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Threat of real energy price surge as green power could fall flat

Britain’s “over-enthusiastic” reliance on offshore renewables could make electricity 60 per cent more expensive than it needs to be in 20 years time, an expert will tell energy industry representatives today.

Paul Willson, deputy director of engineering at Parsons Brinckerhoff’s power generation division, was due to address members of the Scottish-based Industrial and Power Association (IPA) in Glasgow this afternoon.

He has conducted a detailed study of Britain’s future energy needs in light of the UK government’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions to 20 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050, and found that some of the assumptions about the relative costs of the various choices are unrealistic. Scotland plans a 42 per cent reduction by 2020.

He told The Scotsman: “It isn’t enough simply to compare the generation costs of options – you have actually got to look at the system as a whole.”

Because wind, waves and even tides cannot be relied upon to provide power constantly, a considerable amount of back-up capacity will have to be built in the form of gas- and coal-fired power stations with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, he said.

Willson also points out that Britain’s demand for electricity is likely to rise in the coming decades as part of the drive to cut carbon emissions elsewhere, such as a move towards electric cars. Demand is projected to be about 30 per cent higher by 2030, and electricity will almost certainly be more expensive.

“We believe we’ve got to have a mix of fossil and renewable sources, and nuclear in England, and demand side measures such as a smart grid,” he said.

“Some policies are an over-enthusiastic implementation of offshore tidal and wind. We’ve got a lever to control how much more expensive this electricity will be. If the wrong decisions are made, it could be 60 per cent more expensive.”