Thornbury 2050: Energy

1. How much energy do we use?

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the average annual energy use in the UK in 2010 was equivalent to about 3.3 tonnes of oil per man, woman and child. Quantities of gas, coal, renewables, nuclear, etc are adjusted for the energy they provide and are converted to the amount of oil that would need to be burnt to provide the same amount of energy, i.e. tonnes of oil equivalent (toe).
(IEA key world energy statistics)

Putting UK consumption in a global perspective:

World 1.7 toe/person
USA 7.3 toe/person
China 1.8 toe/person
Senegal 0.2 toe/person

Individual UK consumption is about twice the global average, less than half that in the USA and more than ten times that in Senegal. China is around the global average and rising fast. Since so many goods for UK consumption are manufactured in China, we must never forget that we are consuming a large amount of energy by proxy.

South Gloucestershire folk probably consume more than 3.3 toe/person if we were to take account of the prosperity of the area and our consumption of goods manufactured in China.

2. How do we benefit from its use?

Some benefits are immediately apparent:

  • heating and lighting our homes, shops, offices, hospitals, schools and factories
  • fuel for our cars, taxis, buses, delivery lorries and emergency services
  • fuel for rail and air transport for business and leisure

Some are less obvious but are vital to the economy on which we all depend:

  • Production of steel, bricks, cement, glass to build our homes, shops, offices etc.
  • Production of vehicles, aircraft, goods and services for domestic use and export
  • Construction and maintenance of roads, tunnels, airports

Some people in South Gloucestershire may have made personal choices which will reduce their consumption of energy. For example, they may have decided to cycle everywhere, seek their entertainment at home, use only local shops and shun holidays involving air travel. Others may have fewer options because this is a rural area and they may need a car to get to work. There will be some variation from one person to the next but overall our energy consumption is averaging about 3.3 toe/person.

3. Who suffers to meet Thornbury's energy consumption?

Extraction of coal, oil and gas bring high costs in human lives and environmental damage. Whether we like it or not Thornbury folk have a part in causing that damage so long as they drive cars fuelled by petrol or diesel, heat their homes with oil or gas, use washing machines and tumble driers, buy goods manufactured in China ... the list is extensive.
What if we consider our total energy consumption? Once we have taken into account the contribution that the power station at Oldbury has been making, how much of the inconvenience falls on other communities?

Oldbury Nuclear Power Station is closing after 43 years of safe operation during which it generated 130 TWh of electricity (source), equivalent to about 700,000 toe per year. Assuming that average annual individual consumption of energy in all forms throughout this period was 3 toe, means that the total energy needs for around 230,000 people were supplied by the station, roughly the population of South Gloucestershire (currently estimated at about 265,000).

Others may have suffered the inconveniences of mining coal, extracting oil and gas, etc. but the people of Thornbury can rest easy at night knowing that over the last 40 years they have taken their full share of the inconveniences associated with producing all the energy that they have consumed. And doubly so because nuclear generation avoids fossil fuel burning, lessening production of CO2 and easing the pace of global warming.

As Oldbury shuts down, Thornbury loses a good neighbour which has provided employment, boosted the local economy and been a generous benefactor to many local good causes. And for the next 40 years will the people of South Gloucestershire be reliant on others to suffer all the inconveniences created by the energy they consume?

Thornbury is an affluent community so perhaps we could pay others to take all the inconveniences while we enjoy all the benefits. Or perhaps there is a slightly different way to view financial compensation for inconvenience?

4. Power for Thornbury

By hosting Oldbury Power Station for the last 40 years, Thornbury made an excellent contribution to sharing the burden for all the energy that it consumed. Now that Oldbury has ceased generation, what contribution can and should Thornbury make to carrying the burden of its future energy needs?

Blown Away, The Sunday Times, 4 March 2012

An unpublished KPMG report on electricity generation was reported by The Sunday Times in 2012. Titled 'Rethinking the Unaffordable', it claimded that 2050 pollution targets could be hit without renewable energy and £150 billion would be saved in the process.

The precise mix is subject to a hot debate. Whatever the outcome, the certainties are:

  • The UK has made a firm undertaking to meet CO2 emissions reduction targets of 34 percent by 2020 (against a 1990 baseline), ensuring security of supply and aiming to eliminate fuel poverty.
  • Substantial contributions will be required from each of gas, renewables and nuclear.
Within a few miles of Thornbury it is possible to host wind turbines, a Severn Barrage, redevelopment of nuclear at Oldbury and possibly even shale gas production. So which of these are viable, would bring benefits to the area and how much of a burden would we and the next generations have to shoulder?

I will consider each of these in turn but first let's ask who suffers if global emissions of CO2 are not curbed.