The Kyoto protocol requires the UK to lower its carbon emissions by 12.5% for 2012. It is likely that this will be made from the transport sector alone, which accounts for just over a third of the UK’s final energy consumption. As seen in the table below this is very successful compared to other signatories. But the Kyoto protocol is only the first step to solving the climate problem. Not all countries will reach their targets; in fact most of them are considerably off target.
To make enough of an impact, there needs to be a massive change on a global scale. A new protocol is set to replace the Kyoto convention in 2009 called the ‘Washington Declaration’ that will involve industrialised and developing countries. The targets will be much more demanding than before. Although not finalised, with countries struggling to make their current targets, it will require a much more drastic change from all countries to be effective. This change would almost have to be in the industry that pollutes the environment the most, the electricity generation industry.
Renewable energy seems the obvious solution, the energy available is infinite and the greenhouse gases produced are negligible. The main renewable alternatives being utilized in the UK are hydroelectric, wind and to a degree solar power. Wind is set to be the main contender, and in large quantities could produce plenty of clean, renewable energy. The renewable electrical energy obligation set up by the government, wants to deliver 10 per cent of UK electricity from renewable sources by 2010. Yet the UK Government’s entire climate change programme, wants to achieve a reduction of 18 million tonnes of carbon. The renewable obligation for 2010 is only predicted to save 2.5MtC. These statistics support the argument that the targets we have made cannot be reached at our current rate of change.
The UK currently has 31 nuclear reactors producing power for the national grid and all but one of UK’s nuclear power stations are set to close by 2023. They currently equate to 22% of the UK’s net electricity production. The most part of energy production in the UK is from Gas and Oil; however the cost per unit has increased dramatically over the last few years. Plus if we continue to rely on the fossil fuel methods, over the next decade or so, we are predicted to lose as much as 20% of our existing electricity generation capacity.
Wind had seemed to be the most viable and indeed cheapest option, however as seen by the graph below, recent studies by government publications have shown that the maintenance cost could drive the cost per unit up to twice as much as conventional methods are producing now. The cheapest electricity it is predicted would come from gas turbines and nuclear stations, costing just 2.3p/kWh, compared with the 3.7p/kWh for onshore wind and 5.5p/kWh for offshore wind farms. This means, controversially, renewable energy could simply make the energy crisis a bigger problem than it is now.
Nuclear power has often been slated for its efficiency and high capital costs, but the technological advances have reduced both of these issues significantly. In fact, the graph above includes capital costs since nuclear power has marginally small operating costs compared to offshore wind farms. It is a common misconception that renewable energy sources produce no greenhouse gases, when in fact indirectly, they do. Despite the nuclear power plant’s high capital costs, as seen in the graph below it is a good contender in the amount of greenhouse gas emissions it releases indirectly. It never has been considered a long-term solution, especially alongside renewable energy; however these studies show that it may well need to be in the near future.
In my opinion, Nuclear power is probably a move in the right direction, reducing the amount of fossil fuels used is a great idea, but theres also other ways to generate power, so wind turbines aren’t exactly appealing to the eye, but then neither are smoking chimneys, we can definitely use wind generated power, examples of solar power, or even hydroelectric alternatives but judging by these figures it may be case of too little too late. I do not believe that Nuclear power is the long term solution to the problem but in the near future, it may be the that the choice is taken from us.