Editorial: No excuse for dithering on energy

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The Independent Online

Higher prices for gas and electricity are inevitable over the next 10 years, according to the outgoing energy regulator. Alistair Buchanan delivered a stark warning about Britain's looming energy gap.

As much as a fifth of our power generating capacity is due to be turned off over the next decade, in line with more stringent green targets. With new nuclear reactors not expected to come on line until beyond 2020, and renewable technologies either insufficiently developed or very expensive, the only viable option is to burn more gas. Meanwhile, however, global demand for gas is also set to rise – thanks to both surging energy-intensity in fast-emerging economies and also post-Fukushima nuclear aversion in Europe. And efforts to boost output have been knocked by delays in accessing new fields in Russia and in building pipelines from the Arctic and Asia.

Nor can shale gas derived from the controversial "fracking" process be relied upon in anything like the short term – indeed, if at all. Against such a background, is it any wonder that Mr Buchanan is warning that Britain's lights staying on and homes staying heated can no longer be taken for granted?

All three political parties are theoretically committed to a policy of energy mix involving renewables, nuclear, and carbon capture technology fitted to fossil fuel plants. But the pace of development has been woefully slow. By 2020, gas will therefore account for as much as 60 per cent of our power needs, instead of the 30 per cent that it does today. Our energy supplies will be less reliable, and less affordable, as a result.

The domestic political cost of this could be high, since average household energy bills have already risen 159 per cent in the past decade. Our politicians would be wise to get moving on the fundraising, infrastructure and regulatory changes needed to make nuclear, renewables and clean carbon happen – as soon as is possible.