Gareth Wyn Jones sets out his vision for re-energising Wales.
The growing threat from anthropogenic global warming and associated problems [sea level rise, ocean acidification, droughts floods and other extreme weather events], reinforcing poverty, gross inequality and mass migration means that in less than 25 years the World and Wales must reconfigure and re-engineer its energy supplies to a ‘zero-carbon’, minimal greenhouse gas (GHG) emission format.
There are no simple or cheap solutions; every energy source has its own advantages and disadvantages. Nuclear energy is expensive and hazardous with unresolved thousand-year problems of storing highly dangerous waste and is inappropriate in most of our tumultuous, riven world — what price nuclear power stations in the hands of ISIS? Carbon capture and storage is unproven and unlikely to be scalable. Fracking is at best only a temporary band-aid and at worst a serious cul-de-sac as gas burning is itself part of the problem and time is very short.
Wales has substantial and varied per capita on- and off-shore ~zero GHG, renewable energy resources. Thus the global challenge offers us the potential to re-energise our economy, much as coal energised Victorian Wales when “Coal was King”, Cardiff its Queen and Rhondda its workhorse!
WG figures show we use, internally, ~100 TWh of energy annually of which only about 20% is as electricity: these figures do not including energy embedded in our imports, most external travel e.g. fights and much food. Assuming an average cost of 10p per kWh this equate to an annual outlay of £1O billion. (TWh = a million-million Watt hours). However our energy use is profligate (equivalent to 4 one-bar electric fires burning continuously day-in day-out to sustain for each of us). Therefore a major priority cf. Germany and Denmark, must be to increase energy use efficiency and reduce our total national energy use to ~60-65 TWh a year without increasing imported embedded energy!
This will require much better space insulation (stronger new build regulations and retrofitting existing building including ~1.2m homes), – rapid moves to x3 more energy-efficient electric vehicles (EVs), – adoption of ground- and air-source heat pumps in well-insulated buildings, – adoption of energy efficient lighting and other goods, – integrated, efficient, electrified, or possibly H2 fuel-cell based public transport and railways e.g. Cardiff-Valleys Metro, – moves to encourage walking and cycling especially to school, and much improved spacial planning to minimise commuting etc.
Several EU countries have ambitious energy saving targets; so should Wales.
Of the ~60-65 TWh of energy required in 2035 a large proportion, perhaps >40TWh, will be as electricity and the remainder mainly heat.
The basic question can therefore reframed as-
Over 20 years can Wales pursue an economically viable strategy for a overall ~35% decrease in energy use combined with the generation of ~40 TWh of zero-carbon renewable energy and ~20TWh of heat energy? (NB. GHG emission from our food chain will use up any residual carbon/GHG allocation). Let us note that, first, since each renewable energy source has its own environmental impacts, the lower the total demand the easier will be to find an acceptable solution and second there is limited time to act.
The available data suggest strongly that Wales has the renewable energy potential to meet its need with perhaps some export potential. Consequently there is no compelling case for massive public investment or subsidy for high-risk nuclear electricity and/or fracking etc.
While there have been a number relevant of Welsh, UK and EU studies there is no comprehensive plan.
The IWA has this week held a roundtable discussion on energy policy for Wales and will be following up this workstream.
Since the renewal resources are varied, dispersed and locality-dependent, they offer great scope for community and personal enterprises throughout Wales that will yield local economic gains.
Reliability of supply
Thousands of dispersed generating units are a challenge and require the development of smart, local, nested grids and re-assessment of the approach of and to the DNOs and energy storage. In Germany there is a move to the municipalisation of the local grids. This should be explored.
While some of the renewable energy resource e.g. the large marine tidal lagoons depend on large infrastructure projects, there is merit in developing thousands of small schemes throughout Wales i.e. an emphasis on dispersed community and individual generation. This required a reappraisal of planning obstruction and guidance cf. Scotland. Local energy schemes offer the prospect of long term fiscal flows into communities and could catalyse local enterprises and job creation and have an export potential.
The approach is very different to the classical “CEGB model” of centralised generation, dispersal, control and external ownership which means a decadal transfer of profits abroad and bleeds resources from communities. The dispersed model also implies a shift in the relationship between people and energy and much greater individual and local responsibility.
However this is accompanied by the major challenge of ensuring a match of supply and demand on a second by second to season by season basis and adequate electricity/energy storage.
The re-energising strategy must have many components.
[a] An integrated effort to save energy and lower energy demand, which will also improving lifestyles, and health etc.,
[b] The promotion of renewable energy resources, especially but by no means exclusively, dispersed locally-owned generation,
[c] Local, nested smart grids,
[d] Development of electricity storage capacity in batteries, pump storage and maybe, in time as hydrogen storage for fuel cells,
[e] Heat generation strategy.
The problems are not trivial but a 20-year programme is potentially transformative for Wales, economically, socially and environmentally, and will create a large number of jobs in urban and rural areas and a much more resilient, self-reliant and dynamic society for the low carbon age.
Through personal engagement, hopefully people will be encouraged to be more aware of the options open to them, if catastrophic social and environmental changes are to be avoided, and that constructive solutions are available.
Just as the City of London and south-east England exploit their comparative advantages of financial muscle, political power and geographic location, we in Wales must leverage our own comparative advantages. One of these is our range of renewable energy resources.