Less than three years after the last Energy White Paper, the latest Energy Review – "Our Energy Challenge" – was launched on 23 January. Progress against the goals set in the 2003 White Paper is assessed and options to achieve further progress are considered in the latest Review. In many quarters, the Review has been seen as basically being about nuclear power – should the United Kingdom's ageing fleet of nuclear power stations be replaced when they reach the end of their natural life? And if they should not, where should we find the electricity they currently produce be sourced from. The review is much wider than the nuclear issue, although it is certainly a central theme. Another common question was why a fresh review was needed so soon after the publication of the White Paper?
There are three primary drivers behind holding a fresh review of the UK's energy policy. Firstly, the evidence of global warming and climate change is far greater than in 2003 thus the importance of finding "green", or more accurately, low-carbon, energy sources is more pressing that expected. Secondly, the UK has found itself becoming a net importer of gas earlier than had been expected. It is also expected to become a net importer of oil in the near future. This leaves the UK increasingly reliant upon foreign countries for its energy and ,as this Russia-Ukraine gas dispute reminded the world at Christmas, this can be a vulnerable position to find oneself in. Finally, these factors are compounded by greatly increased energy prices that have a significant impact on both commercial and domestic consumers.
This is not simply an energy supply review; it will also focus on energy demand and look to explore possible measures for increasing energy efficiency. This is an important aspect of tackling the first driver behind the review – climate change. Producing 'greener' energy is only half the battle. It is also important to change the way people use energy and to try and make the population more energy conscious.
One of the common problems with any of the possible energy solutions is the "not in my back yard" approach of many people. Whilst many people will agree that renewable energy sources are a good source of energy, not all that support them would be willing to have one sited within their community. Likewise with a nuclear power station. Interestingly, however, is the response of some communities that currently have a nuclear power station. Over the coming twenty years these stations face decommissioning, and with them go not only 20% of the United Kingdom's electricity needs, but so do a significant number of jobs for the communities which house a nuclear power station.
One message has been heard loud and clear over the noise caused by the launch of this latest energy review: the energy future of the United Kingdom is not nuclear, it is not coal, nor is it wind. It is a mixture and combination of all sources of energy. Achieving the correct balance is the only way to achieve a reliable and secure long-term energy supply.