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15 Mar 2011

Ten reasons why new nuclear was a mistake – even before Fukushima: a guest post from Alexis Rowell

Absolutely hideous developments in Japan at the moment.  Our deepest commiserations to everyone there.  Developments at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, described in this morning’s papers as ‘very grave’, prompted Alexis Rowell, Director, cuttingthecarbon and Joint Organiser, Transition Belsize to write the following:

It’s hardly a surprise that building nuclear power stations on seismic fault lines, as Japan has done, turns out to be a foolish thing. In the pause for reflection about the safety of nuclear power that the Fukushima disaster is bound to create, here are ten reasons why it’s a mistake to build a new round of nuclear power stations in the UK.

Nuclear power is too expensive

Nuclear has always been an expensive white elephant. UK taxpayers currently subsidise nuclear directly to the tune of more than £1bn per year.[1] But the indirect subsidies such as decommissioning and insurance are far greater.

The cost of decommissioning old nuclear in the UK is now estimated to be at least £73bn.[2] Surely therefore that anyone wishing to provide new nuclear should have to put that sort of sum into an up-front clean-up fund? But of course they won’t. They can’t possibly afford to.

If there’s a nuclear accident in the UK, then who will pay? An insurance company? Not a hope. Existing UK reactors are insured to the tune of £140m each, which the government is talking about increasing to £1.2bn, but that’s still nothing like enough to cover a serious accident like Fukushima or Three Mile Island or Chernobyl.[3]

Nuclear power is uninsurable. It’s too risky and the potential payouts are too big. The government, meaning the UK taxpayer, will have to pay as we did to bail out the banks. The free market will never bear the true costs of nuclear.

A report published by the US Union of Concerned Scientists last month said nuclear power had never operated in the United States without public subsidies.[4] The existence of an Office of Nuclear Development at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) makes a mockery of Chris Huhne’s claim that no public money will be spent on new nuclear.[5]

Only two atomic power stations are under construction in Western Europe: one in France and one in Finland. The Finnish reactor, which was supposed to be the first of a new generation of “safe” and “affordable” units, has been subsidised by the French nuclear industry (and therefore the French state) as a loss leader in the hope that it will spark a new nuclear building boom. When the decision was announced Standard & Poor instantly downgraded to “negative” the stock of the Finnish utility commissioning the reactor. The project has been plagued with cost overruns and delays (it was due to open in 2009), is under investigation by the Finnish nuclear safety regulator STUK and is probably the single best reason why new nuclear is a mistake.[6]

New nuclear power stations won’t be ready in time

According to the 2007 Energy White Paper the earliest the first new nuclear power station could possibly be ready is 2020.[7] Chris Huhne occasionally says it might be possible by 2018 but most observers disagree. However we need to replace 40% of our energy generation by 2015 because old nuclear and coal-fired plants are set to close. New nuclear will come too late.

Nuclear does not and will not safeguard our energy security

Nuclear power currently provides 18% of our electricity but only about 1% of our total energy needs.[8] Three quarters of the UK’s primary energy demand comes from gas and oil.[9] Gas is used for most of our space heating and hot water. Oil is used for virtually all forms of transport. Indeed the vast majority of our oil and gas consumption is for purposes other than producing electricity. Nuclear power cannot replace that energy, while gas and oil deliveries are threatened by tightening supply (peak oil) and political instability. A 2008 Sussex University study concluded: “we are not convinced that there is a strong security case for new nuclear, especially if the costs and risks of strategies that include new nuclear are considered alongside those of strategies that do not.”[10]

Nuclear power is not green

Mining uranium requires fossils fuels. So does building a nuclear power station. And so does trying to dispose of radioactive waste. Over its lifecycle a nuclear power station produces as much carbon dioxide as a gas-fired power station.[11] Better than oil or coal but not carbon-free. And it will get worse. In the not too distant future uranium will become so hard to mine that it will require more fossil fuels to extract it than the energy that will be produced from it.[12]

Nuclear power will do little to reduce our carbon emissions

Even if Britain built ten new reactors, nuclear power would only deliver a 4% cut in carbon emissions some time after 2025.[13] But that’s too late. We need the carbon reductions now. We’d do better to ban standby buttons on electrical appliances than to develop new nuclear power.

Nuclear power stations are inefficient

We really need to stop producing electricity in huge power stations hundreds of miles away which waste 60% of the energy they produce as heat through cooling towers and another 7-9% in transmission losses across the national grid. If we produce energy locally and use Combined Heat and Power (CHP), then we can reach efficiencies of 80-90%.[14] Nuclear cannot and never has been made to work with CHP because to distribute the heat you need residents or businesses to be close by. But how many people want to live near a nuclear power station?

Plane crashes are a risk to nuclear power stations

In February 2011 a Loughborough University aviation expert suggested the chance of a plane crashing into a UK reactor was 20% higher than official estimates and The Guardian reported that a Health & Safety Executive internal report had admitted that a crash could trigger “significant radiological releases”.[15] Finally, if you can fly a plane into the Twin Towers, then you can certainly fly one into a nuclear power station.

Nuclear power kills

Miscarriage rates by women living near the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing facility are higher than would be expected.[16] Billions of fish are killed every year when they get trapped in the cooling water intake pipes of nuclear reactors.[17]

It’s a myth that renewables cannot provide baseload

There has never been a day on record when the wind has not blown somewhere in the UK. The point about baseload is that what you need is enough people in enough places producing electricity. The more you decentralise electricity generation the more secure the baseload becomes. The same principle holds for investing in shares – it’s much more risky to invest everything in a couple of big companies than it is to invest in a basket of shares that reflect all aspects of the market. The real reason why proponents of nuclear are obliged to talk about baseload is that it’s uneconomic to do much with atomic reactors other than run them continuously, whether or not the energy is needed. And in the UK that has usually meant prioritising nuclear over available wind energy.

Global expansion could lead to new nuclear security risks

In February 2011 the Royal Society launched an inquiry into nuclear non-proliferation saying that a global expansion of nuclear power “could lead to the wider proliferation of nuclear weapons, as well as creating new nuclear security risks”, which could “impact on international progress towards nuclear disarmament”.[18] Look at the problems the international community is having with the Iranian nuclear power programme. Many observers believe the US and Israel recently collaborated on a cyber sabotage project to slow the Iranian development up and prevent it from developing atomic weapons.[19]

And we still have no idea what to do with nuclear waste

All those arguments against new nuclear and not one of them was about nuclear waste. The 2003 Energy White Paper said one of the reasons why the then government wasn’t proposing new nuclear was because there were “important issues of nuclear waste to be resolved”. Have they been? No.

There are perfectly good non-nuclear solutions but they all require a lot more government intervention than the coalition government seems prepared to contemplate. They are:

1) Energy efficiency

As it stands, the government’s Green Deal – under which householders can borrow funds for energy efficiency measures to be repaid out of energy bill savings – is set to be a completely inadequate sticking plaster solution. It feels like the government has decided that existing buildings are too difficult to deal with seriously which is why they’re so gung-ho about new nuclear – to fuel electric radiators the energy from which will then be wasted through leaky windows, walls, roofs and floors. The only way to create genuinely low energy buildings is by using Passivhaus design.[20] Asking the UK’s building sector to refurbish buildings using a proper engineering standard will be a challenge, but it is at least a coherent approach. Unlike new nuclear and the Green Deal.

2) Renewables (and possibly Combined Heat & Power in urban areas if we can find enough non-fossil fuels to run it)

Nuclear has taken up a huge amount of civil servant time over the last few years. That’s time that could have been spent on renewables. Britain has by far the most potential for wind and tidal power in Europe because of our geography. 40% of Europe’s wind passes through these isles.[21] Yet in 2010 we produced just 3.2% of our electricity from wind. Germany obtained 9.4% of its electricity from wind in 2010, Spain generated 14.4% and Denmark managed a whopping 24%.[22]

The reason the Danes are so far ahead on wind is because they learnt the right lessons from the oil shocks of the 1970s and started planning for a renewably-powered future back then. The UK, by contrast, was blinded by the discovery of North Sea Oil.

3) Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs)

Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs) are a way of using the market to reduce fossil fuel energy consumption.[23] Every adult is given an equal free entitlement of TEQs units each week. Other energy users (government, industry etc.) bid for their units at a weekly auction. If you use less than your entitlement, you can sell your surplus. If you need more, you can buy them. All trading takes place at a single national price, which will rise and fall in line with demand. When you buy energy, such as petrol for your car or electricity for your household, units corresponding to the amount of energy you have bought are deducted from your TEQs account, in addition to your money payment. The total number of units available in the country is set out in the TEQs Budget, which goes down each year.

There are greener, cheaper, more secure, quicker to install, safer alternatives to new nuclear so don’t let yourself be persuaded that it’s the only solution. It’s not.




[4] Koplow, D. (2011).


[6] Thomas, S. (2010). “The Economics of Nuclear Power: An Update.”




[10] Watson, J. & Scott, A. “New Nuclear Power in the UK: A Strategy for Energy Security?”

[11] Van Leeuwen, J. & Smith, P. (2008). “Nuclear power the energy balance.”





[16] Jones, K. & Wheater, A. ( 1989). “Obstetric outcomes in West Cumberland Hospital: is there a risk from Sellafield?”

[17] Speight, M. & Henderson, P. (2010). Marine Ecology – Concepts and Applications. p186







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Chris Rowland
15 Mar 9:33am

The UK government is now pressing ahead with replacement nuclear power stations for the UK. Many of these are sited on the coast. Will these locations be safe, as climate change increases a rise in sea level? What is the true cost of nuclear power taking climate change into account? Why is DECC putting most of its efforts into nuclear and not a pushing for decentralised community backed renewables?

Chris Rowland
15 Mar 9:37am

I understand that the melting of the ice caps may be releasing pressure on the tectonic plates causing more world wide volcanic activity, earth quakes and tsunamis. Is this true and is there any proof that this is happening?

Alexis Rowell
15 Mar 10:14am

So actually Chris – alof the UK’s existing nuclear power stations, and all the proposed new ones, ares on the coast and are therefore all vulnerable to sea level rises, but I didn’t include this in my ten points because I think they’ll all be closed down for other reasons before the sea level rises are a key issue. As for the idea that seismic activty is increasing because of climate change – I think we’re at very early days in trying to understand this. As academics usually say when they haven’t a clue – more research needed!


15 Mar 10:45am

Here’s a video from Chernobyl, shot by a man who had full access to the whole site (including being on the roof of the reactor, during the disaster, filming the action (not for the particularly faint-hearted):

15 Mar 10:52am

Could this finally spark serious government commitment to cut our personal and public carbon footprints? Bring on TEQs.

Alexis Rowell
15 Mar 10:54am

I used to be the BBC Kiev Correspondent. I’ve been to Chernobyl twice. Nature has reclaimed most of the area yet there are still radiation hotspots throughout the area. Eating a mushroom with a radioactive particle on it can be fatal. Eventually you come to the reactor complex. It stands silent, ominous, terrifying – a monument to man’s failed attempt to control the power of the atom.


Dan Olner
15 Mar 12:38pm

“Why is DECC putting most of its efforts into nuclear and not a pushing for decentralised community backed renewables?”

How can large energy companies control community systems? I went on a week-long UKERC summer school: our whole week’s task was coming up with potentially novel energy solutions that could meet with public approval as well as be cost-effective. Every single group came up with something at the community level.

Afterwards, discussing it with UKERC bods, it was very clear that such schemes could never get support, since they don’t reflect the interests of the large utilities. This is the problem: the question isn’t just “how can we best produce sustainable energy” but “how can we stop the system being dominated by a few large players?”

15 Mar 1:26pm

I would like to know the net, net, financial cost of nuclear vs alternatives.

I predict that UK nuclear energy will continue until HMG becomes aware that there is an overwhelming public opinion against it – and it is not in HMG’s interest to continue with it.

Where is that overwhelming public opinion?

It looks like more nuclear power-stations will be built!

Nicole Brammy
15 Mar 2:03pm

here in south australia we are unfortunate to have some ridiculous percentage of the worlds uranium in the ground.
The mining sector has propped up our economy slowing the impetus for Transition. But we are having fun at the creative edge of society.
I thought I would share a story from the Adnyamathanha desert people of the northern Flinders ranges (my apologies for any imperfect retelling):
one day in the dreamtime their ancestor was walking on his way to a corroboree when he stopped to eat some meat he found. This was near Arkaroola (where they now want to start a new mine) The meat was bad really rotten and soon he felt very bad, sick, crook and had to stop and lay down. in a big hole he vomited up the bad meat. that vomit is the uranium and it’s very important it should say there – in the ground. Bad stuff.

Mike Grenville
15 Mar 3:15pm

The fall back electricity supply for the Japanese power plants was diesel, which failed. But what about if the world, or the government, is not able to provide a sufficient supply of diesel. With Peak Oil the potential for an interruption in supply in the future is a very real possibility.

‘Into Eternity’ is a thought provoking new film about a project in Finland that is building a bunker to store thousands of tonnes of radioactive nuclear waste that has to last 100,000 years.

Gunnar Rundgren
15 Mar 7:45pm

Very good posting. I extracted some telling diagrams from the report of Mr van Leeuwen that you refer to (11) on my blog at
These picture and his report reconfirms the view that nuclear power is only profitable because of exploitation of:
-current society, that subsidize nuclear power tremendously all from footing all the research, the risk, the security and the infrastructure needed
-other places for uranium production and the people living in those places
-other resources for the construction and management of the stations and the people living in the places where those resources are extracted
-future generations

John Weber
15 Mar 8:59pm

Energy in the Real World
Solar and Wind are not renewable. The energy from solar and from wind is available but not renewable. An oak tree is renewable. A horse is renewable. They reproduce themselves.

But, and a very important but, the human made equipment used to capture solar energy or wind energy is not renewable. In fact, there is considerable fossil fuel energy embedded in this equipment. The glazing on a solar collector of any kind – solar thermal water, solar thermal air, and solar electric – requires energy to manufacture.
They are not green and they are not sustainable. See:Essay and pictures

Henry Stephens
15 Mar 10:04pm

Nuclear power at the moment is just a terrible waste of uranium. Uranium is an amazing element forged in the supernova of giant stars.

And what do we do with it? We use it to boil water so we can watch TV for a few fleeting seconds.

Once we use it all, we won’t be getting any more for a veeeeery long time. Let’s save it for something worthwhile.

Dan Olner
16 Mar 10:59am

So renewables are only feasible with fossil fuels supporting them? This is a common, and interesting, argument, but I suspect it’s wrong. I’ve yet to see an analysis that nails the issue. To start with, there’s often a logical fallacy: just because something currently uses fossil fuels doesn’t mean it will always have to. A simple illustration: you can replace an electric irrigation pump with a wind-powered one. Wind-powered irrigation pumps can be made in a fossil-fueled setting, but of course they can also be made by hand (which would be better than an old method of irrigation used in China, human hamster wheels!)

One can then argue that the scale of renewables needed can never be achieved without fossil fuels, and that’s another thing that needs working out, but we need to start with understanding the basic logic of the situation. In the article you link to, aluminium is mentioned. It reminded me of aluminium smelting in New Zealand - I suspect any renewable future will see increasing concentration of production around sites like this that have a natural advantage in power production. I can see no logical reason why such a site couldn’t be churning out renewables for distributing elsewhere. One can always point to fossil-fuel dependent inputs (ore from Oz) – but the important question is, what scale and geography of production do we need to move to as fossil fuels dwindle? Starting from the premise that it’s impossible just doesn’t make sense to me. I’d be grateful to see any analyses that say otherwise.

José A. de Souza Jr.
16 Mar 2:49pm

Nuclear power is awfully expensive in many ways. Even heavy public subsidies aren’t enough to cover all the costs; it must also operate at very high average capacity factors during decades and therefore must have priority of access into the grid. That causes another problem: crowding out alternatives the so called variable renewables such as solar and wind power, of which there’s more than enough to supply our wildest dreams. Year in, year out, for millenia to come. Nuclear energy’s a technology whose time has unregrettably passed and so must be ditched at once for the sake of our own and our children’s future. But first let’s get real and delve into the myth of baseload as well.

16 Mar 3:40pm

I read years ago about the concept of a “breeder solar plant,” which would produce enough electricity to refine silicon, cast ingots, and manufacture crystalline PV modules. Now that even lower embodied-energy thin film PV are not only feasible but also making inroads into the market I expect that is even more possible than before.

I haven’t read John Weber’s essay yet, but I believe the statement regarding glazing to be in error, as much glass manufacturing is powered by hydro.

Dan Olner
16 Mar 4:41pm

Mark: brilliant, thanks for that. wikipedia mentions solar breeders, but the links are all broken. There’s a lot of research, it turns out. I think this is the paper (PDF) from UNSW that it should have linked to. Here’s some more info and links.

I find the emphasis on ‘solar breeder’ strange, though: why not locate near to e.g. a hydro source? The NZ smelting plant I mentioned has a massive power output. I personally see no conflict between this sort of large centralised project and the more local, decentalised power systems it could help to support.

John Weber
16 Mar 5:51pm

Always the unintended consequences will bite us because of our hubris.

Mark – Source on “breeder solar plant” please. Source on glass manufacturing with “green” hydro. No answer to the toxic chemicals used by glass.

Dan- during the middle ages wonderful machines were made by hand. We will still be able to do that. And more than likely live at the per capita energy level of the middle ages.

The constant attempt to maintain some semblance to present lifestyles, I believe is simply denial at its finest. This is a global problem and 75 to 80 percent of the world’s people less than 10 percent of “developed” countries energy use. (This comes from an excel spread sheet I did in 2000 with all the countries of the world, their population, their per capita energy use, a rank ordering of the least to the most, and an accumulation of population so I could see these statistics – I don’t know how to make it available but similar is on the web) The slow removal of poverty globally is fueled by fossil fuels.

Hubris and tribalism will be our downfall but that is a subject for another time.
John Weber
Lived 30 years off the grid
Northern Minnesota

Dan Olner
16 Mar 5:59pm

John, I gave some citations for solar breeders: for some reason my comment is still in moderation. I’ll wait on that.

I was actually going to say: often when anyone brings up the fact that there needs to be more analysis, we’re accused of being in denial, or techno-utopians. What I’m looking for is actual evidence. All I tend to read is “stands to reason.”

There’s still plenty of research paths I can pursue myself, I was just wondering if you had anything more solid.

Graham Burnett
16 Mar 7:29pm

Monbiot has a pro-nuclear article on his Grauniard blog today if anyone fancies responding to it;

Part of the problem that I have is the longevity of the waste, however carefully it is dealt with or whatever legal guarantees that it won’t be used for military purposes (one of Monbiot’s conditions for his support) – the half-life of plutonium is 24,000 years – who can say what will happen in that sort of time frame??? 24,000 years ago Neanderthal man still walked the earth, and the building of Stonehenge and the pyramids was still 20,000 years in the future…

Joanne Poyourow
16 Mar 8:09pm

No one mentioned the concept of “peak uranium,” raised by David Fleming in his Lean Guide to Nuclear Energy

At the time he wrote it, info on uranium supplies wasn’t widely available. I wonder if there have been any updates on the “peak uranium” idea.

John Weber
16 Mar 9:26pm

Dan – I did not say there needed to be more analysis. I simply wanted to see the math on solar panels reproducing themselves from the get go. If you have not seen my essay and the pictures then you miss the point of how energy intensive this equipment is and how destructive to the earth.
I lived off the grid for 30 years. Had both wind and solar electric. Lived with 1 kWh a week including laundry in town. My oldest panels were 22 years when I left that place. Not only are making the panels an issue from an energy and pollution perspective but all the back up systems are just as important and shorter lived.
I see these technologies as transitional to a far lower per capita use.
Again this is global in scope and there is simply no way to give all the people equal access to energy. And we haven’t even talked about food. Have you lived with solar or wind for any length of time?

John Weber
17 Mar 12:10am

Dan and Mark – “I find the emphasis on ‘solar breeder’ strange.” This not my term. Never heard it before here. The article on “myths” was about energy pay back time. That was not and is not my point. My point was being able to reproduce the necessary components for solar electric and wind from the energy generated from them alone. That was my statement that: From

Solar and Wind are not renewable. The energy from solar and from wind is available but not renewable. An oak tree is renewable. A horse is renewable. They reproduce themselves.

But, and a very important but, the human made equipment used to capture solar energy or wind energy is not renewable. In fact, there is considerable fossil fuel energy embedded in this equipment. The glazing on a solar collector of any kind – solar thermal water, solar thermal air, and solar electric – requires energy to manufacture.

and from

We will do anything and everything to maintain our present personal level of energy use and the comfort it affords us. We will do anything and everything to the earth, to other people and even to ourselves to continue on this path. And if we don’t have the energy level we see others have, we will do anything and everything to the earth, to other people and even to ourselves to attain that level. The proof of this assertion is simple; we are doing it.

I do not see the math on solar electric or wind being able to mine, process, manufacture, transport, further manufacture, further transport and ultimately replace themselves. Look at the pictures at the Energy in the Real World essay. Can the technologies you are proposing accomplish those things?
I have had my say. I wish you good luck in your adventure.

Dan Olner
17 Mar 9:27am

John: with all civility, you need to be sure you’ve read the points you’re responding to. You quote me: “I find the emphasis on ‘solar breeder’ strange.” And then say, “this is not my term”. I didn’t say it was: I was talking about the fact that other renewable sources exist, so renewable breeders aren’t restricted to solar. You also didn’t read my previous comment, when you replied “Dan – I did not say there needed to be more analysis.” No: I said people like *me* ask for more analysis.

We can carry on this conversation if you like, but we have to try and be careful to respond to what’s actually being said.

You’ve posed the belief that we may revert back to mediaeval energy levels (something often suggested by others e.g. John Michael Greer). Others argue our energy future can be even richer than now. I want to know what tools we have for understanding what will determine where on this spectrum we can hope to end up.

John Weber
17 Mar 10:08am

With the same civility, the “me” in your statement “No: I said people like *me* ask for more analysis.” was not clear in fact it was missing hence causing my confusion. My apology.
I also don’t think you were clear on expanding the concept of “solar breeder” to other technologies. I wasn’t condemning the idea probably borrowed from breeder reactors, it was simply new to me and was mentioned several times not by me.
I also must have misread what I saw as your positive support of and a proposal for a world of “renewables”. It didn’t seem that iffy.
Dan, I love my life. If you read my essay you would know that. My studies of the middle ages and my thoughts we will live at that per capita energy level sees it as a richer life than now.
Again good luck

John Weber
17 Mar 10:23am

One more piece.
When I taught “simple living” in the 70s my first assignment was:
As you walk through your world for at least two days, everything you touch ask,
Where does it come from, what is it made of?
Do I need it?
Can I make it myself?
How much energy is in it?
I think this is in line with the transition approach and critical to perspective.

For the coming world regardless of where you land on the spectrum.
Who makes the shoes? Who repairs them? Who makes the cloth?
Who makes the hoe? How do you store your food (bad growing seasons have been killers in the past)? (just built for the next generation a huge underground root cellar – see pictures at my blog)
I respect what so many are trying to accomplish. I don’t believe we have a lot of time on multiple fronts to put off acting. Our orchard and truck garden will serve the future generations of my partners children and their children. I am using materials that will be dear in the near future like fencing or the root cellar. These should last at least a generation, maybe more. This gives some slack to making a good and non brutish life no matter where on the spectrum we come down.

Andrew Ramponi
18 Mar 12:02pm

Lots of good points have been made here. But, I have to say, who knows?

Maybe the idea of energy security for a nation is more important than the potential of a nuclear disaster. Countries often find reasons to go to war for energy, and wars are no less horrific than the fallout from a nuclear accident.

I am convinced that the best and ultimately the only response to the energy question is to use much much less. As Henry (above) says save the stuff for the future rather than burning it whimsically today, or as John Weber says, live on 0.75kwh/day.

Having worked in the raw field of energy efficiency for 5 years now I don’t see any strong signs of real growth in that direction.

All other debates are intellectually interesting, but to me inconclusive.

Dan Olner
18 Mar 12:48pm

Andrew: it’d be interesting to hear more about your experiences working in the field. The economics of why efficiency doesn’t mean savings are clear enough: lower the cost of something and demand increases. Though here’s a recent analysis suggesting energy efficiency savings can end up reducing overall energy use.

My biggest eye-opener came from a completely unexpected place: a book called “your brain is (almost) perfect: how we make decisions” by Read Montague. In it he poses the question: why are brains merely warm, while computer processors are massively hot? And how come brains are so much better at a lot of things – cf. a bird weaving through a tree and a human in a fighter jet. Which is better at flying?

His answer comes down to evolutionary selection of algorithms, driven by scarce energy resources. The insight for me was sort of similar to the cost problem above: if energy is cheap, we are not forced to adapt to low use. Even if it is costly, we may not be able to, but that would at least apply the necessary pressure.

We’re clever monkeys, though: I’m hoping we can design systems to help us adapt without being forced there by massive scarcity. There’s a lot of work being done on mechanism design in this direction. I’m definitely of the opinion that merely saying “we should consume less” is absolutely doomed to failure – but if we can collectively turn that desire into systems that reduce energy use through social design…? The most obvious tool is the price system, but that’s too blunt. What else should we do?

Andrew Ramponi
18 Mar 6:58pm

Dan, the rebound effect is another one of those complex and controversial topics. From my observation the savings made from energy efficiency are either taken up through increased comfort, or through energy consumption elsewhere in the household economy. (ditto for nations who export heavy consumption industries elsewhere, like steel to China). The vast majority of people do not invest money saved through energy efficiency in more long term energy reducing measures.

I think the price system is probably the most effective tool we have in adjusting the supply and demand of energy. The difficulty is that the price of globally traded commodities is pretty much impossible to control so we have to rely nationally on government taxation of one form or another. And governments have so much else to consider, as well as being to some degree inherently wasteful and corrupt bureaucracy’s, I have little hope in that direction. For example, the single most obvious thing to do would be to make it mandatory for utilities to charge less for the first X’000 kWh and progressively more for extra kWh. Instead, perversely it’s the opposite, so those who use less effectively subsidise those who use more.

As to what other mechanisms work, the double glazing industry managed in the 1980’s to promote new windows as an energy efficient thing to do. It’s probably one of the worst energy efficiency improvements you can make, financially anyway. Generally the problem with windows is the draughts, not the glazing quality. Through shrewd marketing over the years it is now the sine qua non to replace older windows. And now it affects the house value so mission accomplished. Fashion and status seem effective tools in promoting behaviour change.

The feed in tariffs are I think similar. Certainly they will boost renewables, and perhaps make some people more conscious of the electricity they use, but so long as the mains power is there I doubt they will do much for energy efficiency.

What we seem stuck with is an extraordinary appetite to consume (devour?) far more than we need. Our mouths are unable to keep up with our stomachs. Being told we shouldn’t eat so much doesn’t appear to work. Finally the morbidly obese get their stomachs sewn up; a desperate measure indeed. But, needs must. We shall see what works best when we come to desperate times. Who knows when that might be though. Meanwhile I remain convinced that the starting point is with ones self, putting ones own house in order. I find that hard enough!

Jo Homan
20 Mar 3:27pm

I went on a DECC course to use their 2050 pathways tool – It was depressing how unambitious the possible scenarios were. There was also a weird shift to electrification of cooking and heating (with ‘electrification of commercial cooking’ getting a strand all to itself) with no obvious option for CHP. It felt like we, as community activists, were being softened up for unpalatable ‘inevitable’ solutions like nuclear.

21 Mar 1:17pm

What about thorium nuclear reactors?

30 Mar 3:37pm

Yes what about Thorium Nucelear? An oversight on the part of this article. I hope the government are like the Chinese and display a degree of fwd thinking creativity in their decision making!