Sunday, 6 September 2009

How green do we want us to be, ask business leaders

Tricia Holly Davis

When it comes to funding the transition to a low-carbon world, global leaders have proved big on talk but short on detail.
This has left businesses uneasy in the run-up to the G20 summit in Pittsburgh later this month as they want to know how much they should invest in climate change — as well as to be sure that those investments won’t be undermined.
Britain, in particular, is hoping for a “green new deal” that will create millions of jobs and position it as a big exporter of environmental goods and services.
Yet, according to research by HSBC, it has earmarked only 15% of its economic stimulus package for environmentalrelated development. China, by comparison, has allocated about a third of its recovery budget towards bolstering its green industry.
Ministers have failed to explain how climate-change targets announced this year will be met. The targets include raising the proportion of renewable energy to 15% by 2020 and cutting emissions 34% over this period and 80% by 2050.
“The government needs to get much more specific on how it will grow renewable-energy supplies,” said Andrew Torrance at Allianz, the insurer.
Torrance said Climate Wise, a lobby group for his industry that he chairs, wanted the government to agree to cut emissions by 40% by 2020.
Businesses, and insurers in particular, want the government to start preparing for the physical impact of climate change, which may make parts of Britain prone to natural disasters. The two big floods in 2007 wiped £70m off Allianz’s bottom line, Torrance said.
“The 2050 target is too far away for businesses to think about,” he said. “Chief executives want commitments that can be met sooner rather than later and a firm plan for how to meet those commitments.”
Businesses are wary because Britain has a poor track record on meeting environmental objectives. When Labour came to power in 1997 it pledged to cut carbon emissions by 20% and boost the supply of renewable energy to 8% by 2010. It will miss both targets.
David Kennedy, head of the Committee on Climate Change, which oversees environmental progress, said most of Britain’s reductions were the result of the dash to gas from coal and of lower levels of methane, which declined after laws limited the amount of waste going into landfill.
“Over the past five years our carbon emissions have remained broadly flat, so the government has a lot of work to do if we are to meet longer-term targets,” said Kennedy.
Joan MacNaughton of Alstom, the transport technology firm, said businesses needed a broadly predictable carbon price to encourage investment in low-carbon technologies.
Policies protecting overseas investments from the impact of climate change are crucial, said Andy Wales of SAB Miller, the brewer. Water scarcity in South Africa could hurt his profits, as operations there account for 18% of the group’s earnings.
In June Gordon Brown proposed giving $100 billion (£60 billion) a year by 2020 to help developing countries cope with climate change — a drop in the ocean compared with how much needs to be spent. The International Energy Agency estimated that $2.4 trillion must be invested by 2030 to develop low-carbon or zero-carbon power generation alone.
“Ultimately the private sector will have to foot much of the bill, so businesses need ambitious carbon policies that stimulate investment,” said Richard Gledhill, a partner at Price Waterhouse Coopers, the accountant. “That’s why this is such a key month.”

Climate change: melting ice will trigger wave of natural disasters

Scientists at a London conference next week will warn of earthquakes, avalanches and volcanic eruptions as the atmosphere heats up and geology is altered. Even Britain could face being struck by tsunamis
Robin McKie
The Observer, Sunday 6 September 2009
Scientists are to outline dramatic evidence that global warming threatens the planet in a new and unexpected way – by triggering earthquakes, tsunamis, avalanches and volcanic eruptions.
Reports by international groups of researchers – to be presented at a London conference next week – will show that climate change, caused by rising outputs of carbon dioxide from vehicles, factories and power stations, will not only affect the atmosphere and the sea but will alter the geology of the Earth.
Melting glaciers will set off avalanches, floods and mud flows in the Alps and other mountain ranges; torrential rainfall in the UK is likely to cause widespread erosion; while disappearing Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets threaten to let loose underwater landslides, triggering tsunamis that could even strike the seas around Britain.
At the same time the disappearance of ice caps will change the pressures acting on the Earth's crust and set off volcanic eruptions across the globe. Life on Earth faces a warm future – and a fiery one.
"Not only are the oceans and atmosphere conspiring against us, bringing baking temperatures, more powerful storms and floods, but the crust beneath our feet seems likely to join in too," said Professor Bill McGuire, director of the Benfield Hazard Research Centre, at University College London (UCL).
"Maybe the Earth is trying to tell us something," added McGuire, who is one of the organisers of UCL's Climate Forcing of Geological Hazards conference, which will open on 15 September. Some of the key evidence to be presented at the conference will come from studies of past volcanic activity. These indicate that when ice sheets disappear the number of eruptions increases, said Professor David Pyle, of Oxford University's earth sciences department.
"The last ice age came to an end between 12,000 to 15,000 years ago and the ice sheets that once covered central Europe shrank dramatically," added Pyle. "The impact on the continent's geology can by measured by the jump in volcanic activity that occurred at this time."
In the Eiffel region of western Germany a huge eruption created a vast caldera, or basin-shaped crater, 12,900 years ago, for example. This has since flooded to form the Laacher See, near Koblenz. Scientists are now studying volcanic regions in Chile and Alaska – where glaciers and ice sheets are shrinking rapidly as the planet heats up – in an effort to anticipate the eruptions that might be set off.
Last week scientists from Northern Arizona University reported in the journal Science that temperatures in the Arctic were now higher than at any time in the past 2,000 years. Ice sheets are disappearing at a dramatic rate – and these could have other, unexpected impacts on the planet's geology.
According to Professor Mark Maslin of UCL, one is likely to be the release of the planet's methane hydrate deposits. These ice-like deposits are found on the seabed and in the permafrost regions of Siberia and the far north.
"These permafrost deposits are now melting and releasing their methane," said Maslin. "You can see the methane bubbling out of lakes in Siberia. And that is a concern, for the impact of methane in the atmosphere is considerable. It is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas."
A build-up of permafrost methane in the atmosphere would produce a further jump in global warming and accelerate the process of climate change. Even more worrying, however, is the impact of rising sea temperatures on the far greater reserves of methane hydrates that are found on the sea floor.
It was not just the warming of the sea that was the problem, added Maslin. As the ice around Greenland and Antarctica melted, sediments would pour off land masses and cliffs would crumble, triggering underwater landslides that would break open more hydrate reserves on the sea-bed. Again there would be a jump in global warming. "These are key issues that we will have to investigate over the next few years," he said.
There is also a danger of earthquakes, triggered by disintegrating glaciers, causing tsunamis off Chile, New Zealand and Newfoundland in Canada, Nasa scientist Tony Song will tell the conference. The last on this list could even send a tsunami across the Atlantic, one that might reach British shores.
The conference will also hear from other experts of the risk posed by melting ice in mountain regions, which would pose significant dangers to local people and tourists. The Alps, in particular, face a worryingly uncertain future, said Jasper Knight of Exeter University. "Rock walls resting against glaciers will become unstable as the ice disappears and so set off avalanches. In addition, increasing meltwaters will trigger more floods and mud flows."
For the Alps this is a serious problem. Tourism is growing there, while the region's population is rising. Managing and protecting these people was now an issue that needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency, Knight said.
"Global warming is not just a matter of warmer weather, more floods or stronger hurricanes. It is a wake-up call to Terra Firma," McGuire said.
Climate change funding talks stall at G20

Reuters, Saturday September 5 2009
By Tom Bergin
LONDON, Sept 5 (Reuters) - Differences between rich and developing countries prevented G20 finance ministers from agreeing measures on Saturday to curb global warming, casting more doubt on U.N. efforts to agree a new climate treaty.
Industrialised nations had pressed to include climate change financing on the agenda of a meeting of G20 finance ministers but met resistance from emerging nations including China, who fear the proposals could stifle their economic growth, a G20 source said.
A draft statement from the meeting seen by Reuters omitted any reference to discussion of richer nations' plans to use both public and private sector financing to cut CO2 emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change.
U.S. President Barack Obama said in July that finance ministers should report on climate finance at a Sept. 24-25 G20 leaders' summit in the U.S. city of Pittsburgh, raising expectations of progress this weekend in London.
Emerging nations in the G20 club of industrialised and developing countries said their opposition to discussing climate change funding was purely procedural.
"We reaffirm the UNFCCC should be the main channel for international negotiations of climate change," the finance ministers of Brazil, Russia, India and China said in a statement on Friday, in reference to the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change, the body that overseas drafting of the new treaty.
However, developing nations are suspicious rich countries are trying to avoid paying the full amount needed to tackle climate change, and seeking to push some of the financial burden on to them.
"Many developing countries are concerned that the global issue of climate change will constrain their ability to industrialise without creating additional costs," said Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati on Friday.
Developing nations are especially sceptical of proposals for private sector funding of the fight against climate change. They are keen for developed countries' governments to stump up the cash needed.
The failure to make any progress on the issue puts more pressure on the leaders in Pittsburgh and will boost fears that a UN meeting in Copenhagen in December to agree a new treaty on climate change, to succeed the Kyoto Treaty, will not be successful.
The global economic crisis has made a deal more difficult to achieve.
With only three months to the Copenhagen conference, countries are still far off agreeing CO2 cuts that would be consistent with limiting climate change to levels scientists deem acceptable.
Differences also remain on how to pay for mitigation measures and the transfer of CO2 reducing technology to poor nations. (Additional reporting by Sebastian Tong and Carolyn Cohn; editing by Keith Weir)

More carbon emissions action needed in city claims Labour group leader

More carbon emissions action needed in city claims Labour group leader

Published Date: 05 September 2009
THE leader of the Labour group on the city council said today that more needs to be done in Edinburgh to tackle its carbon emissions.
Councillor Andrew Burns has added his name to the new 10:10 campaign, which aims to cut carbon emissions, and said that more can be done in Edinburgh.Cllr Burns said: "Grassroots campaigns like this are vital to change attitudes. Edinburgh is well-placed to reduce carbon emissions, but it relies on the actions of individuals, companies and organisations to play a role."I am signing up to the 10:10 campaign because it shows individuals can make a difference on a personal level to tackling climate change."A recent report showed the city is using up £1.5 million more than its notional emissions allowance

Europe’s carmakers drive hard for hybrid with diesel

Ray Hutton
Belatedly, European manufacturers are getting into hybrid cars — but with diesel rather than petrol engines in combination with electric motors.
At the Frankfurt motor show, which opens on September 16, Peugeot will unveil the 3008 Hybrid 4.
It will be the first volume production diesel hybrid when it goes on sale in the spring of 2011. Alongside it will be a prototype of Peugeot’s RCZ sports coupĂ© with the same diesel-electric system. The RCZ Hybrid 4 should go into production within three years.
Japanese carmakers, specifically Honda and Toyota, led the way with models that combine a petrol engine with an electric motor to increase efficiency and reduce carbon-dioxide emissions. Toyota will be first with a hybrid made in Britain when it starts production of the Auris Hybrid at Burnaston in Derbyshire at the end of this year.
Europe’s indigenous carmakers have consistently argued that diesel cars can achieve fuel-consumption and carbon-dioxide figures similar to the Toyota Prius and the Honda Civic Hybrid and that their diesels are less expensive to make.
However, with the new Prius and Honda Insight achieving more miles per gallon and lower emissions, and the prospect of even more economical plug-in hybrids from Vauxhall and others, Peugeot decided that it must have a hybrid in its range.
Pierre Louis Colin, director in charge of hybrid and electric car development for the Peugeot Group, said:
“Our diesel-engined cars can already match the fuel economy of cars like the Prius, so we have to go one step further and combine the greater efficiency of the diesel with an electric motor.”
The 3008 is a tall hatchback, 4.3 metres long — about the same size as a Renault Scenic. Compared with the regular diesel version of the car, the 3008 Hybrid 4 produces 35% less carbon dioxide. That means an overall fuel consumption of 70mpg and a carbon-dioxide figure of 99g/km — under the 100g/km threshold for road tax in Britain.
Peugeot had intended to make a smaller car its first hybrid but struggled with the extra cost of the electric motor, battery pack and power electronics. It decided instead to equip the larger 3008, reasoning that a price premium would be acceptable on the more expensive model.
The Hybrid 4, with a 2-litre diesel engine developing 163bhp and a 37bhp electric motor, is a good performer.
It will be the top model of the 3008 range, the first (conventional) versions of which go on sale in Britain at the end of this year. The price is likely to be about £23,000.
Peugeot’s hybrid system can be applied to most of its vehicles. The diesel engine drives the front wheels. The electric motor is housed, with the battery pack and control system, at the back and drives the rear wheels.
The power flows to and from the engine, motor and batteries are controlled by computer. At low speed, or when “EV” is selected, traction is electric. In “sport” or “4WD” modes, engine and motor work in concert and all four wheels are driven.
Peugeot’s French rival, Renault, has eschewed hybrids in favour of pure electric cars whose batteries are charged by plugging them into the mains. The first of those, developed with Nissan, is promised for 2011.
Peugeot is also planning to launch an electric city car towards the end of next year.

Nissan gives electric car the go ahead

Battery-powered four-door hatchback unveiled in Japan.

By Andrew English Published: 4:47PM BST 05 Aug 2009
Nissan's new electric car broke cover this week in Japan, with European sales expected to start next year.
Launched by Renault Nissan boss, Carlos Ghosn, the Nissan Leaf is a lithium-ion battery-powered, four-door family hatchback that will cost a similar amount to a conventional C-segment car of the same size; think Nissan Qashqai, which costs between £14,000 and £22,000.
Nissan's plan is to sell the car but merely rent the battery pack. It claims that when all additional costs are factored in, the cost of running the Leaf will be 20 per cent less than that of an equivalent petrol-powered car.
The 24kWh battery is made by Nissan partner NEC and is a sandwich construction mounted under the Leaf's seats and floor giving a range of more than 100 miles and a recharging time using a domestic 200-volt supply of less than eight hours.
The 80kW/206lb ft motor delivers a maximum speed in excess of 90mph. Nissan claims that 14ft 6in long Leaf has been designed with a new chassis floorpan to take advantage of the packaging qualities of its electric driveline. The Leaf will be built in Japan and eventually Tennessee in the US.
While Nissan has earmarked its Sunderland plant for lithium-ion battery production, it remains tight-lipped about whether the plant will built electric cars as well.
• Sister company Renault will be launching a range of electric vehicles at the Frankfurt motor show in September using the same technology as the Nissan Leaf.

Algae biofuel propels a braves’ new world

Ancestral land is being used to test facilities that can turn pond weed into biofuel
Dominic Rushe
The sun shines on Coyote Gulch for an average of 300 days a year. The land in southwest Colorado belongs to the Southern Utes, the region’s oldest continuous residents and now one of the wealthiest American Indian communities.
Beneath their ancestral lands lies one of the world’s richest natural-gas fields. Energy and property investments have made the Utes a wealthy people. Now they believe they have spotted another opportunity: they have literally gone green.
Coyote Gulch is home to a high-tech plant that uses algae to make biodiesel. Pond scum and its relatives are fast becoming one of the hottest research and investment areas in biofuels, part of a second generation of fuels trying to escape the controversies that tainted their forerunners based on food crops such as corn.
As a fuel crop, algae have a lot of advantages over corn and other plants. They are among the fastest-growing plants in the world and about 50% of their weight is oil. Grown in either open-pond or closed-pond systems, once the algae have been harvested, the oils can be extracted and refined to make biodiesel.
Exxon, considered by some to be the world’s least green oil company, has put $600m (£366m) into algae research and thinks that when the system has been developed it could yield 2,000 gallons of fuel per acre each year. Corn yields 250 gallons per acre a year.
The Coyote Gulch experiment is being run by Solix Biofuels. The Utes contributed almost one-third of the $20m in capital raised by Solix and have donated land and equipment to the project.
Doug Henston, Solix’s chief executive, said many challenges remain. Rival firms are concentrating on finding the best types of algae to use. “We’ve had thousands of years to domesticate other plants. Nobody has domesticated algae,” he said. Solix is “algae agnostic” and is concentrating instead on the other big dilemma for algae growing — open ponds versus closed ponds.
Algae fuel is not a new idea. The US Department of Energy conducted studies using open ponds for 18 years. It shut down the programme in 1996 after concluding that algae oil could never compete on price with fossil fuels.
However, open ponds are subject to contamination and Henston believes closed systems, while expensive now, could increase efficiency and, with scale, bring down the price of the final fuel. He is confident that the company has the technology to grow algae efficiently in tanks — known as photo-bioreactors — using less space than open ponds and allowing for more controlled conditions.
Solix is looking for partners among the large oil companies that already have the systems in place. Scaling up the technology will be all about those partners, he said.
Bob Zahradnik, who oversees the Utes’ multi-billiondollar energy investments, said the tribe had three main criteria for making renewable investments. “First, it has to be technically feasible. It might not have everything in place, and there may be some bugs to iron out, but it’s got to be possible,” he said.
Second, the project has to be “truly environmentally sound”. The tribe ruled out investments in corn ethanol because they did not like the idea of using food for fuel. “For us, in a world with seven billion people, competing with food even for space is not a rational proposition,” he said.
Third, it has to make economic sense. “We are long-term investors but we want to make money,” said Zahradnik.
The Utes’ interest comes at a low point for the biofuels revolution. The recession, falling oil prices and “irrational exuberance” have all taken their toll, said Henston.
According to the National Biodiesel Board, an American trade association, two-thirds of American biodiesel production capacity now sits unused. Last year biofuels were blamed for soaring food prices and the use of food for fuel has become political dynamite in some countries.
The surge in food prices led to a leap in algae investments last year, according to New Energy Finance (NEF), the research firm. Biofuel investment has reached $3.6 billion in the past two years and next-generation technologies such as algae now account for more than a third of that money.
Harry Boyle, an NEF analyst, said: “I was extremely sceptical about algae to begin with. It seemed like a classic area for venture-capital investors with little or no energy experience, simply seeing the big exit as where you sell your technology to an oil company or a utility.”
Boyle said several factors, had now made algae more attractive. The first two are political. The rise in food prices has put fresh impetus behind the new generation of biofuels that do not need to use food crops. And algae can be raised on land that is not suitable for farming, avoiding arguments about using arable land to produce fuel.
Boyle said algae technology also had some inherent advantages of its own. Algae biodiesel can be used as aviation fuel — last year Continental flight 9990 became the first example of an airliner testing algae fuel during a commercial trip.
The process, he said, is also a useful way of sequestering carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas thrown off in harmful amounts by power stations. The unique properties of algae mean they can be used to clean up the environment.
Nasa scientists are working on a project that uses municipal waste water to grow algae. The system purifies waste water at the same time as producing oil. A cost-effective way of reducing carbon-dioxide emissions would provide a powerful boost for the algae industry.
America has set a target of injecting 36 billion gallons of biofuels into the fuel supply in 2022, up from 11.1 billion gallons in 2009. Present trends — both political and scientific — suggest that if the American government is to hit its targets, algae and other second-generation fuels will have to be part of that mix.
Despite last year’s ructions, the Utes’ long-term view may turn out to be a green investment in more ways than one.
Green Idea
UK households throw away 6.7m tonnes of food each year, but the trend for home composting is growing. BEEcycle, founded by Kenneth Cheung, 24, creates products to help with recycling. His miniature self-contained eco-system, the OvO, uses worms to break down waste into compost. He was a finalist in this year’s Make Your Mark Awards. You can order his products on

Britain heading back to the dark ages

The UK is facing a tipping point over the next few years in its ability to generate enough power to satisfy an ever-increasing demand.

By Rowena Mason Published: 7:06PM BST 05 Sep 2009

Gas and oil produced from North Sea rigs may not be enough to prevent power cuts Photo: Getty Images
When California was hit with a spate of crippling power cuts eight years ago, it was not simply the fault of an unscrupulous energy supplier called Enron manipulating prices.
The power company was blamed for meddling with the market, but state politicians were also forced to admit that their lack of investment in new electricity plants had contributed to the shortages.
Rupert Soames, the chief executive of Aggreko, the FTSE 250 emergency power generator, says the UK must prepare seriously for the danger of being hit by similar blackouts within the next decade.
"It has happened before in developed countries and we should not kid ourselves that it cannot happen here," he said in an interview with The Sunday Telegraph.
"The UK has an unacceptably high risk of interrupted power supply and I have enormous doubt about whether new plants are going to be built in time."
Aggreko has already had to provide emergency power to governments in Spain, Greece, Asia, South America and Africa. Mr Soames does not want to see this happen in the UK, but fears that "a slow train crash" of energy shortages is on its way unless more action is taken.
His fears are not unfounded. It was revealed by The Daily Telegraph earlier this week that the Government's own figures suggest that there will be a 3000 megawatt hour shortage of supply by 2017 causing 1970s-style blackouts.
Over the next 10 years, one third of Britain's power-generating capacity needs to be replaced with cleaner fuels, as a result of European laws on pollution.
By 2025 the situation is expected to worsen with the shortfall hitting 7000 megawatt hours per year – the equivalent to an hour-long power cut for half of Britain.
Ed Miliband's Department of Energy and Climate Change has swiftly dismissed these ideas as alarmist, arguing that new renewable and gas plants will be able to cope.
Critics point out that the Government is going to have to persuade energy companies or other investors to build thousands of wind turbines, at least three potential new nuclear plants and a raft of cheaper gas stations if demand is to be met.
There are fundamental problems with leaving these decisions purely to the market, according Mr Soames.
The recession has meant that there is little incentive for private companies to start investing in new stations. And there is a growing sense that EdF, E.ON and RWE npower, the backers of new nuclear plants, may find that construction is uneconomic without levies on consumer bills – something ruled out by the Government.
Mr Soames' biggest worry is that existing nuclear stations may be forced to stay running for longer than is safe, with unknown consequences.
Most controversially, the Aggreko boss believes that until the UK makes concrete plans for tackling a shortage of power stations, national energy security ought to take a priority over the targets that say UK emissions must be reduced by 80pc from 1990 levels by 2050.
"I personally believe that meeting climate change goals are not incompatible with national energy security in the long run, but I think keeping the country running is more important," he said.
Some even believe that expecting the power to flow seamlessly until 2017 may be unduly optimistic. Nick Campbell, an analyst at the energy consultants Inenco, has calculated that the energy gap could start in 2012 – just three years away and five years earlier than the Government admits.
The problem lies in the European Union's decree that Britain's dirtiest power stations – the old-style coal and oil generation plants – must be shut down not at a certain date, but after a certain number of hours. These plants, which are used as back-up generators for times of peak demand, are expected to shut in about 2015.
However, a number of outages at nuclear power plants mean these stations have already been burning through their allocated number of hours far more quickly than forecast. In fact, six out of ten may be forced to stop generation long before they are due to be decommissioned in six years' time.
"Alternative forms of generation will need to be online way before these nine coal-fired plants reach their 2015 deadline or the generation gap will occur at some point between 2012 and 2015," said Mr Campbell.
Greg Clark, the shadow energy and climate change secretary, has also pointed out that the scale of the blackouts could be three times worse than Government predictions. Some of the modelling assumes little change in electricity demand until to 2020 and takes for granted a rapid increase in wind farm capacity.
Dr Jon Gibbins, an energy technology expert from Imperial College, London, has been warning for years that the country faces an energy crisis, but says the situation is now growing more grave.
"The electricity industry has been sweating assets for a long time and now it's just about at the point of running out," he said.
"Policies at the moment just look like somebody in a Government office making up numbers."
He is particularly worried that Britain has left it late to start approving new nuclear stations, leaving the country with a glut of gas-fired power stations and intermittent renewable sources for some years.
An over-reliance on gas-fired stations also leaves the UK vulnerable to the whims of politically unstable gas-producing regions such as Russia and the Middle East as Britain's North Sea reserves deplete, Dr Gibbins explains. Most will be imported via pipeline from Norway, but extra gas for winter needs to be shipped in expensive liquefied form.
"We could be left with only renewables and gas plants for a while," Dr Gibbins said. "There's a distinct possibility that we won't be able to get enough gas. We have been lulled into a false sense of security by low gas prices during the recession, but the trend is that it will get more expensive."
In the long term, electricity demand is only likely to increase. Gas boilers and the transport system will be expected to go electric if the UK has a chance of hitting emissions targets, piling more pressure on the network.
Chris Bennett, future transmission manager at National Grid – who is not unduly worried about shortages – is responsible for considering how to "flex demand" as the network operator works out how to balance changing consumption patterns.
Smart meters, which monitor how household energy is used, could be used to switch refrigerators on and off, allow washing machines to run at off-peak times and make sure electric cars are charged overnight.
However, sceptics worry that a so-called "intelligent grid" could also be used to ration consumers in the event of insufficient capacity.
The power companies themselves are often wary of talking about future supply problems, but some, such as British Gas's owner Centrica, have been buying up North Sea assets in preparation for the "dash for gas".
However, E.ON points out that the recession has caused a 4pc drop in demand for electricity, as industrial customers close operations.
"We have got an extra five years or so to think about this now," said a spokesman for the power company. "Many manufacturing bases have stopped operating and activity won't return to normal for some time."
Other experts note with a touch of cynicism that it may be in the interests of the big six electricity and gas suppliers to operate with a shortage of electricity.
"Electricity providers can make more profits through their trading desks when prices are high than actually selling the power to homes," says one senior source in the energy trading industry. "There is sometimes a conflict of interest here."
In the last few months, the Government may slowly have been beginning to move in the right direction. Earlier this year, it widened the remit of the regulator, Ofgem, to include national energy security and promised to speed up the planning process that awards access to the national grid.
Reports from the CBI, the business body, and Malcolm Wicks, Gordon Brown's special representative on energy security, also recognised that Britain needs to start building more nuclear power stations.
But while the Government considers these reports and clings to its endless strategy documents, Britain's aged network and power stations lumber towards the end of their lives.
"Big infrastructure changes are not a happy country for politics," Mr Soames says. "But somebody needs to take responsibility and realise that renewable energy sources are not going to be enough in the medium term. We need fewer targets and more concrete plans or risk the lights going out over Britain."

EC president to step in as row escalates over bluefin tuna

Published Date: 06 September 2009
EUROPEAN Commission president Manuel Barroso will be forced to step in this week to end a damaging battle over the fate of the threatened bluefin tuna.
The fish is tracked down by spotter planes flying above the Mediterranean and provides a lucrative market in illegal "pirate" fishing for members of organised crime gangs in Italy.But now conservationists fear that "eleventh hour" attempts to save the species from extinction may be doomed by a growing political coalition within Europe. Hopes that proposals to ban the sale of the fish would be carried were dashed after Malta opposed the move, backed by Joe Borg, its fisheries commissioner in Brussels. Italy and Spain are also believed to oppose the ban.The crimson flesh of the bluefin tuna can fetch tens of thousands of pounds and is an icon of Japanese sushi. Britain, France and other northern European countries are believed to be weakening in their resolve in the face of fierce opposition.Now WWF and Greenpeace conservationists fear an unacceptable compromise may be reached which could lead to the laundering of vast quantities of illegally caught fish. The ferocity of the debate, which has seen intense lobbying from Japan, has resulted in a head-on clash at the European Commission between Borg and his counterpart Stavros Dimas, who is backing a ban.Now, in an attempt to end the crossfire, Barroso is set to take charge of discussions on Thursday.