EWEA warns that spare electricity generating capacity is at a historic low across Europe (This applies to the UK, including Scotland) and the only way to fix the problem is to invest in new power plant before blackouts become endemic rather exceptional.
Here are some big numbers to toss around: over the period 2005-30, the EU needs to instal 862GW of new electricity generating capacity. Roughly half of this is simply replacing clapped-out plant – and there are a lot of power stations that fit that description in Britain, or nearly so.
The other half will be needed to satisfy the growing demand for power. The required capacity exceeds the total capacity operating in Europe (723GW) today.
As EWEA puts it, satisfying our energy needs over the coming decades will be a “big” challenge. I would say that’s understating the problem. The challenge is colossal. Bear in mind that the EU has a population of 500million and currently imports 56% of its energy.
Even allowing for the prediction that the EU’s population may fall to about 485million by 2030, on current projections we will need to import 70% of our energy needs – and that’s in the face of staggering increases in demand from China and India.
In 2030, the EU will be importing 84% of its gas, 59% of its coal and 94% of its oil – but from where? No one has ever adequately answered that question, and I’m not surprised. None of us have a clue, not even the most informed. Of course, we could all get radically smarter at the way we use energy, but the UK is woefully behind Europe’s leaders such as Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
So called tough new standards set by the UK Government come nowhere near being robust enough, nor are incentives sufficiently generous to catalyse that change.
And, of course, we can call on other energy vectors, at least for power generation – nuclear, biomass, wind, hydro and marine. Four are well established, while the last named is in its infancy.
But nuclear has baggage, biomass exploitation is uneven, extra hydro capacity is hard to find, wind’s popularity among the public may be reversing (especially in the UK and even before it has got thoroughly off the ground) and wave/tide could go the same way as the “not in my back yard brigade” railroad debate their way. We can also get a lot smarter about how we transmit the juice itself. Europe is currently wed to AC (alternating current) supply, but there is evidence to suggest that new-generation DC (direct current) may be a more efficient means of transmission as voltage losses are hugely reduced – or at least that is what new research is suggesting.