressure to scrap it.
Advanced nuclear power
Post-Brexit, there will be less Europe-wide collaboration on energy R&D. This will hamper research. In the words of Universities for Europe:
“Working together, UK and European researchers can pool their resources, expertise, data and infrastructure to achieve more together than they could do alone. Many of today’s challenges are global, not national. In the EU, researchers can collaborate more easily to come up with solutions on an international scale, making the most of Europe’s diversity to achieve bigger and better results. EU frameworks, programmes and funding support collaboration are reducing the barriers to working across borders.” (http://www.universitiesforeurope.com/news/Pages/home.aspx)
This additional barrier does not make energy R&D impossible. The UK must continue to invest in energy innovation. Chancellor George Osborne promised in his 2015 Autumn Statement £250 million over five years for nuclear innovation. In his March 2016 Budget he allocated £30 million to a Small Modular Reactor (SMR) competition. The Department of Energy and Climate Change is currently talking to potential SMR developers. This is in line with our recommendations (see http://www.the-weinberg-foundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Next-Steps-For-Nuclear-Innovation.pdf). However, the referendum result means that the UK government has less money than expected. And a competition does not guarantee that money will be provided. The UK ran a competition on Carbon Capture and Storage but then cancelled it without giving any awards. The top priority for Weinberg Next Nuclear in the coming months will be to try to ensure that the SMR competition continues and leads to financial support to developers.
Speaking at the COP 21 seminar, organised by Nuclear for Climate, entitled “Is Nuclear Energy part of the Solution in the fight against Climate Change?”, Stephen warned against making enemies of advocates renewable energies because all these technologies are needed for a sustainable future.
He went on to talk about the potential benefits of advanced nuclear technologies like fast reactors, molten salt reactors and small modular reactors.
Also speaking at this event was Energy For Humanity Director Kirsty Gogan, Australian Environmental Consultant Ben Heard, Finnish ecomodernist Rauli Partanen and IPCC member and Climatologist Francois-Marie Bréon.
Chaired by Valerie Faudon, the Director of the Nuclear for Climate campaign, discussion lively and attended by over 200 people.
Click here to watch the full video. Stephen talks about energy tribalism at 30 minutes.
Stephen has previously spoken for Nuclear for Climate on what role Nuclear should play in a sustainable energy future. Click here to see that video.
The UK’s statutory adviser on climate change, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has this week published a report on Power sector scenarios for the fifth carbon budget
CCC’s role is not to set policy, but to analyse options and make recommendations. This report is primarily analysis, but it does contain an important recommendation:
“a portfolio approach is appropriate”.
In other words, the sensible approach is not solar or wind or biomass or marine renewables or nuclear or carbon capture and storage (CCS), but all of the above.
The fifth carbon budget will run from 2028 to 2032. Unless the UK parliament repeals the Climate Change Act, the British government is legally required to keep UK emissions within that budget, and on track to reduce emissions by 80% (from 1990 levels) by 2050. Around a third of all UK greenhouse gas emissions come from the energy supply sector (though this covers heat as well as electricity). So the power sector is the major player in the decarbonisation debate.
Britain is going to need a lot of new power stations in the 2020s. CCC says:
“With no growth in demand during the 2020s, around 25 GW of new capacity would be needed to replace retiring firm capacity and maintain system security.”
If electricity demand grows by 23%, as it does in one of their scenarios, CCC say that 40GW of new capacity will be needed. Demand for energy in the UK could and should reduce, but within that demand for electricity should increase as it becomes more widely used for heat and for transport.
So around 40 GW of new power capacity will be needed in the UK in the next 15 years. To meet the carbon budget, almost all of it will have to be clean power. In a logical world, low-carbon energy providers would unite with climate campaigners in a Clean Power Alliance. But we do not live in a logical world. NGOs and companies remain stuck in the era of technology tribalism.
The CCC lacks a crystal ball, so accepts that it does not know what technologies will be available in 2030 or how much they will cost. But the Committee says, correctly:
“Uncertainty does not imply that nothing can or should be done. The statutory 2050 target implies that the direction of travel must be towards sharply reduced carbon emissions. However, it is not possible to say in advance exactly what the mix of options should be, and there are likely to be limits to generation potential of some technologies.”
To meet the carbon budget despite these limits, CCC recommends:
“developing a wider portfolio of options to ensure cost competition between technologies and that other options are available should circumstances change. A narrow focus solely on the current lowest cost options in the short term is not an appropriate strategy given the different risks and the importance of low-carbon power, and could increase costs in the longer term.”
I think that this wider portfolio should include tidal lagoons and next-generation nuclear reactors. I am working for Weinberg Next Nuclear, and am a consultant to Tidal Lagoon Power, so I would say that, wouldn’t I? In my defence, I also think that the clean power portfolio should include CCS, tidal stream and wave, and I don’t get any money for saying that. (Always open to offers…)
CCC acknowledge that:
“Low-carbon technologies are, and will continue to be, a more expensive way to generate electricity than burning gas and allowing the emissions to enter the atmosphere for free.”
It is important that CCC have said this. UK energy policy debate is dominated by discussion of subsidy. All forms of clean power need some form of public financial support: grants, loans, Contracts for Difference (which, for readers who are not energy policy wonks, give clean energy operators a higher income from sales than they would get from selling electricity from gas without CCS).
The CCC says that:
“To keep down costs of delivery, clarity is needed about how policy will adjust as areas of uncertainty are resolved.”
Clarity would certainly be helpful. But it is not very likely. We are being promised a ‘reset’ of UK energy policy in the next few weeks. If Amber Rudd, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, delivers a speech which reconciles the views of the pro-climate action Prime Minister and the anti-climate action Chancellor, and finds a way to expand the least expensive type of renewable energy, onshore wind, in the face of Tory grassroots opposition, she will be the Harry Potter of British politics.
Then there’s the minor issue of Europe. You want clarity on what the European energy union will be and how it will be delivered? Don’t hold your breath. Will the UK still be a member of the EU in 2030? Nobody knows. I hope we will, but am increasingly worried that the referendum will vote out. The chair of CCC is John Gummer, a pro-European Tory (yes, they do exist). The report doesn’t say much about Europe, but does note that:
“the EU Large Combustion Plant Directive… has restricted the use of coal on air quality grounds”.
I tweeted this quote, and commented that it shows why we are better off in. To which a UKIP activist responded that this Directive has increased the cost of energy. Which it has. Bloody Brussels bureaucrats. If we were an independent country we could have cheaper energy. And allow more of our kids to get asthma.
See this and other blogs on the Climate Answers website:
Last century, during the height of the cold war, the Iron Curtain that descended across Europe represented more than just the border between the capitalist west and communist east. It represented the developed and the undeveloped, the poor and the rich, the future and the past. And yet now some of the former communist countries of Eastern Europe are proving themselves to be far more forward thinking than their western neighbours. Nuclear power is the future in terms of protecting against energy and climate insecurity but powerful and developed parts of Western Europe are going backwards from that future, rather than making progress towards it. Austria has long been nuclear free and in 2011 Germany decided to follow their example and consequently cast its climate change and decarbonisation targets into question. On the other side of the extinct line, a need for secure fuel* for economic growth is facilitating significant nuclear progress. Last month the Czech government launched a huge long-term plan for nuclear production. This echoed the progress of Slovakia and Hungary on building reactors and is helping to inspire others such as Poland who are well on their way towards commencing their own nuclear programme and Lithuania who are also hoping for new nuclear development after the 2009 closure of their last plant. Although France, Finland and Britain are in favour of nuclear, it seems the characteristics of the Iron Curtain have in part reversed and some of the West could learn much from the forward thinking East.
* However the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary are to varying degrees relying on Russia for help with fuel supply, reactor designs and funding. This reliance limits the complete energy security of the new nuclear power. Conversely, Poland and Lithuania are hoping to construct their new nuclear plants without Russian support.
In the years of the space race, America’s best minds came together to achieve the monumental step of getting man to the moon. Today, a group of the UK’s most famous scientists, economists and businessmen is calling for a new Global Apollo programme to combat climate change. The aim is to bring together the same great ingenuity, and large funds, but this time to achieve the even more monumental step of getting to a sustainable society.
The main challenge of the day has moved on. Instead of a cold war, the greatest threat we face is a warming world. The programme’s introduction states:
“Climate change threatens us with increased risk of drought, flood and tempest, leading to mass migration and conflict. These dangers can be limited if the rise in temperature is less than 2˚C above the pre-industrial level. […] But, even if every promise is carried out, carbon-dioxide emissions will continue to rise. By 2035 the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will exceed the critical level for a 2˚C rise in temperature and on current policies the temperature will eventually reach 4˚C above the pre-industrial level. We must take action to prevent this, by radically cutting the world’s output of carbon dioxide. We must reduce the use of energy and we must make the energy we use clean.”
The programme seeks to revolutionise the energy sector by investing in research, development and demonstration of innovative technologies in order to make the cost of clean energy lower than the cost of polluting fossil fuels. The authors of the proposal (namely David King, John Browne, Richard Layard, Gus O’Donnell, Martin Rees, Nicholas Stern and Adair Turner) argue that clean energy already has huge social and environmental benefits over fossil fuels, but that it needs investment and innovation to become as cheap or cheaper, which would allow clean energy to “win all the battles”.
The authors’ “clean energy future” is built on three pillars of technology: renewables, nuclear power and carbon capture and storage (CCS). Thus far, the aims of the Global Apollo Programme and the Alvin Weinberg Foundation are very much on the same page. However, the Apollo Programme proposers believe that nuclear and CCS already have sufficient funding, so call for more funding solely for renewables. Here we disagree.
The report correctly says that nuclear fusion and conventional nuclear power are well funded, with schemes such as the G4 international programme for efficient on-site enrichment of uranium for nuclear fission and the International Thermonuclear Energy Reactor (ITER) programme for nuclear fusion which has enjoyed over £13 billion of funding. However these big figures and the enduring perception that expensive nuclear is overfunded, dangerously hide a huge gap in funding for research and development of what should be the nuclear of the future: advanced nuclear reactors.
At the time of the space race and the original Apollo Program, huge advances were being made in nuclear power. In fact it was the time when Alvin Weinberg himself did some of his best work, on advanced nuclear reactors. This contrasts hugely with the lack of progress today. It is a sad irony that the new Apollo program is not promoting further nuclear investment as was occurring at the time of the original.
AWF and the Apollo programme have a common cause. As supporters of all clean energy, AWF are very much in favour of further investment in renewables R&D. But further investment in advanced nuclear R&D is also desperately needed.