Foreword by the Rt Hon. Tony Blair MP
A clean, secure and sufficient supply of energy is simply essential for the future of our country. We need energy to heat and light our homes, to power our businesses and to transport people and goods. Without it, we could not function as an economy or modern society. Even minor disruptions in supply, after all, can cause major problems for communities and businesses. Ensuring we have a sustainable, secure and affordable energy supply is one of the principal duties of Government.
As a nation, we have been fortunate up to now that our energy needs have been met largely from domestic sources. Coal, with oil and gas from the North Sea more recently, have driven our economy. Investment in nuclear power has also provided a significant proportion of our electricity.
But we now face two immense challenges as a country – energy security and climate change.
First, we will soon be net importers of oil, and dependent on imported gas at a time when global demand and prices are increasing. Energy consumption by China and India, for example, is projected to double by 2030. At the same time, many of our coal and nuclear power stations are coming to the end of their lives. Without action to ensure reliable supplies and replace power plants, there will be a dramatic shortfall in our energy capacity and risks to our energy security.
Second, and even more important in the long term, is the impact that our sources and use of energy are having on our planet. The evidence is now compelling that the activities of humankind – and greenhouse gas emissions in particular – are changing the world’s climate. Temperatures are rising and so are sea-levels. Extreme weather is becoming more common.
There is no scientific consensus yet on how much time we have to avoid dangerous irreversible climate change. But the overwhelming majority of experts believe climate change is already underway and, without collective action, will have a hugely damaging effect on our country, planet and way of life.
The prime source of greenhouse gas emissions is the production and use of energy. If we are serious about tackling climate change, the centrepiece of our programme – in the UK and across the world – must be in ensuring we power our economy and way of life in a cleaner, greener and more efficient way.
Overcoming these two major challenges – which are faced across the world – will require hard decisions both nationally and internationally. It was to consider our energy needs and to come up with long-term sustainable solutions that the Government set up the energy review last year. Its findings are the basis for this report.
The review underlines the fact that there is no simple, single solution to the energy challenges that we and other countries face but that a balanced approach, driven by technological advances and increased efficiency, will be needed. It also sets out a framework of action at home and abroad to strengthen our energy security.
It is clear that we must significantly increase investment in, and support for, renewable energy so that it plays a larger role in our energy needs. This is vital not just to give us a secure source of energy but also to meet our obligations to our children to tackle climate change. It is for the same reason that much greater emphasis must be given to finding alternatives to oil as an energy source for transport.
This document sets out how this can be done. But it also makes clear that wind, wave or solar power, let alone less established technologies, are not yet enough by themselves.
We need, as well, to put a much greater emphasis on the efficient use of energy. Such changes not only cut bills for organisations and families but also cut carbon emissions. The review sets out an ambitious strategy for securing more of the heat, light and power we need in ways that reduce the demand for energy and how now we can do much more to encourage its smarter and more efficient use.
This is not just a task for government, although government must give a lead. We will provide incentives to use cleaner fuels, work with power producers to provide more information about the costs and impact of energy use and with manufacturers and retailers to phase out energy inefficient products.
In the end, however, we must all – government, business and individuals – play our part by changing behaviour. If enough of us do, even small changes can make a big difference. If every UK household installed just three energy efficient light bulbs, the electricity saved would supply all our street lighting.
But neither renewable energy nor greater energy efficiency can provide the complete solution to the shortfall we face. This will depend on securing energy supplies from abroad, in new nuclear power stations to replace those becoming obsolete and replacing older coal-fired stations with cleaner, more efficient technology.
The review also calls for more effort to encourage and support the local generation of power. There is significant potential in the future to use small-scale local generation to provide affordable and reliable energy. All this is important both for limiting our dependence on imported gas and for tackling climate change.
Important as national measures are on climate change, it is only acting on an international basis that effective action can be taken. The UK, for example, only accounts for some 2% of global carbon emissions which are expected to rise by another 50% by 2030. It is vital, therefore, that the UK continues to give a lead internationally and to push for a post- 2012 framework that includes China, India and the US.
The scale of the challenges we face, both domestically and internationally, is great. The proposals included in this report set out how we can overcome them to secure our country’s future prosperity and the health of our planet.