|A vision of Britain in 2020 :
Power Cuts and the 3-day Week
1 July 2003
Britain's homes could be without light and heat for long periods by 2020 with the government being forced to repeat the 1974 imposition of power cuts by rota, a doom-laden report by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) says today.
By then, 80% of the gas to fuel Britain's power stations and domestic central heating will be piped "from politically unstable countries thousands of miles away." Mechanical failure, sabotage and terrorist attack would lead to power cuts within days, the report says.
The society, established in 1818, says Britain will be at the end of a pipeline which passes through several other countries relying on imported gas.
David Anderson, chairman of ICE's energy board and author of the report said: "We will literally be at the end of the line which will start in Algeria, Iran and Russia, and pass through many gas-needy countries.
"It does not need much imagination to realise how vulnerable we will be. Even if there is merely a shortage rather than an interruption in the supply we will be the first to suffer."
Another problem is a lack of storage space for gas to give Britain a strategic reserve. Germany and France have 70 days supply for emergencies but the UK has less than 48 hours capacity.
This is not a problem when the UK is self-sufficient in gas but generators will need to start importing gas within three years. By 2020, 80% of all electricity will be generated from foreign gas supplies and "the lights would start to go out within hours if the supply was interrupted," said Mr Anderson.
Tom Foulkes, ICE's director general, said yesterday: "This country has been largely self-sufficient in electricity generation for the past 100 years. We have been able to ride through a succession of energy crises, such as oil in 1973, coal in the early 1980s and the self-inflicted petrol crisis of 2000. All of these had the potential to inflict serious economic damage, but this was largely avoided by the fuel mix and diversity available at the time. This is about to change dramatically".
Currently our generation mix for electricity is approximately 32% coal, 23% nuclear, 38% gas, 4% oil, with 3% others and renewables.
Emission constraints mean that the UK's coal-powered generating plants will close shortly after 2016 and only one nuclear power station will remain operational beyond 2020.
Mr Anderson said that, at present, renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and wave can only provide a fraction of the total requirement and the government's failure to push these technologies meant that it was unlikely that the 10% target by 2010 would be achieved.
Gas was currently the only alternative and initially some supplies will come from Norway, but as demand across Europe exhausts supplies, Britain will be forced to source gas supplies from West Africa, the Middle East, and the former Soviet republics.
Mr Foulkes said: "If future gas supplies were interrupted, this country would have major difficulty in keeping the lights on. "Under current plans, with no gas, this country would have no electricity."
Mr Anderson added: "The government simply is not taking on board the generation mix that will be needed beyond 2020 if security of supply and meeting our environmental commitments are both to be achieved. A return to the blackouts that marked the three-day week and the country grinding to a halt are very real possibilities in less than 20 years time."
The report comes four months after the government's energy white paper claimed that future gas supplies were not a problem. This week the energy regulator Ofgem is considering an inquiry into interruption in the gas supply last week at 152 sites due to shortages.
Simon Skilling, head of UK strategy for Powergen, the electricity generator, said he had not seen the report but agreed with its conclusions. "It is feasible that by 2020 the lights could go out."