The Energy Shift: A British Challenge

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D’après un récent rapport de l’Ofgem, la facture énergétique des ménages devrait augmenter d’environ £12 par an pendant les 8 prochaines années. La Grande Bretagne est confrontée à un réseau gazier et électrique vieillissant et doit trouver de nouveaux moyens pour subvenir à ses besoins énergétiques, les réserves de gaz naturel devant s’épuiser d’ici 50 ans.

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Whereas Great Britain was largely self-sufficient until the eighties -Wales and Scotland were even leading coal production regions- today it has become energy dependent. Mrs Thatcher closed the coal mines, so as to favour the energy transition, and enhance the service sector. She also wanted to weaken the Unions – indeed Unions were especially well represented in the secondary sector. And she succeeded in spite of the miner strikes.

Mrs Thatcher knew she could rely on the gas and the oil resources of the North sea, there are many oil deposits all along the Scottish coasts (that’s one of the reasons why Scotland believes it could and should be independent). The best example is Aberdeen, a city on the Scottish coast, whose nickname is “The Oil Capital of Europe”. It has reached such a level thanks to all the pipelines which collect the off-shore natural gas. However, those resources have declined, and are facing acute competition from the Middle East. At the same time, the contribution of nuclear power plants in total annual electricity has gradually declined from 25% in the late 1990s to less than 20% today. Great Britain has to rethink its energy policy, and has to modernize a large part of its energy grids.

According to the energy regulator Ofgem, £24bn will be needed to upgrade Britain’s ageing electricity and gas grids. Moreover, the country is now attempting to experiment with alternative sources of energy. The British population is deeply concerned by the future of the environment, which explains why the government has tried to build more and more off-shore wind-farms or tidal wave systems, like the one that has been set up on the Severn River. Wave and tidal stream energy could meet up to 20% of the UK’s current electricity demand. But all these changes will only be efficient if they go hand in hand with an evolution in people’s minds and behaviour, by reducing overall consumption.

But even though the British declare themselves environment-friendly, the “NIMBY” (Not In My Back Yard) trend is growing, people agree with wind-farms as long as they  don’t spoil their landscape. Furthermore, even if people are reluctant to accept shale gas because of the recent earth-tremors -small earthquakes- David Cameron has now authorized hydraulic fracturing or fracking once more. Whereas public opinion in the UK has remained positive regarding nuclear power, despite the Fukushima accident. In July 2012 a YouGov survey found that 63% of Britons supported the use of nuclear power, and only 22% opposed building new plants. Therefore, the government is currently looking for new sites to build them.

The government assumes there will be a requirement of 60 GWe of net new generating capacity by 2025, of which 35 GWe is to come from renewables. The Draft National Policy Statement for Nuclear Power Generation states that the expectation is for “a significant proportion” of the remaining 25 GWe to come from nuclear, although the government has not set a fixed target for nuclear capacity. It looks like the British  energy mix is going to undergo several changes in the next decades…

Eloise CHERIER, Yanis LAMMARI & Audrey HOLMES

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