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Nth Power – is renewable energy expensive, and what ways can we look to a cleaner future?


The services and money are available, and built in is a system of return; it’s simply about whether the government wants to do it.

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Gas bills have risen by 21% in the last eighteen months, or so claim the Scotsman, yet frustratingly, Tavish Scott’s article stands firm behind the idea that looking towards renewable energy in the long-term won’t ease our household prices. Due to its high cost of research, development and production, renewable energy is apparently more costly to the consumer. While directly true, it’s the nuances of lifestyle and efficiency that will be rescued from expense, in a week which saw the ‘big six’ (EDF, E.ON, npower, Scottish Power, Scottish & Southern Energy and British Gas) increase their gas and electricity prices. It comes at the same time E.ON announced plans to reduce their workforce in the UK by up to 500 people as part of their overall scheme to reduce costs by €1.5bn (a plan which could see up to 11,000 jobs lost worldwide).

Last week’s published edition of Nature featured an editorial which rightly suggested that renewable energy ‘pays for itself’. As our non-renewable sources contribute to climate change and particularly pollution, the prospects of reductions to illness are substantial. Public wellbeing would ease if the burning of fuels was to be reduced, not to mention the money generated by the creation of jobs for opening an increasing number of research facilities, green plants and energy companies. It’s through indirect environmental action that the government could stimulate a labouring economy and while the bill might be slightly weightier on the consumer, would aim towards kick-starting a market which could then look towards aiding food prices, travel expenses and the fight to abolish the depletion of our natural resources. This is without even beginning to look towards the construction of more environmentally viable house projects; with better insulation, conservation of energy and routing of power, the market could share its success between businesses and households. (There are of course practical ways to reduce public spending, such as the building of a proposed ‘supergrid’ which would ‘cut the costs of wind power [and] reduce pylon building on land).

A case study of the generative effects renewable energy can have on a society can be seen across the Orkneys this week. New wave and tidal technology has harnessed the stormy weather conditions that often plague the islands and transferred it into a wealth of opportunity. Though Alex Salmond made an overly ambitious claim that Scotland will rely on 100% renewable energy by 2020, at least it promotes a step in the right direction towards an economy and society driven by fresh apparatus, inventiveness and knowledge.

Having claimed to ‘get tough’ on exploitative energy companies, Chris Huhne firstly has to refer a claim to the Competition Commission if any suspected collusion is occurring (funny that all six have announced at the same time, no?) There must also be changes to the searching involved in finding better deals online, enormously straightforward measures such as allowing customers to easily compare tariffs, rates and fees. While Huhne has outlined this, the importance of the matter has been clarified by Energy Choices’ article on how ‘even accountants can’t work out their energy bills’.

The UK has to work out its standpoint on energy and climate change; does it want to involve itself with Europe more and work towards a common goal or does it want to go it alone trying to save a penny here and a pound there? The West is in disarray over climate change at the moment: the Canadian ‘ozone network’ stares down the barrel at closure and Obama has delayed an ozone review until 2013 after ordering EPA administrator Lisa Jackson to leave. One of the next steps is to look towards the controversial ‘fracking’ process after a natural gas field was found in north-west England. A dangerous method which cracks rocks to retrieve trapped shale gas, the debate will be to see whether its viability and safeness in supplying energy can be improved. Josh Fox’s documentary Gasland exposed the devastating health and environmental risks inherent in the process, but the debate is still in full flow as to whether its monitoring and production can be developed to provide a risk-free method of extraction.

Either way, the door has been flung open to renewable energy and pollution reduction, all pushing towards a moral, social and political goal to assist the consumer and reduce harm to our planet. The services and money are available, and built in is a system of return; it’s simply about whether the government wants to do it.