Originally published in Scotsman newspaper August 20th 2014.
AMID the political and media frenzy about renewables in recent years, we are in danger of missing a more profound change in our energy system.
Whisper it quietly, but the old certainties of energy provision – through regulated markets dominated by the Big Six energy companies – are collapsing. This is not, as some would assert, because of an interfering government, but because the utility business model is being challenged by fast-changing developments in technology and social and business expectations.
These include rapid changes in the costs of energy technologies; the understanding that large, distant energy companies rarely provide the best solution to localised problems of energy wastage; and the critical need to address long-running UK problems of fuel poverty and delivery of secure and more sustainable forms of energy.
In the recent past, the UK has evolved a model of centralised power generation within an electricity grid that was first connected in 1938. The coal-fired stations are now over 40 years old and desperately inefficient, while the last nuclear power station was built in the 1980s. Since the liberalisation of electricity markets 25 years ago, gas-fired power stations have been the norm, along with the more recent increase in renewable sources.