Club members switch on to energy issues

Dr Lisa Woodhouse addresses Morpeth Rotary Club.
Dr Lisa Woodhouse addresses Morpeth Rotary Club.
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Morpeth Rotary Club

Dr Lisa Woodhouse is a specialist on energy supply. She said the electricity industry in the UK was one of the first in the world to be privatised. In 1990 it was broken up into four operations: power generation, high voltage electricity transit, low voltage power distribution, and supply to the home. All but the last were opened up to the market.

Foreign companies bought parts of the network. Of the big six power generation organisations now in the UK, only two are run by UK companies, with two German, one French and one Spanish. Only one is active across all sectors. There is only one nuclear power generator, owned by French company EDF.

The industry has a number of problems. The biggest is that politics is short-term, while energy investment is long-term at 25 years-plus. Suppliers have to balance supply and demand and electricity is difficult to store.

In the last 15 years there has been a push towards more environmentally-friendly power, with targets such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050. We also need security of supply as we import all of our coal and most gas.

It will be 2026 before Hinckley Point comes on stream. All coal powered stations will close by 2025, except where carbon capture technology is used. Oil fired stations will close by 2025. In 1992/93 natural gas was introduced. Reliance on gas became massive. Emissions are about a third those of coal.

There has been a big increase in renewables, subsidised by energy bills. It makes sense because of the zero carbon value. The cost of such energy has gone down as its use has increased. Energy from biomass and wind earns a guaranteed wholesale price and so continues to grow.

The global financial crisis has seen a big dip in electricity demand, leading to a price reduction, although that does not always show in bills. It is difficult to get investment in new power stations. The only ones being built are subsidised.

Generating costs for a megawatt hour of electricity are: offshore wind £120, onshore wind £77, nuclear £90, clean coal £90 and gas £50.

Dr Woodhouse said Hinckley Point is welcome as other nuclear sites are due to close in ten years. It will cost up to £20billion. EDF will build it, but China has taken a stake. Without this, we would have to rely more on gas. We will have to import all gas in ten years. Payment for Hinckley Point electricity will be £95 per mwh index linked, which is expensive, but it will have 40 to 50 years of life.

Rotarian Simon Foley thanked his daughter-in-law for the excellent and informative briefing.

New member, retired headteacher Stan Brice, who had been a member of Bedlingtonshire Rotary Club for many years, was inducted by President Paul Crook.