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Has the tide begun to go out on old, polluting energy sources?


I’m starting to wonder if we saw a glimpse into the future this week…

On Monday nuclear power once again proved itself to be unreliable with news emerging of an unexplained shutdown on Sunday of one of the reactors at EDF’s Torness nuclear power station in East Lothian.

The blades and nacelle of the tidal turbine being transported to the European Marine Energy Centre in OrkneyThe blades and nacelle of the tidal turbine being transported to the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney

Thankfully Scotland has grown its renewable energy capacity enough to be able to deal with a nuclear reactor going offline without warning. So, despite all the doom-mongering by those opposed to wind power, no lights went out across the nation. Fancy that!

Tuesday didn’t bring any better headlines for backers of a nuclear renaissance in the UK with news that massive earthworks needed to prepare the ground for a new nuclear power station at Hinkley in Somerset had been delayed.

This along with a new President in France elected on a platform of relying less on nuclear power and an admission by the chief executive of Centrica (which has a 20% stake in EDF’s nuclear plans here in the UK) that: “the investment case for nuclear has yet to be proven” and suddenly the future prospects for new nuclear do not look quite so rosy.

Worse things happen at sea

Then on Wednesday, after two months of spewing out 5,500 tonnes of the potent greenhouse gas methane (equivalent to adding around 45,000 extra cars on the roads of the UK for a whole year), oil giant Total announced it had finally plugged the leak from its Elgin platform in the North Sea.

While it’s good news that the leak appears to have been stopped, the fact it happened at all should worry every one of us. This is the second serious leak in the North Sea within the past two years and shows the risks posed daily to our environment by the oil industry even in the well-known waters around Scotland. Surely UK oil drilling firms, such as Edinburgh-based Cairn Energy, should heed the warnings and realise the utter stupidity of even riskier deepwater drilling in places like the Arctic.

The truth is we should be trying to give up our addiction to oil and gas, not seeking it out in more and more difficult places.

Tide is rising for clean alternatives

While the first half of the week’s news headlines were dominated by the multiple failures of old, polluting energy sources the end of week was an entirely different affair.

Thursday brought the exciting news that an underwater turbine – eventually destined to be part of Scotland’s first consented tidal power project – had successfully completed initial testing in Orkney, and had for the past year been providing electricity for homes and businesses locally.

This is great news and represents another step forward for the marine renewable industry in the UK. There is a massive amount of power in our seas and our country is well placed to lead in developing the technologies to turn this potential into clean, green electricity.

Greener Apples

Then today (Friday) came news that Apple – maker of  the iPhone and iPad – is to ditch coal in favour of renewables. In message on the computer firm’s website it says that by early next year, the energy used to power its global data centres will only come only from renewable sources, such as solar and wind.

This is not only a great result for the planet, but also for all those who have backed Greenpeace’s ‘Green My Apple’ campaign to press Apple to clean up its act. As an Apple Mac user myself I have to say I’m particularly pleased to hear this news – as it’ll hopefully mean there’ll be one less thing for my friends to pick me up on about my own environmental habits. (Sadly, they’ll still be able to have a go at me for the small mountain of newspapers I get through every week)

Time for a brighter future

So, we’ve had a glimpse of one possible future this week. One where the radioactive hum of nuclear power and the hiss of oil and gas leaking has been replaced by homes and businesses quietly and efficiently being powered by the sun, sea and wind. But, will it ever become the norm here in the UK?

The publication next Tuesday of the UK Government’s draft Energy Bill provides ministers the ideal opportunity to finally call time on polluting nuclear and fossil fuels and instead begin faster moves toward energy saving and greater use of renewables.

Firmly grasping the low energy, clean renewable future would help create much needed investment certainty for renewable companies, lead to the creation of thousands of green jobs and help protect households from rising energy prices caused by the dwindling supplies of fossil fuels.

But, which future will they choose? Next week’s headlines are sure to make very interesting reading indeed.

Follow Lang on Twitter: @LangBanks

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