Matt Ridley: The Tories have promised 2050 and passed it into law. The Liberal Democrats say 2045. Labour’s manifesto is likely to say the 2030s. The Green Party promises 2030 itself, thus disappointing the yoga-protesters in Extinction Rebellion, who demand 2025. What none of them say is how they will get there. At the moment, natural gas supplies most of our heat, much of our cooking and about 40 per cent of electricity, while oil supplies almost all of our transport. Coal, oil and gas are crucial for industry. Telling us to stop taking holidays or buying Christmas presents won’t help much and will be as unpopular as other forms of austerity. The Labour Party wants to start again on building bird-chopping, bat-busting and insect-pulping wind turbines all over England – rewarding the land-owning few at the expense of the many. Apart from being unpopular, there is not enough land, money or time in the country to get all of our energy from wind and solar power. It takes 150 tonnes of coal to make a wind turbine anyway. To achieve the same goal with nuclear power is scarcely less believable. Nuclear is at least feasible but construction takes time, and the arbitrary net-zero timetable leaves very little of that. It would require opening one new Hinkley Point-sized power station every four months between now and 2050 (Hinkley will generate about 4 per cent of electricity demand, or 0.8 per cent of total energy demand). At, say, £30 billion each, that’s trillions of pounds. Besides, there are not enough civil engineers in the world. There must be another way of getting to net zero. How about planting trees instead? The Tories are promising 30 million new trees a year, the Lib Dems 60 million annually. A tree soaks up about a tonne of carbon dioxide in 40 years. Sixty million trees would remove less than half of 1 per cent of our emissions. Meanwhile Drax power station burns trees at such a rate that British forests cannot supply its needs and most are imported. The only way we might possibly achieve the net zero target is with a breakthrough innovation. This will either come from nuclear fusion or from carbon capture, two technologies in which Britain could lead the world. The right policy is to pursue tonnes of research and development. The Conservatives at least are mentioning this, Boris Johnson having already announced a £220 million grant for the promising, but still speculative, spherical-tokamak fusion technology.
Telegraph 19th Nov 2019 read more »