Policymakers are fooling themselves if they believe greener sources of energy alone can adequately meet Britain's needs for the next decade, the chief executive of BP warned last night.
Demand will not be met by the "very ambitious" nuclear programme and planned increases renewable energy capacity, Tony Hayward said.
"With these uncertainties in mind, it would be foolish to underplay the role that natural gas and energy conservation can play in reducing carbon emissions," he added in a speech at the London Business School.
Weighing into the politically sensitive debate about energy security, Mr Hayward said the UK had coped well during the recent cold spell but argued that the "legitimate and desirable goal" of greater energy security would be realised only by more investment in infrastructure, including gas storage.
Unsurprisingly for the head of an oil company, Mr Hayward suggested that hydrocarbons would continue to play a key role in meeting growing global demand. BP estimates that global energy usage will double by 2050, requiring investment of $1trn a year.
"The share of renewable energy will certainly increase, but we have to be realistic about its contribution," he added. "As of today, all the world's wind, solar, wave, tide and geothermal energy accounts for around 1 per cent of total consumption. Given the practical challenges of scaling up such technologies, the International Energy Agency cannot see them accounting for much more than 5 per cent of consumption in 2030."
Mr Hayward also dismissed suggestions that the Copenhagen climate change summit was a failure. Despite governments failing to agree to legally binding agreements on cutting CO2 emissions, the BP chief said the conference was the first time countries had agreed to head "in the same direction", adding: "This is a huge step forward."